The Richards Report: A Swift Elusive Sword ... or ... An Alternative to
"Transformation Pentagon Style" 

July 12, 2001

Comment: #418

Separately Attached References:

[1] Transforming Department of Defense Financial Management: A Strategy for Change, (Final Report Prepared for the Secretary of Defense) April 13, 2001 (348 KB .pdf file)

It is now becoming clear that the most likely "transformation" to emerge from the ongoing strategic review in the Pentagon will be the permanent transition to a Cold War Budget to pay for a revolution in military affairs that will produce a smaller version of the Cold War force structure to counter the as yet unspecified future threats of the Post Cold War era.

Of course, no one in Versailles on Potomac has a clue about much money is really needed to pay for the high-cost technologies of the Revolution in Military Affairs.

This brings us to the crux of the transforming logic now guiding the idea of transformation in the hall of mirrors—to wit: while the techno-swamis claim to see sharp visions of technical revolutions 20 years into the future, the techno-managers can not even keep track of a smooth continuation of their current activities.

Senior managers in the Pentagon now acknowledge that they can not even pass simple audits tracing money already expended to the appropriations authorizing that money, as is required by the law, not to mention the Accountability Clause of the Constitution. [Comment #169 discusses the shocking constitutional implications of this outrageous state of affairs.]

In fact, Steven Friedman, the head of Secretary Rumsfeld's own financial transformation task force just released a report saying it will take another 8 to 10 years before the Pentagon can hope to produce reliable financial reports that comply with the audit requirements of the law, i.e., Chief Financial Officer Act of 1990. [Attachment #1 "Transforming Department of Defense Financial Management: A Strategy for Change," April 2001, page 13]

Think about the implications of what the swamis want the American taxpayer to swallow: They claim to see clearly the military effects of revolutionary technical changes far into the distant future. But you must trust their vision over your own common sense, because they will not have the intellectual wherewithal during the next 10 years to tell you what they are actually doing as they move your money down the pathway to their vision. And they want gobs of money. Next year, they are asking for a huge down payment on the first step down their pathway. The current budget request would raise defense spending to a level that is at least as high as the combined defense expenditures of the next 18 largest countries, most of whom, by the way, are close allies of the United States.

The swamis of Versailles on the Potomac may lack the grace and good taste of Louis XVI's court, but the empathy for the people implicit in this kind of message is something that Marie Antoinette would have been quite comfortable with.

Even so, an "18 Power Standard" and a transforming vision will not be enough to satiate the military services.

The Service chiefs just told the House Armed Services Committee that they are still short of their fully-funded goal by $34.2 billion [source:, July 11, 2001].

Perhaps it is time to transform our thinking about how to put the Pentagon's house in order, before the skyrocketing costs of the defense transformation and plummeting budget surpluses crash into the mushrooming budget requirements of aging baby boomers.

Dr. Chester Richards, a close personal friend, and one of the few people who has made an effort to study, understand, and expand the strategic thinking of Col John Boyd, has written a fascinating paper exploring how we might put our house in order. He poses an original, if at first glance, a somewhat bizarre, hypothetical question. Namely: "What if John Boyd and Sun Tzu did a national defense review?"

Now you may say, Richards is nuts.

How can he possibly know what two dead people might do?

He can't. But he can study their thinking to see if it offers us a way out of the madhouse.

After all, Sun Tzu left a book describing his method of strategic thinking. Unlike the transformation visions, Sun Tzu's The Art of War is something real that can be studied. Moreover, Richards is a first rate scholar in the classical sense (as opposed to the sterile sense so popular in the modern academy). Richards also worked closely with John Boyd for at least 10 years, and he is one of the few people alive who appreciated the method of Boyd's thinking as well as the extent to which Boyd was a reincarnation of Sun Tzu. Unlike the transformation visions, Boyd's Discourse on Winning and Losing, is also real and can be studied.

Therefore, it seems quite possible that Richards knows more about the thinking of John Boyd and Sun Tzu than the techno-swamis can possibly know about a distant future, which according to the logic of revolutionary change must lie on the other side of a discontinuity that makes extrapolation impossible.

