When Sun-tzu met Clausewitz: John Boyd, the OODA Loop, and the invasion of Iraq

Dan Ford has a long post on Boyd and the OODA loop over on the Warbird Forum.  

He makes some interesting observations on how Boyd’s thinking about the OODA “loop” evolved over the years.  In particular, he documents that Boyd was still describing the OODA “loop” as a cycle as late as 1991.  My personal feeling is that Boyd felt it was just easier for people to grasp if he explained it one step as a time.  On the other hand, we’re still living with the problems this approach causes.

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6 Responses to “When Sun-tzu met Clausewitz: John Boyd, the OODA Loop, and the invasion of Iraq”

  1. Newjarheaddeanon 06 Jan 2009 at 7:37 pm 1

    AHOY, a great article! I found the Hydraulic and canopy advantages interesting. I did not know the genesis of Boyd’s theory. My 1st interest in warfare as a child was aerial, I was ahead of the times though, believing that the missile age was more advanced than it was in the late 70s. I hated the idea of shooting missiles OTH without ever maneuvering. I apologies to those who maybe tired of hearing me gripe about infantry tactics. However on the statement about the (theory of energy as the crucial factor in aerial combat, a finding that is now the basis of fighter-pilot training throughout the world). IMO a modern pilot never gets to practice spotting or maneuvering into an entry window. It is Buck Rogers now, and may the micro chip gods help them. On Kosovo vs. NATO that being so, how can the system compete with Terrorist groups? On Norman Swartzkopf vs. Cheney I’m lol, but wonder how Cheney got it wrong after 9-11 unless it was all about personal finances. On the conclusion it was great; I plan on placing it in my personal notes with this statement; You must have a workable strategy; i.e. the first, the supreme, the most far-reaching act of judgment that the statesman and commander have to make is to establish . . . the kind of war on which they are embarking; neither mistaking it for, nor trying to turn it into something that is alien to its nature. G-day!

  2. Maxon 10 Jan 2009 at 11:04 am 2

    Most amoung us recognise Boyd’s characterisation
    of the OODA loop for it’s brilliance in the quantification and scientific description of the rational
    decision making process.

    The difficulty the US military has is in virtualy every stage.

    Thier intial observations are colored by preconcieved notions, forgone coclusions, and agenda, handed from the top down by careerists and politicos.

    Thier orientation does not adapt or evolve quickly or effectively enough.

    Thier decisions are not based on objective observation
    and orientation.

    Thier actions and reactions are slow, ponderous
    sorely limited in effectiveness, and shackled by the botched implementation of the previous 3 stages, all motivated by political and carreerists ambitions.

    Apart from all that though, the US military has the entire process down pat,,,.


  3. loggie20on 10 Jan 2009 at 1:10 pm 3


    Great points all.

    If you make your career swing a hammer, every problem is a nail.

    I was in a weapon system acquisition strategy (fiction among liars to waste more of the taxpayers’ dough) briefing recently, the sole flag officer in the room said: “the XXX, used this strategy to sustain the equipment” Yes, loggies deal with generals, see Isaac campbell Kidd II on how that works.

    The idea has been shown quite useless (couple of GAO reports etc, comments in NDAA language etc) and too costly, but at the end of the meeting after the BG left the O-6 on the line commented on the brilliance of the idea and how it would be tried.

    Being the loggie in the room I explained it was not such a good plan.

    “Logisticians are a sad embittered race” well aware that policy and pride do not alter reality and at tiems have to tell the flags: “you cannot get there with the stuff I got”.

    It is bad form to fail to recognize the absolute brilliance of anything said by power.

    I have only a few more months to bread the naked lions then I am off to the front porch…………………

  4. Maxon 12 Jan 2009 at 2:11 pm 4

    “I have only a few more months to bread the naked lions then I am off to the front porch…………………

    God bless you.
    Fight the good fight.
    And may you will always be welcome and have a home right

    And here;


  5. senor tomason 12 Jan 2009 at 2:37 pm 5

    “It is bad form to fail to recognize the absolute brilliance of anything said by power.”

    This statement reminded me of something in the culture of United States Navy commisioned officers: always laugh at a joke told by a superior officer, even if it is not funny. Don’t know if this applies in the other branches as I was in the Navy.

  6. loggie20on 12 Jan 2009 at 9:19 pm 6

    senor tomas,

    The incident was Air Force. The suggestion had been scolded by at least two GAO studies over numerous applications.

    The O-6 was pandering, the O-7 was ill informed.

    The junior always tries what the superior suggests in passing, no matter how much loss it causes.


    I am a retread, long out of uniform. So my retirement is going to be short notice on my terms.

    Writing and commenting on blogs such as these will fill the days…