Wednesday, August 12, 2009


A fighter pilot without any combat kills becomes the most influential military strategist of our time? OK, so he's a fighter jock with a brain . . . his ability to quantify dogfights (and everything else) into measurable theory became the major influence of what is modern maneuver warfare doctrine.

During the early 1960s, Boyd, together with Thomas Christie, a civilian mathematician, created the Energy-Maneuverability, or E-M, theory of aerial combat. A legendary maverick by reputation, Boyd was said to have "stolen" the computer time to do the millions of calculations necessary to prove the theory, but it became the world standard for the design of fighter planes.

A popular anecdote credits Boyd for largely developing the strategy for the invasion of Iraq in the first Gulf War. In 1981 Boyd had presented his briefing, Patterns of Conflict, to Secretary of Defense Richard Cheney, then a member of the United States House of Representatives. By 1990 Boyd had moved to Florida because of declining health, but Cheney called him back to work on the plans for Operation Desert Storm. Boyd had substantial influence on the ultimate "left hook" design of the plan.

In a letter to the editor of Inside the Pentagon, former Commandant of the Marine Corps General Charles C. Krulak is quoted as saying "The Iraqi army collapsed morally and intellectually under the onslaught of American and Coalition forces. John Boyd was an architect of that victory as surely as if he'd commanded a fighter wing or a maneuver division in the desert."

The OODA Loop

Boyd's key concept was that of the decision cycle or OODA Loop, the process by which an entity (either an individual or an organization) reacts to an event. According to this idea, the key to victory is to be able to create situations wherein one can make appropriate decisions more quickly than one's opponent. The construct was originally a theory of achieving success in air-to-air combat, developed out of Boyd's Energy-Maneuverability theory and his observations on air combat between MiGs and F-86s in Korea. Harry Hillaker (chief designer of the F-16) said of the OODA theory, "Time is the dominant parameter. The pilot who goes through the OODA cycle in the shortest time prevails because his opponent is caught responding to situations that have already changed."

Boyd hypothesized that all intelligent organisms and organizations undergo a continuous cycle of interaction with their environment. Boyd breaks this cycle down to four interrelated and overlapping processes through which one cycles continuously:
• Observation: the collection of data by means of the senses
• Orientation: the analysis and synthesis of data to form one's current mental perspective
• Decision: the determination of a course of action based on one's current mental perspective
• Action: the physical playing-out of decisions

This decision cycle is thus known as the OODA loop. Boyd emphasized that this decision cycle is the central mechanism enabling adaptation (apart from natural selection) and is therefore critical to survival.

Boyd theorized that large organizations such as corporations, governments, or militaries possessed a hierarchy of OODA loops at tactical, grand-tactical (operational art), and strategic levels. In addition, he stated that most effective organizations have a highly decentralized chain of command that utilizes objective-driven orders, or directive control, rather than method-driven orders in order to harness the mental capacity and creative abilities of individual commanders at each level.

In 2003, this power to the edge concept took the form of a DOD publication "Power to the Edge: Command . . . Control . . . in the Information Age" by Dr. David S. Alberts and Richard E. Hayes. Boyd argued that such a structure creates a flexible "organic whole" that is quicker to adapt to rapidly changing situations. He noted, however, that any such highly decentralized organization would necessitate a high degree of mutual trust and a common outlook that came from prior shared experiences. Headquarters needs to know that the troops are perfectly capable of forming a good plan for taking a specific objective, and the troops need to know that Headquarters does not direct them to achieve certain objectives without good reason.

In 2007, strategy writer Robert Greene discussed the loop in a post called OODA and You. He insisted that it was "deeply relevant to any kind of competitive environment: business, politics, sports, even the struggle of organisms to survive", and claimed to have been initially "struck by its brilliance".

Elements of warfare

Boyd divided warfare into three distinct elements:
• Moral Warfare: the destruction of the enemy's will to win, via alienation from allies (or potential allies) and internal fragmentation. Ideally resulting in the "dissolution of the moral bonds that permit an organic whole [organization] to exist." (i.e., breaking down the mutual trust and common outlook mentioned in the paragraph above.)
• Mental Warfare: the distortion of the enemy's perception of reality through disinformation, ambiguous posturing, and/or severing of the communication/information infrastructure.
• Physical Warfare: the destruction of the enemy's physical resources such as weapons, people, and logistical assets.

Maneuver warfare and the Marines

In January 1980 Boyd gave his briefing Patterns of Conflict at the Marines AWS (Amphibious Warfare School). This led to the instructor at the time, Michael Wyly, and Boyd changing the curriculum, with the blessing of General Trainor. Trainor later asked Wyly to write a new tactics manual for the Marines. Wyly then went on, with Lind and others, guided by General Alfred M. Gray, Jr. to write FMFM 1 (Warfighting). Wyly, Lind, and a few other junior officers are credited with developing concepts for what would become the Marine model of maneuver warfare.

Wyly, along with Pierre Sprey, Ray Leopold, Franklin 'Chuck' Spinney, Jim Burton, and Tom Christie were described by writer Coram as Boyd's Acolytes, a group who, in various ways and forms, promoted and disseminated Boyd's ideas throughout the modern military and defense establishment.

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