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.