We’re doing something wrong

Compare what we got out of our Middle Eastern adventure (not forgetting to include its $3-5 trillion opportunity cost) to what the Chinese are doing in Africa in the meantime:

All across the continent, Chinese companies are signing deals that dwarf the old railroad project. The most heavily reported involve oil production; since the turn of the millennium, Chinese companies have muscled in on lucrative oil markets in places like Angola, Nigeria, Algeria, and Sudan. But oil is neither the largest nor the fastest-growing part of the story. Chinese firms are striking giant mining deals in places like Zambia and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and building what is being touted as the world’s largest iron mine in Gabon. They are prospecting for land on which to build huge agribusinesses. And to get these minerals and crops to market, they are building major new ports and thousands of miles of highway.

Howard W. French, The Next Empire, in the May 2010 Atlantic Magazine.

Fast transients?

Boyd first used the term in his briefing “New Conception for Air-to-Air Combat,” which he completed in August 1976.  He defined them in terms of the ability to “both lose energy and gain energy more quickly while outturning an adversary.” (18)  The significance of this statement was that until about the late 1960s, fighter aircraft designers had concentrated on the ability to gain energy — fly higher and faster, for example — but not to lose it.  Boyd was suggesting that you needed both, and more important, the ability to transit between the two states quickly.

Fine, but limited, it would appear, to dogfighting — air-to-air combat with short-range weapons.

But on the next chart, he began to generalize: “The idea of fast transients suggests that in order to win or gain superiority, we should operate at a faster tempo than our adversaries or inside our adversaries’ time scales.”  He concluded that if we can do this, we will appear ambiguous to our adversaries and “thereby generate confusion and disorder.”

Confusion and disorder. Wow. Between these two charts, Boyd has somehow transitioned from the Red Baron to a theory of combat, if not conflict, from the mathematical to the psychological, from engineering to strategy.

He concludes with “He who can handle the quickest rate of change survives,” in air-to-air combat and in waging war.

There are still plenty of unanswered questions, of which the most important is what does “quickest rate of change” mean if you’re not in air-to-air combat, where Boyd gives a precise definition?

However, even at this point, Boyd has uncovered the essence of what he would later call “operating inside the OODA loop,” and it wouldn’t be too much to say that the next 11 years, which took him through Patterns of Conflict, Strategic Game and Organic Design, were elaborations of this basic theme.

The story of John Boyd

As told by Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates to the cadets of the US Air Force Academy on April 2, 2010:


Scroll down about half way.  The “to be or to do” speech is a few paragraphs before the end.

I can’t tell you how pleased I am that John is finally receiving recognition from the Defense Establishment.  Now you may think it’s pushing things a little to call Bob Gates a member of the defense establishment, and perhaps you’re right, considering that he spent nearly his entire career as an intelligence professional.  But he’s been SECDEF for going on four years now and was also an Air Force officer, commissioned from OTS in 1967. That ought to do it.

I think John would be delighted, also, although (curmudgeon that he was) he’d try to hide it.

Welcome to Fast Transients

My old blog at chetrichards.com got badly hacked.  As soon as we discovered it, we deleted the blog software.  It was a WordPress blog hosted in a Network Solutions site.  NS has had security problems before — you may recall that DNI was operated the same way and with the same results — and they may be having them again.

In any case, welcome to the new blog!  We’ll be moving documents over from the old site, but not, alas, the posts, which are gone forever.

The posts below are the exceptions. They were moved from chetrichards.com in order to help build this blog.  Gina, in case you’re wondering, is the site’s designer.