Tom Barnett endorses Romney

Unexpected, to say the least, because Tom usually describes himself as a Democrat. His reasoning is interesting:

The sad truth about a second Obama presidency

Tom is quite familiar with Boyd’s work, and I admit to being a big fan of what he’s trying to achieve. Where we differ is on method: He still supports large armies, talks about power projection, solves the problem of terrorism by “killing bad guys,” and thinks that economics is driven by how many sub-minimum wage workers you have.

On the other hand, he considers our level of strategic thinking as “pathetic.” Here’s a briefing that he gave last year.  Pay close attention to his strategy for dealing with Afghanistan and South Asia. You may not agree with it, but it is refreshingly out of the box.

All in all, we have much more in common than any points of disagreement, and I consider him as one of our best geopolitical strategists. I think that after watching this, you’ll understand why he isn’t a senior figure in the administration, the more the loss for the rest of us.



Feral Jundi on Balck

Feral Jundi [Arabic: draftee or private], who has commented on posts here from time to time, has a great piece on Hermann Balck.

Balck was undoubtedly Boyd’s favorite among the field commanders of WWII, ranking this relatively junior commander in such company as Stonewall Jackson, U.S. Grant, Field Marshals von Manstein and Rommel, and the US Generals Patton and MacArthur (Patterns 111).

For more information on the Truppenführung and the “Prussian” system generally, I strongly recommend Fighting Power by the Israeli historian Martin van Creveld (Greenwood Press, 1982).

Kudos to Boyd, Vandergriff, and Dempsey

In a speech to the recent Joint Warfighting Conference in Virginia Beach, Army GEN Martin Dempsey, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, reached a conclusion that could have come straight out of Boyd:

In the end, said Dempsey, “our best hedge against degraded environments is mission command and adaptive leadership” — the ability of leaders at all levels to think for themselves and find a new way to achieve the objective without waiting for orders. That’s a cultural challenge for the military given a long-established preference for detailed, centralized planning, and modern networks that give top commanders constant computer connectivity to their subordinates only makes micromanagement easier. [From: “Humans, Not Hardware, Will Get Military Through Tough Budget Times: Dempsey,” By Sydney J. Freedberg Jr., AOL Defense, Strategy & Policy, May 17, 2012]

“Mission command” is a common translation of Auftragstaktik, and some of you may recall “adaptive leadership” from Don Vandergriff’s book Raising the Bar.

One way to think of it is that Auftragstaktik makes strong use of the implicit guidance and control feed from orientation directly to action. If you become too explicit, you’ll defeat the entire idea.

On the other hand, adaptive leadership requires the ability to rapidly size up the unfolding situation and get the organization going in a way to influence it.  The fact that it is “adaptive” means that you aren’t just using pre-programmed responses but have gray matter engaged. If you think about it, that’s the classic observe-orient-decide-act pattern, employed to quickly come up with and test new actions on the fly (that is, while under fire), as Boyd described in Conceptual Spiral.

Put them together, you have Boyd’s OODA “loop” sketch from The Essence of Winning and Losing.

The concept of mission control + adaptive leadership harmonizes well with Boyd’s idea of leadership: “implies the art of inspiring people to enthusiastically take action toward the achievement of uncommon goals.” [Organic Design, 37]

Van Creveld redux

If you don’t usually peruse The National out of Abu Dhabi, you might have missed this story about the creation of a “private navy” to counter piracy along the shipping corridor between the Red and Arabian Seas:

Private navy planned to counter pirate raids

Can you believe that it’s been 21 years since Martin van Creveld published The Transformation of War? My.

Once the legal monopoly of armed force, long claimed by the state, is wrested out of its hands, existing distinctions between war and crime will break down (204)

Much of the day-to-day burden of defending society against the threat of low-intensity conflict will be transferred to the booming security business (207 — remember, this was 1991!)

He made several predictions about the future of the state, none of them encouraging. Here are a couple:

Any community able and, more importantly, willing to exert itself to protect its members will be able to call on those members’ loyalty (198)

Armies will be replaced by police-like security forces on the one hand and bands of ruffians on the other, not that the difference is always clear even today (225).

Perhaps most discouraging:

America’s current (1991) economic decline must be halted; or else one day the crime that is rampant in the streets of New York and Washington, D.C., may develop into low-intensity conflict by coalescing along racial, religious, social, and political lines, and run completely out of control (196).

Ben Franklin – 4th Generation Warrior

What artillery and air power are in Third Generation war, cash is in the Fourth Generation: your most useful supporting arm. [FMFM-1A, Fourth Generation Warfare, 12 August 2009, p. 68.]

It’s an old idea:

In England, the rotten-borough system flourished, and the nabobs outbid all other purchasers. Franklin deplored the American war for a peculiar reason: “Why did they [the Continental Congress] not let me go on? If they had given me a fourth of the money they have spent on the war, we should have had our independence without spending a drop of blood. I would have bought all the Parliament, the whole government of Britain.” [Will and Arial Durant, Rousseau and Revolution, p. 733.]

