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Boyd's Relevance Today

In a comment, Ian Grigg asks, “I haven’t got to the modern stuff yet, so quite what he has to say that is currently relevant eludes me for now.” Over at Defense and the National Interest, there’s an article that draws heavily on Boyd:

In a new briefing [1.7 MB PPT], three retired officers—each hailing from a different service—lay out a vision for how the U.S. military must reorient itself to help meet security and reconstruction objectives in Iraq.

In fact, successive iterations of “orientation” and “reorientation” as circumstances change are key to success in Iraq, but such an adaptive approach is largely missing there, argue the retired officers—Marine Corps Col. G.I. Wilson, Army Lt. Col. Greg Wilcox and Air Force Col Chet Richards.

All are longtime experts in “4th Generation Warfare,” a form of conflict in which a nation’s highly sophisticated military can be undermined by alternatively organized adversaries using unconventional tools and methods. Fourth-generation foes—like the insurgency in Iraq—may rally around cultural, religious, race, tribal or ideological similarities, rather than identify with a single nation or governing regime.

The structure of the presentation is a Boyd Cycle: Observations, Orientation, Decisions, and Actions. It’s a quite good assessment, I think, of what’s happening in Iraq.

6 comments on "Boyd's Relevance Today"

  • Iang says:

    Reading that now. OK, I’m going to go out on a limb here and start sawing. From what I can see *so far* Boyd’s OODA is a good observation, and a good metaphor. But, it only goes so far, it will become lesson #732 in 10,000 or so…
    However, it is looking like his contribution is much more important than OODA. What I see is that Boyd has camoflauged much military thinking that has been around for yonks and presented it as OODA. That is, he’s dusted off lessons #1 – 731, put an OODA ribbon on them, and presented them.
    This is marketing. OODA sells right now. Why not use it to open up the listener’s mind? I think he and the Colonels are doing the right thing.
    The reason why this is the case is due to a particular characteristic of the American services – groupthink. They have a strong groupthink problem, in comparison to other forces. It is perhaps best seen with the canonical example of Vietnam, where it was fought on WWII / Korean lines, and not on guerilla lines, when in fact the American 1st War of Independence was part of the history book in guerilla warfare.
    (As evidence of this, I’d cite the following: in Vietnam, the Australian and German contingents had “no problem” with achieving their objectives in Vietnam, and the British had “no problem” in Malaysia. The French obviously had their problems, but I can’t recall whether they simply had bitten off too much or not.)
    Boyd seems to have spent most of his later life fighting that groupthink in the US services. All power to him if he found a way to get through!
    (Once you’ve finished on Boyd, I’d suggest you read “A Bright Shining Lie” about John Paul Vann for an army perspective on the same period. Also, the film is highly recommended, rent or buy it.)

  • adam says:

    I don’t want to claim to be an expert: I’ve now read two books, but it seems to me that while nothing is new under the sun, OODA adds time as an explicit factor. Time has clearly been used in the past, but not studied as a competitive factor in its own right. Blitzkrieg was fast, but fast wasn’t enough; it had to be faster than the others.
    A Bright Shining Lie was good; I’m inspired to play with Boyd Cycles and infosec. If only I had more, umm, time.

  • Iang says:

    Over time (!) I think we might discover that OODA’s time factor describes a primary characteristic of fighter combat. Yet, it is not so “primary” in other forms of combat.
    As a counter example, I do recall studying the response times of Russian counterattack manouvres (for different sized units). This was in corporal-level lessons back when I was soldier. They were faster than our response times, by a factor of 2 or 3, but nobody seemed to be unduly worried about them. I wondered why that was the case, and never found out a comprehensive answer. I speculated at the time that their speed of response was also their weakness, as we could simply trigger their responses over and over again, until they were exhausted, then close in for battle.
    OODA might explain why the Russians were thinking so much about speed of response (they basically drew a lot from the German blitzkreig school). But you’ll notice that everything written about the Iraqi conflicts had little to do with OODA loops. It was more a case of standoff and let the weaponry take out the enemy until the enemy was defeated. (This to an extent had been core doctrine in NATO army for many decades, as the way to defeat the massed Russian tank assaults: develop longer range weaponry and take out the enemy from a longer range where they can’t hit you.)

  • adam says:

    Consider why small companies routinely outmaneuver big companies. By the time a large company notices, analyzes, and decides on a response to a new product, the small company has a new revision which addresses the issues that the big company is responding to. So the big company, being slow,
    As to Iraq, note the focus on command and control equipment (as opposed, to say, tanks or anti-aircraft guns). Destroying comm gear was to prevent anyone from getting a complete picture of the action. Of course, this approach is not unique to OODA loops.

  • Iang says:

    Right, that explains why small companies sometimes become large companies, but it doesn’t explain why large companies flatten small companies, more often than not. That’s because the large companies sit back and do nothing, wait until the small companies have committed their resources, and then move in and flatten them.
    In fighter combat, there are a number of characteristics: your plane is like the other guy’s plane. There is him, and you. Nothing else. There’s a big sky, and you both have to achieve something in the next 5-10 mins.
    It’s a very symmetrical fight. It’s also one brain against another, with minor differences between the technology capabilities. Another characteristic is that if he can shoot at you, you can’t shoot at him. And v.v. Oh, and also, if he wins, you lose. And v.v, there is no ability to declare a false propaganda victory.
    In these characteristics, there is very little related to other forms of combat. That’s why the OODA comes to the fore; it’s more one-on-one, so the faster you are the better.
    Hitting the C&C has nothing to do with OODA loops. It’s just an easier way to destroy a tank – destroy its ability to be deployed. If it doesn’t know where to fight, it can’t fight.
    Here is where I see the danger; in that trying to cast every success as an aspect of OODA loops will cause people to not realise that those successes were caused by other things; in this case, the conventional land invasion of Iraq (both) was enabled by the tradition of Nato v. Russians that was studied over the last 4 decades, and had its roots in open country “blitzkrieg” warfare from Guderian et al.

  • adam says:

    Actually, other work that Boyd did, on fighter manueverability, shows that the plane matters greatly, and that if you’re not measuring the right things about a plane (namely, its ability to transit from one manuever to the next rapidly), you’re rolling the dice. Get Coram’s book; I’m not going to do justice to things in a blog post. Yes, OODA loops, like any other analytical tool, can be misapplied. I

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