More After Boyd

More stuff to read after you’ve OD’d on Boyd’s Discourse.

  • One reader suggested Nicholas Taleb, particularly Fooled by Randomness, The Black Swan, and Antifragile
  • Another recommended Reality is not what it seems, by Carlo Rovelli and The Soul’s Code: In Search of Character and Calling, by James Hillman

Please add your suggestions in the Comments.

If you’d like more on how the IDF operates, here are two by Martin van Creveld:

Command in War

  • Command in War (also one of Boyd’s favorites; the quote on Organic Design chart 29 starts on p. 199).
  • The Olive and the Sword, a Critical History of the Israeli Defense Force

The important thing is not to take any of these as gospel (same applies to Boyd’s briefings, too) but as sources of ideas. For example a previous post mentioned four elements of the IDF culture:

  • Complete the mission
  • Perform every action to perfection
  • Follow through at any cost
  • Be “ruthlessly candid” in debriefings

On page 196 of Command, van Creveld cites:

  • Individual daring
  • Maintenance of aim
  • Improvisation
  • Resourcefulness

Are these different translations of the same concepts? Complementary? Contradictory? Would any apply to you? How would you build them in your organization? How could you demonstrate that your program is working, i.e., that you’re having a positive effect on organizational performance?

A side of tachboulah, please

The Lion’s Gate: On the Front Lines of the Six Day War
Steven Pressfield
New York: Penguin 2014
398 pages

CoverLionsGateIn my last post, I suggested a few things to read once you’ve become satiated with Boyd himself (don’t worry, it happens). A reader kindly recommended Steven Pressfield’s study of the Six Day War, told from the viewpoints of Israeli participants ranging from 19-year-old troopers to Minister of Defense Moshe Dayan. I highly recommend it as a source book for illustrating the major points of Boyd’s work.

I will admit to being a huge fan of Pressfield, beginning with The Gates of Fire. I suspect that regardless of your position on the various players in the Levant, past or present, you’ll find The Lion’s Gate to be a page-turner.

Continue reading

Why can’t one aircraft do it all?

Years ago, there was a concept floating around the Pentagon called the “hi / lo mix.”  The idea was that you couldn’t afford the thousands of expensive but highly capable fighters the Air Force and Navy wanted, so you bought a reasonable block of them and filled the fleet out with a large number of less capable but cheaper “lo” fighters.

This concept reached concrete form with the F-15 as “hi” and the F-16 as “lo.”  Logical, but as Scott Bledsoe & Mike Benitez show in their paper on War in the Rocks, “Rethinking the Hi-Lo Mix, Part I: Origin Story,” this is not exactly how it happened.   Continue reading

Amazing what you can find on Google

Like an essay by an Israeli general that originally appeared in Hebrew in an Israeli defense journal in September 1949 (that would be coming up on 66 years ago).

Boyd extracted a paragraph from it as Chart 99 of Patterns of Conflict. Chuck Spinney, some 35 years after Boyd incorporated it, got worried about the source and after a few minutes, found the original.  We have now added a citation to that slide.

Chuck made the following observation:

If you think about it, this is Israel’s strategy — as well as its grand strategy — to this day: Divide up its opponents. This becomes clear in the use of settlements and Israeli-only roads to carve up and control the West Bank and in its failing effort to isolate Iran. Of course, strategy is destructive and these ideas work to destroy your adversary, but grand strategy should be constructive, it should end the conflict on favorable terms that do not also sow seeds for future conflict. Applying concepts from strategy, such as these from Gen. Yadin, to shape a grand strategy is a prescription for perpetual conflict and destruction (ultimately your own)!

Chuck, incidentally, is echoing Boyd’s observation that strategy is destructive while grand strategy should be constructive, which Boyd put on Chart 142 of Patterns. The notion that grand strategy should “end the conflict on favorable terms, while ensuring that conflict and peace terms do not provide seeds for (unfavorable) future conflict” is from Chart 139.

Chuck has a nice treatment of grand strategy on his Blaster blog, and all of Boyd’s briefings, including the newly revised Patterns of Conflict, can be downloaded from our Articles page.

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.

Islamic “Fundamentalism”

If your conception of ISIS imagines illiterate fanatics making suicidal charges in pickup trucks and are confused about how a glorified motorcycle gang could conquer half of Iraq and Syria, wiping out a $25 BN US investment in the Iraqi army in the process, you might want to learn more about the roots of the movement and how it is trained and led today. Such an understanding may come in handy in the future.

For background, try William R. Polk’s article, Understanding Islamic Fundamentalism, on consortiumnews.com. As he explains:

Some of [Sayyid Qutub’s] writings bear comparison to the Islamic legal classics. As a group, they have attracted a mass readership — believed to be in the tens of millions — throughout the Islamic world and have apparently influenced men as opposed to one another as the leaders of the Taliban, the Saudi Royal Establishment, al-Qaida, the Iranian and Iraqi clerics [Arabic: ulema] and now the various and competing groups of Syrian militants. Sayyid Qutub is the philosopher of the Islamic revolution.

Implicit in his writings was the idea that Islam is under attack and therefore must defend itself because failure to do so would be to contravene the intention of God. Continue reading

Is blitzkrieg enough?

Did the Germans win WW II?