Finally, given the obvious neural and logical limitations of swamis who claim to see 20 years into the future, but acknowledge they need another 10 years to figure out what they are doing today, it is perhaps appropriate that to cut Richards a little slack, before rejecting his question.

Attached for your perusal is the executive summary to The Richards Report. If what you read tweaks your interest, you can order a copy of A Swift, Elusive Sword from Amazon.


A Swift, Elusive Sword: What If Sun Tzu and John Boyd Did a National Defense Review 

By Chester W. Richards, Ph. D. (Col. USAFR Ret.)

Center for Defense Information, 2001

What kind of question is: "What if Sun Tzu and John Boyd did a National Defense Review?" Sun Tzu, if he existed at all, has been gone some 2,500 years. The late Col. John R. Boyd, U.S.A.F., while intimately involved in fighter aircraft design during his active duty years, wrote practically nothing on hardware or force structure after he retired, when he created the strategic concepts for which he is best known today. Yet these two strategists offer a solution to the dilemma now confronting the U.S. military: U.S. spending on defense exceeds by several times that of any combination of threats, but the services still face cancellation of weapon systems and shortages of money for training, spares, and care and feeding of the troops. The only solution offered by political leaders is to spend even more.

Sun Tzu and John Boyd offer a way out because they considered the problem of conflict in a wider scope. They explored the essential, but limited, role of military force in resolving conflict, and they examined in some detail the issue of "What makes a force effective?" The answers they derived are largely independent of the particular age in which one dwells and the specific weapons one uses.

Sun Tzu (c. 500 B.C.) emphasized harmony on the inside in order to create and exploit chaos outside. If done well, such a strategy eliminated, or at worst greatly reduced, the need for bloody battles. Employing time as his primary weapon, Sun Tzu strove to create ambiguity in the minds of enemy commanders as the milieu for weaving his web of surprise, deception, and rapid switching between orthodox and unorthodox tactics. The ideal result is "to win without fighting."

Similarly, Boyd (1927-1997) used his well-known "observe-orient-decide-act" pattern to "operate inside his opponent's decision cycles" generating first confusion, then frustration, and finally panic in the enemy ranks. Once thus set up, the enemy could be finished off with a bewildering array of distracting and probing attacks, leading to multiple thrusts aimed at destroying his cohesion and collapsing his will to resist. A primary measure of merit was prisoner - not body - count. To allow forces to sustain such high operational tempos, Boyd codified an "organizational climate" derived from such diverse sources as Sun Tzu, the German blitzkrieg, and the early Israeli Army.

Recently, officers primarily in the U.S. Army and Marine Corps have completed detailed recommendations on how to change personnel management systems to foster Boyd's organizational climate. Boyd's formula of "people-ideas-hardware, in that order," holds as well for warring states on the plains of ancient China as for guerilla warfare or national missile defense today.

This paper attempts to make four fundamental points:

1. What is important is forces—combinations of people, ideas, and hardware—not individual weapons programs.

2. The strategic framework expounded by Sun Tzu and John Boyd provides a coherent and historically validated method for comparing one force with another.

3. Neither Sun Tzu nor Boyd gave explicit guidance on selecting hardware. One can, however, construct hypothetical forces including a hardware component and, using their framework, compare them to current and planned U.S. forces.

4. To illustrate this process, this paper posits one such force and claims that not only would it be more effective than what the United States has today, but that it would require significantly fewer resources (although that is not its primary purpose).

This synthesis relies heavily on the style of fighting Boyd espoused, which he derived largely from Sun Tzu and from commanders, including Americans such as Grant and Patton, who employed this style with remarkable success down through history. One can use the precepts of what is now called "maneuver warfare" to help choose between alternative force structures, but not, as it turns out, between individual weapons.

