Inside our OODA loops?

Spencer Ackerman posted an analysis yesterday of what might be called the strategic dynamics of the Iraqi conflict:

At the risk of saying something disputable, from 2003 to mid-2007, the insurgencies in Iraq had faster OODA Loops than the U.S. did. That’s not to say that there weren’t discrete tactical successes: there were, and lots of them. But those developments are coterminous with the concept of the Loop …

To make a further contention that will be disputed by historians: what Petraeus and Odierno actually did — and it is not a small achievement — was disrupt the insurgencies’ Loops more than any other U.S. commanders were able to. They kept the insurgencies in a state of confusion for months and prevented successful orientation. But the rise in U.S. and Iraqi civilian casualties demonstrates that the insurgencies’ Loops have now closed.

Although Ackerman uses the cyclical version, which I generally discourage, in this case it’s not a bad description of what we’re seeing in Iraq — action and reaction cycles.  Note his astute reference to “orientation.”

Which brings up an interesting point:  Could we do better by using a more sophisticated understanding of the OODA “loop”?  What Ackerman describes, accurately, I think, is a move-countermove game.  Boyd suggested that when OODA loops are done right, the competitive situation looks somewhat different (Patterns, 176):

In a tactical sense, these multi-dimensional interactions suggest a spontaneous, synthetic/creative, and flowing action/counteraction operation, rather than a step-by-step, analytical/logical, and discrete move/countermove game. …

In a strategic sense, these interactions suggest we need a variety of possibilities as well as the rapidity to implement and shift among them. Why?

Ability to simultaneously and sequentially generate many different possibilities as well as rapidly implement and shift among them permits one to repeatedly generate mismatches between events/efforts adversary observes or imagines and those he must respond to (to survive).

Without a variety of possibilities, adversary is given the opportunity to read as well as adapt to events and efforts as they unfold.

As Ackerman notes, our opponents in Iraq are able to understand what we’re doing and then change their tactics accordingly.  Boyd is suggesting that instead of waiting to see what they come up with, we should change our strategy and tactics again, before they can understand what is going on.  That is the textbook definition of “operating inside the OODA ‘loop,'” a la Patterns 132.

[Thanks to Fabius Maximus for the tip and congrats to Spencer Ackerman for a most insightful column.] 

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