Maneuver warfare, a modern updating of the infiltration tactics that led to the stunning German successes in 1939 through late 1941, is a better way to fight opposing military forces: Create a gap in the enemy defenses, penetrate into his rear areas, cause panic and chaos, and exploit before he can figure out what’s going on. Numbers become irrelevant and can even be a vulnerability once panic sets in. Continue reading

Vandergriff: Selfless vs. Selfish Service

Here’s a guest editorial by my friend and colleague, Don Vandergriff. Consider it my Christmas present to you all.

Chet


I read MG Bob Scales’s piece on Anton Myrer’s wonderful novel Once an Eagle in Tom Ricks blog “The Best Defense.” I wholeheartily disagree with his assessment. Despite his recommendation to do away with it, it is necessary and should be a mandatory book for all cadets to read regardless of commissioning source! In sum, Scales (and Ricks) interprets the whole book as a command-vs-staff conflict. It is not, as I point out in the review below. The first thing someone has to do to understand this, though, is to read Myrer’s 1200 pages (I have done it twice in 13 years). Then, they must understand the evils of self-serving careerism pitted against the honorable selfless service that the services all claim they promote Their incentives, however, all work the other way.

While it is a nice fantasy to believe that MG Bob Scales (ret.) has had such an impact on COLs and LTCs at the War College, the Army culture from the time right after WWII, but institutionalized in Vietnam, had already set a course of self-serving careerism (Once an Eagle was published in 1969). It is a route toward rampant careerism based on out-of-date assumptions on ambition and talent management drawn from new Human Resource theories developed in the Progressive age, codified in the wave of emerging theories written in the 20s and 30s, and later taught in the leading business schools to the new captains serving in HR (now AG) after WWII. Anton Myrer’s insights toward this trend are remarkable given the time he was writing this and based on his own service in WWII; but he also saw the reflecting trends in American society going this way (and unfortunately continuing today).

Again, why I laugh at all the people that say there is such a cultural gap between US society and the military — there is not one. We are reflective of the emerging values of today’s society’s focus on the new values system of money, things, and time. Anton Myrer points out in vivid detail in many of the non-military scenes that he puts Sam Damon through in the interwar years and his conflict of getting out, at the constant demand of his wife Tommy Damon, in order to ride the wave of greed in the 20s! Damon (Myrer) sees the shallowness in this trend, which by the way is appearing again today, but even worse as the kings of the big banks and Wall Street (while using their political cronies to pave the way) simply rearrange the deck chairs on the Titanic (to buy an additional 7th home at the expense of everyone else). They know it, the data is there, and they are still doing it, while using our own elective officials to do it (and I am a libertarian, hating both parties). Despite countless opportunities to ride this way, Damon refuses, because the honor of leading soldiers and serving them and the nation he believes in always draws him back.

Additionally, the book’s focus is at the heart of selfless-serving versus selfish-serving. It has little to do with command vs staff, except only as a vehicle to demonstrate the former conflict. Courtney Massingale seeks the most prominent staff and command positions, always on someone’s coat tails, to avoid the responsibility of having to make the risky decisions when leading and commanding soldiers (regardless of branch type) at any level unless and until it only serves him (Corps Command in the Pacific in late 44 when the war is already decided and the ability to gain all the glory while avoiding the hazards of the frontlines).

In reverse, Sam Damon always does seek these tough assignments, but as you read the bylines, the system is not rewarding of this (so the lesson taken away can have the opposite effect that he, Scales, claims it has). Damon is constantly viewed by the Army establishment as a maverick and is only put in regimental and division command in the worse place possible, New Guinea northern coast in late 42/43 (Read the book America’s First Battles on the disastrous campaign there) out of desperation and because no one else of prominence wanted it. The chosen ones are all trying to go to Europe to serve in the real war with Nazi Germany. Also, Courtney serves in many aide-de-camp and executive officer for GO positions as well. Another prominent step to the top today.

No, data and research have shown that the value sets of most officers toward service or selfish service are set in stone by the time they reach the War College. This book will have little or no impact on anyone other than confirm their own deep seated feelings on who they really are or have become. When asked about this book in 2012 by the CG of Cadet Command for continual reading by cadets, I said “YES!” it needs to be, there is still a chance to mold these aspiring leaders before being corrupted by our own personnel system.


As with so much of Don’s work, these comments apply not just to the military but to any large bureaucratic organization.

Bill Lind: 4GW is Alive and Well

4GW is Alive and Well

William S. Lind
Special to Slightly East of New

25 May 2013

So “the world simply didn’t develop along the lines it (4GW) proposed”? How do you say that in Syriac?

The basic error in Chet Richards’ piece of April 19, “Is 4GW dead?” is confusing the external and internal worlds. Internally, in the U.S. military and the larger defense and foreign policy establishment, 4GW is dead, as is maneuver warfare and increasingly any connection to the external world. The foreign policy types can only perceive a world of states, in which their job is to promote the Wilsonian nee Jacobin, follies of “democracy” and “universal human rights.” They are in fact, 4GW’s allies, in that their demand for “democracy” undermines states, opening the door for more 4GW. Continue reading

Safety in spirals

“The safety of the enterprise lay in its novelty.”  Confederate Col John Singleton Mosby, commenting on his successful nabbing (NY Times) of Union Gen Edwin Stoughton well behind Union lines. A nifty example of a special operation.

Of course, the safety of the enterprise also lay in Mosby’s ability to do the daring deed and get his rear end out of Dodge before the enormous blue army all round him noticed his presence. Which required generating a continuous stream of quick-witted novelty. Where does all this novelty come from? Continue reading