Boyd and Military Strategy

“One of the most able and successful brains I met in any army. Needless to say, he never rose in the war above the rank of colonel.”

-British Prime Minister David Lloyd George
on Colonel Richard Meinhertzhagen (WW I)

Independent of any specific geographical conflict, what sorts of strategies deal best with the types of conflict that go under the names “fourth generation warfare,” “low intensity conflict,” or, as favored by the late American strategist, Col John R. Boyd, “highly irregular warfare”? For our potential adversaries have surely learned that to challenge our high technology fighters and tanks in a “fair fight” will only produce defeat, but they may also be learning from Somalia, Bosnia, Kosovo, and especially Iraq that there are other ways to achieve their goals.Boyd’s insights on what makes an effective competitor may help us understand our strengths as well as our vulnerabilities in this new environment and what we should do to achieve our national interests at acceptable cost.

8/02/07 Shared Situational Understanding: A Summary of Fundamental Principles and Iconoclastic Observations, by Richard Maltz. In order to apply the concept of OODA “loops” to groups, rather than individuals, the notion of Orientation must be generalized. Boyd used the terms “common outlook” and “overall mind-time-space scheme” to describe the requisite expansion. In this paper, Maltz summarizes recent work on this problem. [39 KB PDF]

7/01/07 Boyd’s invitation “to be or to do?” As reconstructed by Robert Coram.

5/05/07 Distributed operations and command: a history, by Eric M. Walters, MA, MSSI. Col. Walters (USMC) summarizes the history and theory of maneuver warfare and offers thoughts on its future. Excellent introduction to the subject (and refresher, if need be). PPT slideshow with notes (3.7 MB) or PDF (493 KB). Also by Col. Walters: The next war: Four generations of future warriors - 2.5 MB PPT 10/2003

11/18/06 Book Preview: Science, Strategy, and War - The Strategic Theory of John Boyd by Col Frans Osinga, Royal Netherlands Air Force.

What Lessons Can the Agile Community Learn from a Maverick Fighter Pilot? By Steve Adolph, University of British Columbia Vancouver, B.C. Canada (PDF 177.37 KB)

8/15/06 US Air Force Academy to honor the late Col John R. Boyd.

8/12/06 Boyd’s OODA Loop, by Chet Richards. Short PPT overview, with revised notes.

8/12/06 Boyd’s OODA “Loop” From “The Essence of Winning and Losing,” with commentary. Revised and expanded. [142KB PowerPoint presentation. Please play as a slide show, and there are a few notes.]

7/25/06 The Cognetic Effect: Understanding the Power of Perception Manipulation in an Unrestrained Communication Environment, AU Quick Look 06-15, by Major Bruce John, USAF. Great strategists from Sun Tzu to Boyd have insisted on shaping the adversary’s orientation. As Johnson puts it: When perception manipulation undermines support for US policies, it is a direct threat to national security and should be addressed by US Grand Strategy. [349 KB PDF]

1/31/06 The Myth of Grand Strategy, Part one in a three part analysis of grand strategy in a 4GW Era. By Fabius Maximus

10/31/05 Beyond Patterns of Conflict? by Chet Richards. Need a spiffy topic for your next dissertation?

10/18/05 Are There Five Rings or a Loop in Fourth Generation Warfare? A Study on the Application of Warden’s or Boyd’s Theories in 4GW, Juerg Studer, Major, Swiss Air Force. (382 KB PDF)

10/3/05 Interview with Martin van Creveld, by

9/01/05 Disoriented Again - Why Do They Get it Wrong? by Dr. Don MacCuish. An in-your-face look at why this moral warfare stuff is important. Prepared for the Maine Strategy Conference. (674 KB PPT, with notes.)

5/04/05 Thoughts on Strategy, catalyzed by the 16th Strategy Conference at the Army War College, by Chet Richards. PowerPoint with notes (243KB PPT.)