All the 4GW manuals are available at DNIPOGO,

Chart 141, part 2

As a synthesis of all that comes before it, chart 141 will repay a little more study. Like, if you’re at the snowmobile dealer’s, you might want to do more than just admire the paint scheme.

The first thing that might strike you is: What is it with all these levels? There are six, and “grand tactics” has three bullets all to itself. Does it have to be this complicated? Rather than accepting Boyd’s scheme or (God forbid!) trying to memorize it, you might think about this question. If you’re not into large-scale combat on land, then you should ponder whether the notion of “levels” even makes sense for you.

On the next chart, Boyd suggests that for armed conflict,  you’ll need at least two levels, a constructive ideal, represented by the top two, and some concept for compelling opponents to accede to your wishes (the bottom four).  So one thing you might start with is asking if such a scheme makes any sense for other forms of conflict, such as business.

My guess is that because Patterns is primarily concerned with armed conflict on land, Boyd started with the levels that are familiar to practitioners of that art: tactical, operational, and strategic. Roughly these are:

tactical — fighting the battle
operational — what you do between battles; maneuver
strategic — overall concept for the campaign; what you’re trying to accomplish with the battles you do fight

First thing he did is rename the operational level to “grand tactics.”

Next, remember back on chart 2, which I mentioned in an earlier post, one of his purposes was to “help generalize tactics and strategy.” He doesn’t say anything about “grand tactics” or “strategic aim.” In fact, when he briefed chart 2, he would always caution against becoming rigid or dogmatic in your definitions of “tactics” and “strategy.” He’d tell the audience, “strategy” is what you’re trying to accomplish, while “tactics” is how you’re going to do it. If you look at chart 141 again, each level can be thought of as tactics to the more strategic level above it. Put another way, for each level except tactics, the level just below it answers the “how?” question.

This is really interesting. If you are familiar with lean production or the Toyota Production System, you may remember something called the “five whys.” As one of the system’s creators, Taiichi Ohno (Toyota Production System, 1988, p. 17), illustrated it:

1. The machine stopped.
2. There was an overload and a fuse blew.
Why was there an overload?
3. The bearing was not lubricated properly
4. The lubrication pump wasn’t working right
5. The shaft of the pump was worn out.
6. There was no strainer attached and metal scrap got in.

As Ohno pointed out, if you didn’t go through this process and get to the root cause, you’d replace the fuse and sometime, probably in the near future, you’d have the same problem (and stop production again).

In “The Five Whys,” we’re asking “what caused it?”  If you start at the top of chart 141, you are, essentially, asking, “what are we going to do to make this happen?” or equivalently, “what’s going to cause it?” The distinction is inconsequential. Both produce the insight that leads off IOHAI.

If you start at the top level and ask “How?” five times, you get … six levels.

I’m reasonably sure that Boyd was not aware of the “five whys” when he created chart 141. I have a version of Patterns dated September 1981 that contains this chart with the same six levels (although the definitions did change some in the intervening five years), but as far as I know, Boyd didn’t encounter the five whys concept until he started reading about the TPS in the mid-1980s.

Coincidence? Probably. From his study of Sun Tzu, though, Boyd was familiar with the philosophical infrastructure that underlies both maneuver and moral conflict as well as the Toyota Way (of which the production system is a component). So perhaps five “hows?” just intuitively seemed right to him. This suggests that if your field isn’t armed conflict, you’re still going to want some structure inspired by the five whys/hows.

There’s more we can milk out of chart 141, but this should get you started.

New edit of Patterns of Conflict

Now available on our Articles page.

At 185 pages plus seven pages of sources, Patterns is by far the longest of Boyd’s briefings.  Chronologically, it sits in the middle of Boyd’s post-retirement corpus, completed (if that is the word) about 10 years after “Destruction and Creation” and about 10 years before The Essence of Winning and Losing. For many people, it represents the entirety of Boyd’s work; it is “the Boyd briefing.” It was certainly the most presented — estimates range into the hundreds — and is still the one I get the most requests for.

In this edition, I have corrected a half dozen remaining typos and brought the punctuation more in line with modern usage.  I have also simplified the formatting to try to make Patterns more accessible to readers who did not have the opportunity to see Boyd deliver it in person, the last such event probably 20 years ago. With the corrections as noted, all the original text is present. The “Sources” section was not edited.

The original version of Patterns was typed onto regular 8.5 by 11 paper turned sideways and then run through a machine that made “transparencies.” Some of you will remember this process. For the rest of you, all you have to know is that changes, even the most simple, usually required retyping the entire page. And Boyd didn’t type, so after a while, there were no more changes and certainly for nothing as insignificant as correcting commas or hyphens.

Still, Boyd kept building snowmobiles.  On his infamous calls, he would be discussing some esoteric point and then happen to mention that he wanted to change something in Patterns, and he expected you to go to your reference copy and make the change in pen and ink. Perhaps the best known is in the “Theme for Vitality and Growth,” chart 144, which in about 1989 or so went from “insight, initiative, adaptability, and harmony” to IOHAI: Insight, orientation, harmony, agility, and initiative. I have left the original but added IOHAI as a note (Boyd did not supply concise definitions for orientation and agility, so I have also provided a little explanation).

