There was little soul-searching among senior generals. They were managers rather than warriors. And when managers lead an army it is their nature to cast blame rather than to accept responsibility.
Boyd knew he had to be independent and he saw only two ways for a man to do this: he can either achieve great wealth or reduce his needs to zero. Boyd said if a man can reduce his needs to zero, he is truly free: there is nothing that can be taken from him and nothing anyone can do to hurt him.
When Boyd had drained Christie, he called one of the other Acolytes and went through the same process. All of these men were well educated and widely read. But by the end of 1975 and certainly by the early months of 1976, the depth of Boyd’s study was moving beyond what any of them experienced in graduate school. Boyd was charging into esoteric and arcane areas of knowledge. And the Acolytes were far too proud to simply agree with Boyd on everything he said. If they were going to hold up their end of the conversation they had to buy whatever book Boyd was reading. They read and when Boyd called they were ready.
“If you want to understand something, take it to the extremes or examine its opposites,” Boyd said. He practiced what he preached. He considered every word and every idea from every possible angle, then threw it out for discussion, argued endless hours, restructured his line of thought, and threw it out for discussion again. Creativity was painful and laborious and repetitive and detail-haunted—not just to him, but to a half-dozen people around him.
The most important part of “Destruction and Creation” is Boyd’s elaboration on the idea that a relationship exists between an observer and what is being observed.
A half-dozen people can look at the same process or the same event and each might see the process or the event in an entirely different fashion.
Atop this insight Boyd placed an idea borrowed from Heisenberg: the process of observation changes what is being observed. To continue with the simplified example, people in the crowd, knowing they are being observed by a television cameraman, might wave or shout or begin spontaneous demonstrations.
If we are aware that these changes take place we reassess and recalculate our relationship with whatever it is we are observing. In other words, the process not only shapes what is being observed but feedback reshapes the observer’s outlook.
Boyd said there are two ways to manipulate information gleaned from observation: analysis and synthesis.
We can analyze whatever process or event we are observing by breaking it down into individual components and interactions. And from this we can make deductions that lead to understanding.
Or we can synthesize by taking various sometimes unrelated components and putting them together to form a new whole.
Boyd thought analysis could lead to understanding but not to creativity. Taken to the extreme, he thought analysis was an onanistic activity, gratifying only to the person doing the analyzing.
“Imagine four separate images. Let’s call them domains. Each domain can be easily understood by looking at its parts and at the relation among the parts.”
The separate ingredients make sense when collected under the respective headings. But then Boyd shattered the relationship between the parts and their respective domains. He took the ingredients in the web of relationships and asked listeners to visualize them scattered at random. He called breaking the domains apart a “destructive deduction.”
The deduction was destructive in that the relationship between the parts and the whole was destroyed. Uncertainty and disorder took the place of meaning and order.
Then he challenged the audience: “How do we construct order and meaning out of this mess?”
Boyd showed how synthesis was the basis of creativity.
To make sure the new reality is both viable and relevant, Boyd said it must be continually refined by verifying its internal consistency and by making sure it matches up with reality. But the very process of making sure the reality is relevant causes mismatches between the new observation and the description of that observation. It is here that Godel, Heisenberg, and the second law come into play. The mismatches are inevitable and expected because, as Boyd said, “One cannot determine the character or nature of a system within itself. Moreover, attempts to do so lead to confusion and disorder.” This never-ending cycle of mismatches, destruction, and creation is the “natural manifestation of a dialectic engine.” This “engine” is the relationship between the observer and whatever is being observed. The idea that a two-way relationship exists between the observer and the observed, that the process of observation changes what is being observed, and that our awareness of these changes causes us to restructure the relationship is present in subtle and often unseen ways in almost every facet of our lives. It is a vital part of how we cope with our world; it shapes our decisions and actions. The danger—and this is a danger neither seen nor understood by many people who profess a knowledge of Boyd’s work—is that if our mental processes become focused on our internal dogmas and isolated from the unfolding, constantly dynamic outside world, we experience mismatches between our mental images and reality. Then confusion and disorder and uncertainty not only result but continue to increase. Ultimately, as disorder increases, chaos can result. Boyd showed why this is a natural process and why the only alternative is to do a destructive deduction and rebuild one’s mental image to correspond to the new reality.
The fast transients brief is dated August 4, 1976. It is the application of “Destruction and Creation” to an operational issue—that is, a better and more thorough definition of “maneuverability.” The ability of an aircraft to perform fast transients does two things, one defensive and one offensive: it can force an attacking aircraft out of a favorable firing position, and it can enable a pursuing pilot to gain a favorable firing position.
