Don't Mess With the OODA Loop

June 24, 1999

Comment: #291

Discussion Thread:  #s 199, 216, 252


Tom Regan, "OODA: Observe, Orient, Decide, And Act," Christian Science Monitor, June 24, 1999, Pg. 16.

The attached essay on the application of the OODA loop to information warfare is a gross example of the ethical decay in academia and the shoddy defense reportage that is exhibited now by much of the mainstream media.

Note that the discussion of the OODA loop does not even acknowledge its inventor Col John Boyd. Moreover, it trivializes the profound character of his revolutionary ideas to such a degree that the article misses the central point of Boyd's theory.

New readers will find an introduction to Boyd and his ideas in Comment #199, which reproduces an article I wrote about Boyd's work in 1997. In Comment #s 216 and 252, I tried to show how one might use these ideas to understand actual conflicts (in the cases of terrorism with a poor man's nuke and the opening round of the Serbo-NATO war.)

Academic researchers and reporters who are interested in honestly referencing and correctly characterizing his work might first consult "National Defense" by James Fallows written in 1981. Yes that's right .1981!!!!! Fallows book is not some difficult to find, obscure tome. It was published by Random House and was runner up for the Book Critics Circle Award, considered by many to be the most prestigious book award for non fiction. Second, after perusing Fallows' brief but accessible introduction to Boyd's ideas, serious academics and reporters can go to the Boyd Archive at the Marine Corps Research Center in Quantico, Virginia. Ask Janet S, Kennelly (Manuscript Curator, 703-784-4685) for permission to review the complete collection of his papers and research materials.

This simple program of research will enable even dilettantes to understand that there is much more to the OODA loop than the banal absurdity described below.

Note also that the reporter in Attachment #1 does not mention the Marine Corps, yet the Marine Corps is the only service that has formally adopted Boyd's ideas -- particularly the OODA loop -- as doctrine in its basic warfighting manual.

Finally, if the reporter exhibited due diligence by doing a Lexis search of the term OODA loop, or a simple web search from his desk, he would have found the War, Chaos, and Business web site -- < > -- which is dedicated to Boyd's work.

On the other had, the referenced article has a certain ironic entertainment value the leader of the team of "academics" advocates using the OODA loop (which is at its roots an epistemological theory of how the mind works) to fight an information war (an attack on the enemy's mind), but he steals the idea [by not giving proper credit to its true source], and to add insult to injury, does not even understand it, as he applies to "attack" the enemy's mind.

This kind of self inflicted wound raises a question about whose mind is really under attack!!!!! ...

And there is another irony --- Boyd was an Air Force fighter pilot, yet the Marine grunts adopted his ideas. Moreover, these unwashed violent beasts of war have gone overboard to give him credit and recognition and Marine grunts don't like AF fighter pilots.

Let us hope the Marines do not get the urge to do a little intellectual cleansing of academia's OODA loops, because their method, while effective, is likely to be messy.

Chuck Spinney

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Boyd and Military