Chuck and I have also added several notes where we feel strongly that Boyd would have made additions had he the opportunity because these are remarks he made every time he gave the presentation. We have left Boyd’s telegraphic style intact because that’s how he wanted it: “Need fighter that …” not “Need a fighter that …” on page 4, for example.

Underlines in the original are indicated by bolding in this version (an option that Boyd didn’t have, of course, but which adds to readability in an age where underlining usually indicates a hyperlink). Back then, an underline was an instruction for the printer to set the text in italics (another option Boyd didn’t have), but italics are too easily lost on the screen.

If you’d like to see the original, it, along with originals of all of Boyd’s other works, are available as PDF scans at

If you find any more typos, please let me know.

Agiity and deception

Fighting for Honor
The history of African martial arts traditions in the Atlantic world
by T.J. Desch Obi
University of South Carolina Press, 2008
346 pages, including 124 pages of notes and bibliography

Reviewed by Chet Richards

Kum yali, kum buba tambe! (He is tricky, so I will win by being tricky, too!)

As a southerner of European ancestry, I had long wondered how slave owners kept control over their victims. On many plantations, slaves vastly outnumbered owners and overseers, and because of the hard nature of their work, many slaves were in much better physical conditions than their owners. Why didn’t the slaves revolt or simply leave?

It turns out that many did. Most Americans are familiar with the Underground Railroad and may even recall the Nat Turner Rebellion (1831), the Fugitive Slave Acts (1793 and 1850) and the Dred Scott Decision (1857). But there are a couple of other ways slaves used to preserve their honor and sometimes even their freedom. One of these was “maroonage,” where they would abandon their plantations and settle in the swamps, rugged hills and dense forests of the South. It has been estimated, for example, that the Great Dismal Swamp of southeastern Virginia and northeastern North Carolina may have harbored maroon communities totaling perhaps 2,000 escaped slaves.

The other was simply to resist. As T. J. Obi meticulously documents in this study, Africans and their descendents brought with them an arsenal of well developed martial arts styles. These provided the basis for preserving honor withing the slave communities and even, on occasion, to resist vicious beatings by overseers.

There were two keys to making this work: deception, because an unarmed defender had to close with his attacker, and agility, to avoid weapons and complete the attack. Obi includes these under the label “tricknology.”

When fighting a white oppressor, the ideal was to strike a butting-style head blow and finish the fight before it even developed. … As such butts had to be delivered at close range to be effective, a fighter had to use trickery to close the distance under some innocuous disguise.  (p. 109)

Readers familiar with Boyd will immediately recognize the concept of “operating inside the OODA loop.”

The book itself is quite academic and heavily footnoted, reflecting its origins in doctoral research. That said, however, it’s not a heavy read and is packed with interesting tidbits. Did you know that maroon communities survive to this day in the mountains of Jamaica, where they won their freedom by successful resistance some 50 years before the official abolition of slavery in that colony? And slave societies developed all manner of methods to conceal their existence from their owners. In one area, for example, the message “weevils in the wheat” meant that overseers had discovered that a meeting was planned and so it was being postponed.

Perhaps the most fascinating conclusion of the book is that African martial arts techniques still survive in the Americas. Perhaps the best known example is the Brazilian capoiera, but Dr. Obi’s research on site in the low country of the Carolinas documents their existence in the Gullah communities and their descendents into the 21st century.

[You want agility? Check out this YouTube video of a capoiera demo. The kicks and sweeps from inverted positions are typical of Angolan fighting styles.]

Real OODA loops and IWCKI

New in our Articles section (see menu bar above):

Boyd’s Real OODA Loop.  I’ve been working on this thing for about a year now, and I think it finally meets the definition of a masterpiece: not finished, just abandoned. The original purpose was to point out that the most popular version of the OODA loop–observe, then orient, then decide, then act–is not wrong but is incomplete. It is, in fact, a subset of the complete “loop” that Boyd drew in “The Essence of Winning and Losing” (also available in Articles) that accounts for the generation of novelty and is a key mechanism in keeping the orientation process humming along smoothly. It is not, however, particularly useful for initiating actions in the heat of battle.

If We Can Keep It. The folks at the Center for Defense Information have kindly assented to my posting the pdf of IWCKI. Published in January 2008, it was the latest in the trilogy that began with A Swift, Elusive Sword. I tried to push the envelope with this one, but I’m afraid that time has pulled it into the mainstream (see, for example, “The Top 10 Lessons of the Iraq War,” by Stephen M. Walt in Foreign Policy).  I mean, even Newt is saying things like “We need to understand that our being in the middle of countries like Afghanistan is probably counterproductive.”

Thinking Like Marines

Mike Wyly’s classic article, Thinking Like Marines, on applying the concepts of maneuver warfare to business, is now available here on Fast Transients (it was one of the first pieces I posted on in about 1999).

Contains this classic line, which resonates with successful leaders in any field:

I should interject here that control is not what maneuver warfare is about. In fact it is not what warfare is about. As a commander in Vietnam I wanted to unleash my marines on the enemy, not control them.

It will be available through the “Articles” button on the menu bar.