The advantage gained from the fast transient suggests that to win in battle a pilot needs to operate at a faster tempo than his enemy. It suggests that he must stay one or two steps ahead of his adversary; he must operate inside his adversary’s time scale.
Thinking about operating at a quicker tempo—not just moving faster—than the adversary was a new concept in waging war. Generating a rapidly changing environment—that is, engaging in activity that is so quick it is disorienting and appears uncertain or ambiguous to the enemy—inhibits the adversary’s ability to adapt and causes confusion and disorder that, in turn, causes an adversary to overreact or underreact. Boyd closed the briefing by saying the message is that whoever can handle the quickest rate of change is the one who survives.
In the beginning Boyd took an hour to deliver “Patterns.” A decade later, when Boyd put all his work into a collection titled “A Discourse on Winning and Losing,” he took about fourteen hours—two days—to deliver it.
As with much of Boyd’s work, the building blocks for “Patterns” are mostly well-known ideas. But the synthesis of these ideas produced a reality new to the U.S. military. “Patterns” is one of the most monumental snowmobiles ever constructed, one of the most influential briefings ever to come from a military mind.
Sun Tzu’s ideas about conflict include such themes as deception, speed, fluidity of action, surprise, and shaping the adversary’s perception of the world. Sun Tzu also talked of how a commander should use two thrusts, either of which could attain the objective.
The most significant element in Sun Tzu is the concept of cheng and ch’i, the orthodox and the unorthodox, the traditional and the unexpected.
The Art of War became Boyd’s Rosetta stone, the work he returned to again and again. It is the only theoretical book on war that Boyd did not find fundamentally flawed. He eventually owned seven translations, each with long passages underlined and with copious marginalia. The translations of Samuel Griffith and, later, Thomas Cleary were his favorites.
Boyd found many such instances in history, and in these victories by numerically inferior forces he found a common thread: none of the victorious commanders threw their forces head-to-head against enemy forces. They usually did not fight what is known as a “war of attrition.” Rather, they used deception, speed, fluidity of action, and strength against weakness.
He began reading passages and explaining two crucial differences between von Clausewitz and Sun Tzu. First, von Clausewitz wants to bring the enemy to a big “decisive battle,” while Sun Tzu wants to unravel the enemy before a battle. Put another way, von Clausewitz believes wars are decided by set piece battles more than by strategy, deception, and guerrillalike tactics. This means that even if he wins, there is a bloodbath. Boyd said von Clausewitz’s second major flaw is that he spends a lot of time talking about how a commander must minimize “friction”—that is, the uncertainty or chance that always appear in the “fog of war.” He does not deal with maximizing the enemy’s friction—as does Sun Tzu—but only with minimizing his own.
Journalists called it the “Blitzkrieg.” The Germans bypassed enemy strong points—such as the Maginot Line—and, with the use of airplanes and radio communications, punched through enemy weaknesses following the path of least resistance, driving deep into the enemy’s rear, cutting lines of communication, disrupting movement, and paralyzing the enemy’s command and control system. They moved so fast the enemy simply could not understand what was happening and became unglued.
Boyd, borrowing from Sun Tzu, said the best commander is the one who wins while avoiding battle. The intent is to shatter cohesion, produce paralysis, and bring about collapse of the adversary by generating confusion, disorder, panic, and chaos. Boyd said war is organic and compared his technique to clipping the nerves, muscles, and tendons of an enemy, thus reducing him to jelly.
Schwerpunkt means the main focus of effort. On a deeper reading it is the underlying goal, the glue that holds together various units.
Fingerspitzengefuhl means a fingertip feel. Again, the fuller meaning applies to a leader’s instinctive and intuitive sense of what is going on or what is needed in a battle or, for that matter, in any conflict.
OODA Loop. The key thing to understand about Boyd’s version is not the mechanical cycle itself, but rather the need to execute the cycle in such fashion as to get inside the mind and the decision cycle of the adversary. This means the adversary is dealing with outdated or irrelevant information and thus becomes confused and disoriented and can’t function.
Becoming oriented to a competitive situation means bringing to bear the cultural traditions, genetic heritage, new information, previous experiences, and analysis / synthesis process of the person doing the orienting—a complex integration that each person does differently. These human differences make the Loop unpredictable. In addition, the orientation phase is a nonlinear feedback system, which, by its very nature, means this is a pathway into the unknown. The unpredictability is crucial to the success of the OODA Loop.
