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.

9 thoughts on “Shaping and Adapting

  1. ” mind, body, and environment interact. ”
    Three domains that I call culture, structure, and position. What is common to all is the advantage (energy) represented by each of them.
    Howard Bloom in his book “Global Mind” called them logic, physics, and ethics. They are the 3 domains a philosopher must master.
    I am not a philosopher, but I played one on the internet 🙂

  2. Maj. Tremblay is on the right track. Boyd’s OODA loop is introduced early in an officer’s career and then rarely revisited. It needs to be part of the Marine Corps training and education program, with emphasis on education. His challenge will be finding the time to talk theory in a very busy culture of practical doers.

  3. It is interesting to note outside of the USMC, just how little attention that Boyd’s ideas have gotten. Perhaps the USAF in particular has been deliberately trying to forget about him?

    I think that increasingly, good culture is the prerequisite to getting any real reform done – sadly most organizations do not have a good culture.

    • Amen! One way to put this is that leaders should put their Schwerpunkt on the culture (“Put the Schwerpunkt on Schwerpunkt“).

      • I mean, one reason the Air Force (AF) didn’t become disciples of Boyd must have been the AF’s reliance on structure.
        If an Orientation takes place inside the space that you work, i.e.workspace, then the AF’s work environment is space, and that space is filled with air. So don’t build the AF a 5th Generation airplane. It really doesn’t matter to the AF.
        What it comes down to: you will need to fill that space with something and because that space is filled with air it is assumed our AF will always be there.
        Which is fine, but they will just not be in the capacity that most in the AF wants. In other words, it will be up to the AF’s culture to change with the environment, and, unless you are a disciple of Boyd, it is hard for culture to change.
        So culture is not important to the AF, until, of course, when it does become important in a changing environment. Name the F35 a job’s bill. Even if it stinks culturally, it is not important to the AF, as getting the 5th Generation plane built and maintaining their culture.
        To the Marines, culture and position is important. As disciples of Boyd, their culture is built on a changing environment, and their ability to hold a position. So structure is not as important, because they will make do with what they have. So unlike the AF, whose structure is based on a changing position, for the Marines,as long as the culture maintains its position in the workspace of the Marines, the structure doesn’t have to change.
        As such, structure isn’t important to the Marines, until it is.

    • Altandmain, you said, “I think that increasingly, good culture is the prerequisite to getting any real reform done – sadly most organizations do not have a good culture.”
      I think it is safe to say that both the Marines and Air Force are completely different Orientations. Cultural wise, perhaps it is best to understand the position they both come from.
      A position is only held by the static constraints put upon them. In other words, their position have different constraints.
      The Marines are culturally constrained within the Boyd’s loop, while the Air Force is structurally constrained.
      It is not that one cannot walk in the other’s shoes. The fact is, one isn’t even wearing shoes.

  4. I do not think that the US Marine Corps are an organization that has truly implemented Boyd’s ideals; just far less “bad” than the US Air Force.

    I would agree that the Air Force though is in terrible shape culture wise. The F-35 is an example of something that is actively trying to forget about what good fighter design is for example. I don’t think there is an organization truly close to it. Perhaps a startup? Maybe companies inevitably develop a bad culture after a certain size?

    But more important than any weapons is the people. The culture is not a place that will tolerate the kind of thinking needed to produce changes. That is the real issue. No reformers could possibly emerge.

    A more disturbing question I have is – can an entire nation have a fundamentally broken OODA loop? Or be in total denial about the problems that it faces? I fear that the world is getting a front row seat given the political, economic, environmental, and other issues facing the US right now.

    • “I do not think that the US Marine Corps are an organization that has truly implemented Boyd’s ideals; just far less “bad” than the US Air Force.”
      Perhaps so. I have read somewhere that the Marine Corp has gone back to being an expeditionary force, so maybe you are correct. A force forming expeditions away from Naval forces probably doesn’t need Boyd. Naval forces hold a position that they understand that they may not be able to maintain, but have a nation behind them that is assumed will.
      On the other hand, it does seem to me that the Major implemented Boyd’s ideals, and not without some success. Remember, Boyd showed the process, but he basically used strategy to defeat it. The Major understood the process, but I think there was a clear strategy behind his success.
      “The F-35 is an example of something that is actively trying to forget about what good fighter design is for example.”
      May I ask from what context you are basing your fighter design on? The only claim to advantage I have heard is that the F-35 is a 5th Generation fighter, and is a master of the z-axis. Are you saying it is not?

  5. “A more disturbing question I have is – can an entire nation have a fundamentally broken OODA loop”
    Broken in what way? Does the US hold a position that is indefensible, does it cultural scale tip in such a way as there is no observable right or wrong, or is it structure non-resilient, as to take away from its strengths?
    What little relationship I have with this the new generation, in the US today, I have to answer no.
    And maybe, hell no!

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