The force, outlined in broad terms, may strike some as radically improbable, and as one which could never be adopted by the U.S. defense establishment. This could well be true, but is more a statement about the stability of the current military-industrial-congressional complex than the efficacy (or lack thereof) of these proposals. It is also irrelevant. The United States is not going to adopt this force. But it does illustrate what the forces could evolve into, if the United States adopted the eminently feasible measures regarding people and ideas.

Briefly, this paper suggests deactivating from the U.S. Army that part of it which is unlikely to reach a theater of conflict while any modern war is still going on. The Marine Corps and those units of the Army generally called "unconventional" would remain. Properly supported, this provides a mobile striking force that could rapidly descend on any part of the globe, should that prove desirable, and strike directly at the heart of an enemy nation. It could have won the Gulf War several months sooner than the ponderous formations eventually deployed. This study does assume, as did Boyd and Sun Tzu, that for all but the briefest operations, the United States will fight in conjunction with allies.

Summary of an Evolutionary Force

A. Personnel system that fosters trust, cohesion, and leadership.

B. Doctrine built around third and fourth generation warfare ideas.

C. Land forces, a U.S. Strike Force, built around:

  • Current active U.S. Marine Corps divisions

  • U.S. Army 82nd Airborne Division

  • Special Forces - Rangers, Delta Force, etc. expanded as necessary

  • SEALs and other U.S. Navy and U.S. Air Force unconventional forces

  • Carrier and land-based tactical air

  • New aircraft for direct support and shaping of land combat

  • Heavy armor & mechanized infantry capability in elite Reserve / Guard units

  • Intra-theater lift (C-130, helos, etc.)

  • Seaborne fire support (battleship as interim)

D. U.S. Mobility Force composed of:

  • 6 aircraft carrier (CVN) task forces

  • Inter-theater air and sealift

  • Attack submarines (SSNs) (in addition to those in the CVN task forces)

E. U.S. Strategic Force composed of:

  • All strategic offensive assets (bombers, missiles, ballistic missile submarines)

  • All strategic defensive interceptors, if any become operational

  • Space assets

F. Robust research, development, prototyping, and experimentation to support the above areas.

G. Greatly increased emphasis on intelligence, including revamping the personnel system to make it co-equal in stature with operations.

However, readers should not focus so narrowly on the hardware illustrations that they ignore the people issues that are the bulk of this paper, as they are of Boyd and Sun Tzu.

These address the core of force effectiveness—why people fight, why they polish their fighting skills, why they refuse to quit until they have won. The recommendations in this section draw heavily on recent studies carried out by current and former members of the U.S. Army. Ironically, implementing just these suggestions would improve our defense posture far more than tinkering with weapons programs, and would save considerable money at the same time.

Finally, and as an application of these principles, I examine the problem of how to deal with the threat posed by weapons of mass destruction of all types, of which "national missile defense" represents only one component, and perhaps the least likely, but the one most attuned to our current military-industrial-congressional situation

End Executive Summary

The Table of Contents is attached beneath my signature for your convenience.

Chuck Spinney

[Disclaimer: In accordance with 17 U.S.C. 107, this material is distributed without profit or payment to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving this information for non-profit research and educational purposes only.]

Table of Contents

About the Author


  • Sun Tzu and John Boyd

  • Sun Tzu

Sun Tzu 101
Sun Tzu and Intelligence

  • John Boyd

Boyd and Intelligence

Role of Military Force

  • Threats to U.S. National Security

  • Sun Tzu and Boyd on the Utility of Military Force

  • Contemporary Justifications for Military Forces

  • Military vis-à-vis Other Options

  • Peacekeeping

What Makes a Military Force "Effective"?

  • Sun Tzu's and Boyd's Perspective

  • Boyd on Force Effectiveness

  • Cheng and Ch'i

  • Other Concepts of Effectiveness

Creating Forces

  • Maneuver Warfare

  • People Issues in Maneuver Warfare

The Officer Corps

  • Equipment and Organizations for Maneuver Warfare

  • Force Structure Options

Strike Forces
Fire Support
Strategic and Mobility Forces
Assessing Effectiveness

  • Application: National Missile Defense (NMD)