When one has developed the proper Fingerspitzengefuhl for a changing situation, the tempo picks up and it seems one is then able to bypass the explicit “Orientation” and “Decision” part of the loop, to “Observe” and “Act” almost simultaneously. The speed must come from a deep intuitive understanding of one’s relationship to the rapidly changing environment. This is what enables a commander seemingly to bypass parts of the loop.
Understanding the OODA Loop enables a commander to compress time—that is, the time between observing a situation and taking an action. A commander can use this temporal discrepancy (a form of fast transient) to select the least-expected action rather than what is predicted to be the most-effective action. The enemy can also figure out what might be the most effective. To take the least-expected action disorients the enemy. It causes him to pause, to wonder, to question. This means that as the commander compresses his own time, he causes time to be stretched out for his opponent. The enemy falls farther and farther behind in making relevant decisions. It hastens the unraveling process.
Boyd says that to shape the environment, one must manifest four qualities: variety, rapidity, harmony, and initiative. A commander must have a series of responses that can be applied rapidly; he must harmonize his efforts and never be passive.
Another important slide shows how the Blitzkrieg—or maneuver conflict—is the perfect tactical application of the OODA Loop. Boyd asks: How does a commander harmonize the numerous individual thrusts of a Blitzkrieg attack and maintain the cohesion of his larger effort? The answer is that the Blitzkrieg is far more than the lightning thrusts that most people think of when they hear the term; rather it was all about high operational tempo and the rapid exploitation of opportunity.
In a Blitzkrieg situation, the commander is able to maintain a high operational tempo and rapidly exploit opportunity because he makes sure his subordinates know his intent, his Schwerpunkt. They are not micromanaged, that is, they are not told to seize and hold a certain hill; instead they are given “mission orders.” This means that they understand their commander’s overall intent and they know their job is to do whatever is necessary to fulfill that intent. The subordinate and the commander share a common outlook. They trust each other, and this trust is the glue that holds the apparently formless effort together. Trust emphasizes implicit over explicit communications. Trust is the unifying concept. This gives the subordinate great freedom of action. Trust is an example of a moral force that helps bind groups together in what Boyd called an “organic whole.”
Boyd, like Sun Tzu and Napoléon, believed in attacking with “moral conflict”—that is, using actions that increase menace, uncertainty, and mistrust in the enemy while increasing initiative, adaptability, and harmony within friendly forces.
Boyd showed that maneuver tactics brought victory. To attack the mind of the opponent, to unravel the commander before a battle even begins, is the essence of fighting smart.
A crucial part of the OODA Loop—or “Boyd Cycle,” as it has come to be known—is that once the process begins, it must not slow. It must continue and it must accelerate.
Boyd begins the section on maneuver conflict with two crucial words: “Ambiguity, deception…”—the essence of maneuver tactics.
The key to victory is operating at a quicker tempo than the enemy.
The theme of this section is consistent: disorient the enemy, then follow with the unexpected lightning thrust.
If the briefing could be reduced to two simple thoughts, they would be: 1) the essence of warfare is cheng and ch’i, and 2) to practice this most effectively a commander must operate at a faster OODA Loop than does his opponent.
Boyd dove deeper and deeper into the study of war. He realized that while wars take place between nations, every person experiences some form of war; conflict is a fundamental part of human nature. To prevail in personal and business relations, and especially war, we must understand what takes place in a person’s mind.
When Spinney arrived, Christie said, “Do you want to work for me in TacAir? You’ll be working with Boyd.” That was all Spinney needed to hear. To work with Boyd meant conflict with the Pentagon, and Spinney was born for conflict. He remembered what Boyd often said: “There are only so many ulcers in the world and it is your job to see that other people get them.” Spinney said yes on the spot.
Because he had no father, he did not know how to be a father. But because of Art Weibel and Frank Pettinato he did know how to be a mentor.
Civilians unacquainted with the ways of the Building have only vague ideas about what it is the Pentagon does. They think the real business of the Pentagon has something to do with defending America. But it does not. The real business of the Pentagon is buying weapons. And the military has a pathological aversion to rigorous testing procedures because in almost every instance the performance of the weapon or weapons system is far below what it is advertised to be and, thus, far below the performance used to sell Congress on the idea in the first place.
