Why Boyd is Agile

Boyd virtually never uses the word “agile,” but it’s hard to read any of his presentations without running across concepts that seem like agility.

For example, you’ll find this right at the beginning of Patterns of Conflict:

Idea of fast transients suggests that, in order to win, we should operate at a faster tempo or rhythm than our adversaries—or, better yet, get inside adversary’s observation-orientation-decision-action time cycle or loop. (5)

“Fast transients,” “operate at a faster tempo or rhythm,” “get inside adversary’s observation-orientation-decision-action time cycle or loop” (whatever that means) certain have that agile feel.

Then a few pages over:

It is advantageous to possess a variety of responses that can be applied rapidly to gain sustenance, avoid danger, and diminish adversary’s capacity for independent action. (12)

“A variety of responses that can be applied rapidly,” sounds pretty agile (note that it is the application, not the responses themselves, that is rapid).

Boyd is closely associated with the style of combat known as “maneuver warfare.” Although that term doesn’t appear in Patterns, he does discuss a category that he calls “maneuver conflict.” and one of its components is:

Fast transient maneuvers: Irregular and rapid/abrupt shift from one maneuver
event/state to another.

Near the end of the theory section of Patterns (what follows is “Application”), in the “Theme for Vitality and Growth,” we find:

Adaptability: Power to adjust or change in order to cope with new or unforeseen circumstances (144)

Is “adaptability” the same as agility? About three years after Boyd “finished” Patterns, he redid the list on page 144. Among other things, adaptability disappeared and “agility” showed up, for only the second time in any Boyd briefing. Unfortunately he didn’t supply a definition.

Let me give one more example. In Strategic Game, which came out about a year after the final edition of Patterns, Boyd insisted that:

The ability to shift or transition from one maneuver to another more rapidly than an adversary enables one to win in air-to-air combat. (42) [Compare to “fast transient maneuvers” above]

This is significant because “shifting maneuvers,” say from turning in one direction to turning in another, or from climbing to diving, or from accelerating to decelerating (or any combination) was the original definition of “agility” in the US Air Force.

It’s even more basic, though. If “operating inside the OODA loop” is the same as agility, then agility is the foundation of all Boyd’s military strategy, as you can see from chart 132 of Patterns (too long to reproduce here) and from this paragraph in Strategic Game:

Mentally we can isolate our adversaries by presenting them with ambiguous, deceptive, or novel situations, as well as by operating at a tempo or rhythm they can neither make out nor keep up with. Operating inside their O-O-D-A loops will accomplish just this by disorienting or twisting their mental images so that they can neither appreciate nor cope with what’s really going on. (47)

From even this small sample, you should be able to see that concepts that seem an awful lot like “agility” permeate Boyd’s work and form a backbone at least to the destructive elements of his theory. Enough theory for now. We’ll explore what his ultimate definition was, and how it might apply to activities other than war, in later posts.

One thought on “Why Boyd is Agile

  1. This of course begins with OBSERVATION, with an unbiased and sound perception,
    along with ORIENTATION, of the situation.

    Without which, you create a house of cards.


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