1/17/05 Boyd’s O-O-D-A Loop and the Infantry Company Commander, CPT Aaron Bazin. Republished with permission from the January-February 2005 Infantry Magazine. (82KB PDF)

8/24/2004 Thinking About Deception, by Fred Feer. Deception-along with surprise, menace, and ambiguity-forms one of the cornerstones of Boyd’s strategy. Feer, long an aficionado of such matters, offers another take. Readers may enjoy comparing Feer’s analysis with Boyd’s definition: An impression of events as they are not.

A Boyd Sampler, By Chet Richards, 2004 (PDF 1929.26KB)

7/9/04 Interpersonal Communications and Officer Survival: How Understanding The Boyd Cycle and Non-Verbal Communication Can Save a Law Enforcement Officer’s Life!Lt Fred T. Leland Jr., Walpole (MA) Police Dept.

5/21/04 Positive and Negative Leadership Models, ENS Steven Mason, USN. Innovative application of Boyd’s organizational climate to leadership at all levels. (78KB PDF)

10/19/03 Marine General: Leading From Iraqi Battlefield Informed Key Decisions by Elaine Grossman, Inside the Pentagon. Leading from the front worked as well in Iraq as it did for Rommel.

10/2/03 Marine General: Iraq War Pause ‘Could Not Have Come At Worse Time’ by Elaine M. Grossman, Inside The Pentagon. Raises serious questions about how deeply senior DoD leaders understand maneuver warfare.

7/31/2004 Deconstructing Conflict: Motivations, Objectives and Strategies, By Michael A. Breeden. A new synthesis of conflict in the tradition of Boyd’s snowmobiles.


Interested readers can find excerpts from Boyd’s Discourse on Winning and Losing in HTML format, as well as presentations by several of his colleagues, at “Theory of Maneuver Conflict” on The next section presents the elements of the Discourse in their original format.

Commentaries on the Spring 2003 campaign in Iraq by Bill Lind, one of the creators of maneuver warfare and co-author of the original paper on fourth generation warfare.

Warfighting, Brought to You By … by Maj Jeffrey L. Cowan, USAF. A most readable introduction to Boyd and his work. Originally published in the US Naval Institute Proceedings.

Tribute To John R. Boyd, by Harry Hillaker. The designer of the F-16 pays his respects to the father of the F-16. From the July 1997 edition of Code One, the Lockheed Martin Aeronautics Company magazine for the fighter community.

A Discourse on Winning and Losing

This is the title Boyd gave to his collection of briefings on competitive strategy (widely known as the “Green Book,” with apologies to Wittgenstein). Defense and the National Interest is pleased to present these as a resource for research and implementation. Except as noted, they are Adobe Acrobat (.pdf) images of the actual charts used in his legendary 8-hour briefing sessions. You are welcome to download these for your personal use, but in accordance with Boyd’s express wishes, these versions are not authorized for commercial reprint. Please note that they are copyrighted by the Estate of John R. Boyd. (Download a free Acrobat reader here.)

Introduction The Abstract and Conceptual Spiral (July/August 1992). An overview of the rest of the Discourse and introducing his “Pattern for Vitality and Growth” (411 KB)

Patterns of Conflict (December 1986 - 1544KB PPT) Boyd’s monumental look at what makes any organization competitive. Encompassing 2,500 years of the history of conflict, this briefing introduces his famous “OODA loop” concept. Now also in PDF (811 KB) and in PDF of the original, typed version (2845 KB).

Organic Design for Command and Control (May 1987) Perhaps the most approachable of Boyd’s briefings and as applicable to business (or to the PTA) as to war. (399 KB) Also available in HTML on filed under Now also in MS PowerPoint: 138 KB in native PPT and 88 KB as a PDF.

Strategic Game of ? and ? (June 1987 - 312 KB PPT) The heart of competitive strategy. A noted psychiatrist recently observed that the goal of Boyd’s strategy is to inflict severe psychological trauma on the opposing commander prior to any actual engagement. This briefing tells how to do it. Now also in PDF (95 KB) and as a PDF of the original, typed version (573 KB).

