On OODA Loops, Fast and Slow

Boyd is often identified with the ability to operate more quickly than an opponent.  For example:

The ability to operate at a faster tempo or rhythm than an adversary enables one to fold adversary back inside himself so that he can neither appreciate nor keep-up with what’s going on. He will become disoriented or confused. Strategic Game, 44.

This is sometimes interpreted to mean that in a conflict, one should simply go berserk — run around like a chicken with its head cut off (I’ve never actually seen this, but you get the idea).  That might be a useful tactic, but there are other times when you might choose to operate at a much slower tempo.

Dean Lenane, CEO of Fischer Dynamics Europe in Wuppertal, Germany, and author of The Turnaround (available on our Articles page) explores this idea in the following article.

The Long Slow OODA Loop

Dean M. Lenane

We generally associate maneuver warfare and the application of the OODA loop as being part and parcel of a high tempo approach to winning in conflict situations. Indeed, part of the Boydian imperative for knowledge and training is preoccupied with creating the ability to do the right thing without having to think about it. We generally want to have ourselves so attuned to the environment that we can respond smarter and quicker than the opposition. This is one of the basic essences of the Colonel’s method. Continue reading

Does it make any difference what you call it?

Yes, because what you call it affects how you think about it.

Here’s just one example, from a recent article in The American Conservative:

During wartime who dares question almost any Pentagon cost “to defend America?”

From “12 Reasons America Doesn’t Win Its Wars,” by John Basil Utley.

Sun Tzu suggested, in the opening lines of The Art of War, that

War is a matter of vital importance to the state, the province of life or death; the road to survival or ruin.

Griffith trans., p. 63.

It follows, then, that if what you’re looking at isn’t a matter of survival of the state, it isn’t war. Can you, with a straight face, claim that the United States is engaged with an existential enemy outside of its own boarders?  Continue reading

Tremblay’s Thesis Wins Major Award

From Chuck Spinney’s Blaster.

The “Blaster” is Chuck’s collection of commentaries on articles and events, which he began in the late-1990s. Numbers 155- 549 (July 1998 – January 2006) are archived on the DNIPOGOsite,


He is posting later comments on his own blog at http://chuckspinney.blogspot.com/

You can download Maj. Trembley’s thesis from our Articles page.  A link to Maj. Trembley’s after action report, referenced by Spinney at the end of his post, is here.

Note:  I have NO connection with any site claiming to be “Defense and the National Interest,” other than DNIPOGO. Please use appropriate caution when visiting any other site claiming to be “Defense and the National Interest.”


09 JUNE 2015

Long time readers of the Blaster are familiar with strategic theories of Colonel John Boyd (new readers will find a variety of references to them at this link).   I am pleased to announce that Marine Major PJ Tremblay’s thesis, Shaping and Adapting: Unblocking the Power of Colonel John Boyd’s OODA Loop, has won the  “The Colonel F. Brooke Nihart Writing Award for 2015. This award is endowed by Colonel and Mrs. F. Brooke Nihart, USMC (ret), and presented in honor of the late Colonel Nihart to the Marine infantry officer at Command and Staff College whose Master of Military Studies paper demonstrates the greatest depth of scholarship, clarity and originality.

In my opinion, Major Tremblay has made a significant contribution to the growing corpus of analyses and writings aimed at fleshing out and evolving Colonel Boyd’s ideas.  Tremblay’s thesis was written in partial completion of a masters degree, and I think it  provides an excellent and readable introduction to the use of Boyd’s OODA Loop as a frame of reference for examining the tactical level of combat.  Tremblay goes further, however: He introduces general frame of reference for incorporating Colonel Boyd’s ideas more effectively into the Marine Corps education system, from junior to senior ranks and from the tactical to the strategic level of combat.

Tremblay actually used Boyd’s ideas in both the planning and execution of a stunningly successful tactical assault by a reinforced infantry company in Afghanistan.

Why do we keep losing?

Referring to such places as Iraq, Afghanistan, and Vietnam. We send in military forces, they engage in combat — successfully the vast majority of the time — but fail to accomplish our political goals. In the process, we lose thousands of American lives and trillions of dollars.

Fabius Maximus has a new post on this subject, “Why the West loses so many wars, and how we can learn to win.” His argument is that foreign forces rarely win other people’s insurgencies. So we need to quit trying.

Another way to say this is that we’re asking our military forces to do things that military forces can’t do.  Military forces forces engage with and defeat the enemy, as I was taught in ROTC many years ago. After that, what?

Shaping and Adapting

While leading his company in Afghanistan, Marine Major Paul Tremblay was ordered to clear a much larger Taliban force that was defending an area of rugged terrain. Ordinarily, such terrain would favor the defense, not to mention the numbers problem.  Major Tremblay, however, fashioned a plan of attack based on the notion of “operating inside the OODA loop,” where relative numbers are much less relevant.

Chuck Spinney picks up the story:

Major Tremblay did not know Colonel Boyd but has been aware of his briefings since he was a 2nd Lieutenant at the Marine Corps Basic School. He is the only officer I know who has studied and applied Colonel Boyd’s ideas in a premeditated way in designing and leading a combat operation. His reinforced company level attack on the Taliban was a stunning success and based on radio intercepts, it became clear he penetrated his adversary’s OODA loops and collapsed the opposing units into confusion and disorder, exactly as Boyd predicted.  His thesis does not discuss this operation.