[Presentations of Patterns, Strategic Game, and Organic Design are available by Dr. Chet Richards, a colleague of the late Col John Boyd. Arrangements may be made through Tarkenton & Addams, Inc. - please contact Jeannine Addams, (404) 231-1132, .]

Destruction and Creation (September 1976) Boyd’s original paper on strategy, linking such diverse sources as Gödel’s Incompleteness Theorem and the Second Law of Thermodynamics to the practice of strategy. (in HTML with links to Chuck Spinney’s commentary “Evolutionary Epistimology” filed under on

The Essence of Winning and Losing (January 1996) Boyd’s “Last Briefing” A 5-chart summary of the Discourse, including the final version of the “OODA loop.” (in HTML on

New Conception for Air-to-Air Combat (August 1976) Although predating and so not included in the Discourse, this briefing is an important way station on the road to the OODA loop. Here is where Boyd concluded that there was something missing in his own energy-maneuverability concept and ended with the observation that “He who can handle the quickest rate of change survives.” This proved to be the observation that led Boyd from air-to-air combat towards a more general theory of competition. (1,292 KB .pdf)

Aerial Attack Study, by Capt John R. Boyd, USAF, revised 11 August 1964, declassified. (7.6 MB PDF) Before the OODA loop-even before energy-maneuverability - there was aerial attack. Probably not very useful to the average business or military strategist, but it could be considered as the first step on the path to Patterns of Conflict. Precedes the Discourse by some 20 years.

A Swift, Elusive Sword, What if Sun Tzu and John Boyd did a National Defense Review? By Dr. Chester W. Richards, Fall 2001 Boyd Conference. (PPS 329.50 KB)

“Shock-based Operations: New Wine in Old Bottles,” Lt Col John N. T. Shanahan, May 2001. Doctrine in the 21st Century must deal with opponents who change rapidly to adapt to our technological superiority. The best way to deal with these “complex adaptive systems” is with a doctrine that produces shock and paralysis, not one that tries to bludgeon them into submission. (378 KB MS Word document.)

Bulging Muscles Won’t Win The Next War, By David Hackworth. Gustavus Adolphus was a master of using a small, highly trained and motivated, agile force-a lá Boyd-to defeat his fearsomely-armed, but ponderous, imperial adversary. Now, at the dawn of the 21st Century, we have become the muscle-bound imperials. Reprinted from Soldiers for the Truth.

East vs. West-The Strategic Challenge of the 21st Century. How operating inside an opponent’s OODA loop can help achieve the ancient goal of “formlessness.” Originally presented at the Air War College in 1995. 1.5 MB PowerPoint presentation.

Because Boyd was not well known to the public (or even the military) at large, many people are unfamiliar with his career and the origins of his strategy. For those who are interested in learning more, Defense and the National Interest presents a collection of biographies and synopses of his career.

Genghis John, By Chuck Spinney, originally published in the Naval Institute Proceedings. This is the most approachable introduction and overview, written for a general audience.

From Air Force Fighter Pilot to Marine Corps Warfighting: Colonel John Boyd, His Theories on War, and their Unexpected Legacy,” thesis by Major Jeffrey L. Cowan, U.S. Air Force, for the Master of Military Studies degree, USMC Command & Staff College. A new professional biography that traces Boyd’s career and development of his strategic concepts. Written from the viewpoint of a USAF fighter pilot, but with a solid background in doctrines and practices of land warfare.

“The Essential Boyd,” Dr. Grant Hammond, Director of the Center for Strategy and Technology, Air War College. An in-depth study of the evolution of Boyd’s strategic ideas by one of the Air Force’s leading civilian strategists. Goes into considerable detail on the origins and implications of Boyd’s concept of using time as a weapon. On

Best-selling author Robert Coram’s biography of Col Boyd. Published in November 2002 by Little, Brown & Company, New York. Available at Amazon.

The Strategic Importance of Boyd and the OODA Loop, an excerpt from the recent book, Modern Strategy, by the distinguished British strategist and author, Colin Gray.