I’ve uploaded Major Tremblay’s recently completed master’s thesis (517 KB PDF). It’s a brilliant piece of work. Quoting Chuck, again:

P.J. Tremblay’s thesis aims to clarify what is perhaps the single most misunderstood aspect of Boyd’s theory of interacting OODA loops: the confusion of absolute speed with relative quickness, particularly as it applies to agility in Orientation and Re-Orientation. Tremblay’s aim is to improve the Marine Corps training curriculum by clarifying Boyd’s ideas and laying out a way to better incorporate them in progressively more comprehensive ways at each level in the Marine Corps’ educational system, from the lowest to the highest level.

PJ’s thesis is a case study in the kind of intellectual development and stimulation that John Boyd was trying to achieve by leaving the Marine Corps Research Center with the complete archive of his briefings and note. Boyd, an honorary Marine, would say, “Semper Fi, PJ.”

Chuck has posted the complete introduction to Maj. Tremblay’s thesis on his blog.

Is Microsoft done?

The main lesson [new tech firms] will draw is that it was too protective, for too long, of its main franchise, which led it to ignore threats that eventually became unignorable.

So The Economist wrote in its April 4 piece, “Microsoft at middle age — opening windows” (pp. 59-60).

It’s a common analysis, but is it fair?

The Economist summarizes its case: From the mid-1990s until Steve Ballmer retired last year, “Everything Microsoft did had to strengthen Windows, to make it ever more crushingly dominant.” Readers familiar with Boyd’s organizational climate will recognize a Schwerpunkt.

The Economist claims that “many of the company’s best innovations were killed because of this ‘strategy tax.'”

On the other hand, because they were killed, it’s impossible to know whether they would have been “best.”  Rather than engage in alternative histories, let’s look to the future.  Has this strategy locked Microsoft into a fading platform, dooming it to share the fates of other once-towering technological giants like Kodak, Xerox, and Polaroid? I don’t think so. Continue reading

The age of the mercenary

I think I’m getting a couple of predictions right. One is that the legacy airlines will get out of the coach class business. A recent article in the Wall St. Journal pointed out that as airlines shrink not only the size of seats in coach but also how many of them they install, their profits go up. So just draw the obvious conclusion. (My last post on this phenomenon is here.)

Another is that modern warfare will be privatized. This argument, which I first made in my 2005 bestseller, Neither Shall the Sword, suggested that state armies are great for fighting other state armies but not so good at the everything else called “fourth generation warfare.” Because the only state armies that the United States is going to fight are very weak — think Iraq, Grenada, and so on — we can shrink our national military forces but we still need something else to fill the gap, and I argued that the best we can do is use market forces to fill this gap for us.

Lo and behold, as we say in the prediction business, it has come to pass.  As former US Army paratrooper and later mercenary Sean McFate reports in an article in yesterday’s New York Times, “In Iraq half of the personnel in war zones were contracted, and in Afghanistan it was closer to 70 percent. America may fight future wars mainly with contractors.” So we need to get thinking about how best to manage this process to serve the national interest. McFate and I came to the same conclusion: “Multibillion dollar industries don’t just evaporate, and outlawing private security forces won’t work. Relying on the market is the best way to avoid a return to the medieval chaos of armies for hire.”

In other words, except for a small public component to operate our nuclear deterrent force, and perform a few other missions, the government should run the league but not field a team (as I wrote back in 2005 — and “bestseller” should be considered in its relative sense.)

The right way to set goals

Or at least a better way than just picking a suspiciously round number — increase sales by 15% — out of thin air.

The Wall St. J. reports that Toyota has an “ambitious  goal of doubling sales and production to 2 million vehicles” in China.

What does this mean? Are they building new factories, slashing prices, piling on subsidies? Like they did shortly after the turn of the new millennium, leading to rampant quality problems?

Here’s what “a person at Toyota” said about this goal in that same article:

In China, Toyota is a follower. We’re trying to catch up to rivals. Instead of chasing sales and production volume, we want to focus on Toyota-like products to build our position. There is no way we can compete by suddenly making huge investments to build excessive production facilities. Yoko Kubota, “Toyota to Invest $1.4 Billion to Meet Growing U.S., China Demand” WSJ, April 15, 2015

As Boyd insisted, goals, plans and the like are just intentions. Wants. “Be nice ifs …” Strategy, then, is the art of managing those intentions — discarding plans and creating new ones, for example, to shape and respond to an everchanging and incompletely understood world — in order to achieve our objectives, often at the expense of our opponents or competitors.

As he put it:

What is strategy? A mental tapestry of changing intentions for harmonizing and focusing our efforts as a basis for realizing some aim or purpose in an unfolding and often unforeseen world of many bewildering events and many contending interests. Strategic Game, 58

Just one word for the new graduate

Benjamin: Yes, sir.
Mr. McGuire: Are you listening?
Benjamin: Yes, I am.
Mr. McGuire: Neuroplasticity.
Benjamin: Exactly how do you mean?

This is another in a series of posts promoting, or at least complicating, our understanding of Orientation because Orientation is, after all, the Schwerpunkt.

In fact, if I had to boil Boyd’s philosophy down to one idea, it might be to ensure that your orientation makes more accurate forecasts than those of your opponents. If we’re talking business competition, substitute “customers” for “opponents.” Continue reading