But the moral element of conflict is a crucial part of “Patterns.” Boyd realized the Army was doing the wrong thing for the wrong reasons, guarding a program worth billions of dollars, “protecting the farm” in Boyd’s words, while Burton wanted to protect the lives of American soldiers. The Army would try to steamroll Burton, to use the sheer mass of U.S. Army resources to crush him. It would be the crudest form of attrition warfare. Burton would have only his wits and the techniques of maneuver conflict. Boyd saw this as a chance for Burton to get inside the mind of the Army, to put the OODA Loop into action, to cause confusion and disorientation.
He and Burton spoke often of Churchill’s comment in World War II that the truth was too precious a commodity to travel alone—that it had to be protected by a “bodyguard of lies.” Boyd said Burton must break through the bodyguard of lies to find the truth. He told Burton to always keep the initiative. “And you must never panic. When they surprise you, even if the surprise seems fatal, there is always a countermove.”
Boyd gave Burton three guiding principles.
The first was the most difficult and most familiar to anyone who had worked with Boyd. “Jim, you can never be wrong. You have to do your homework. If you make a technical statement, you better be right. If you are not, they will hose you. And if they hose you, you’ve had it. Because once you lose credibility and you are no longer a threat, no one will pay attention to what you say. They won’t respect you and they won’t pay attention to you.”
The second thing Boyd told Burton was not to criticize the Bradley itself. “If you do, you are lumped in with all the other Bradley critics. It is the testing process you are concerned with.”
While Boyd and Burton might make such a distinction, the Army could not. To them, criticizing the testing process was the same as criticizing the Bradley. But the difference in the two approaches is not at all subtle. By staying focused on the testing methodology, Burton was protecting the lives of American soldiers; he held the mental and moral high ground.
Finally, Boyd counseled Burton not to talk to the media or to Congress, to stay inside the system. If you go outside the system, he said, you will be viewed as just another whistle blower. And whistle blowers get no respect; they get others to help them do something that they can’t do themselves.
The Army did not want Burton around for those tests, however, so Army generals talked to Air Force generals, who sent down word that Burton was being transferred to Alaska. He was given a seven-day notice to accept the transfer or resign. It was just as Boyd predicted: a brutal, head-on assault. And it appeared effective. After all, if there is a bothersome employee, what better way to get rid of him than to transfer him? Burton thought the battle was over. But Boyd laughed. “Goddamn, Jim, this is the dumbest decision the Air Force can make. Whoever made this decision is general officer material.” He told Burton to collect every memo and every letter and every study in his files that dealt with the Bradley controversy, to make copies, and to flood the Building with little brothers and sisters.
Not even the most militant of Burton’s opponents could fault him for providing information to those connected with the Bradley program, so Burton emptied the contents of a filing cabinet and made copies of every document. He delivered copies to a number of people. A cover memo explained that he had been relieved of his job and that these documents should bring them up to speed on the status of the program. When he handed the stack of documents to a senior Army general, the general blanched. He knew copies would leak. Burton was giving notice that he was not only still in the game but was raising the stakes.
Several little brothers and sisters found their way to members of the Congressional Reform Caucus, who in turn told the press. Dozens of reporters showed up at the Pentagon wanting to know why Burton was being sent to Alaska. “Colonel Burton is not going to Alaska. There have been no such orders issued,” said a Pentagon spokesman.
The reporters went back to their sources in the Senate and House who gave them copies of the seven-day notice. When the reporters realized the Pentagon spokesman had lied to them, they were in a state of high dudgeon.
The first round was a clear victory for Burton. The generals must have been bitter. Not only had a colonel defied them and won but he had done it in such a way that they could not punish him.
By now Burton knew as much about ballistics and vaporifics and blast lung and all the other arcane disciplines as did the Army. He was inside their minds and knew how they thought and how they reacted. He could walk into a room of civilian and Army officials and know when the game was afoot. He knew intuitively when and how the adversary would move. Burton had the Fingerspitzengefuhl to move rapidly through the OODA Loop and stay ahead of his adversary, and he found the experience exhilarating. It gave him something like a “runner’s high” and he began to enjoy the confrontations. Each one began with his saying, “I want you to know there is nothing personal in what I am about to do.” And then total devastation. He wrote memos to his superiors that someone always leaked to congressmen, senators, and the media, causing the Army another round of ever-increasing embarrassment. He was planting a demon seed, and the Army would reap the harvest.
Civilian personnel, many of whom were former Army enlisted troops, realized that Burton, unlike many officers involved in the testing program, had no self-interest at stake. He was not there to get a medal and a promotion for pushing the Bradley into production; he wanted only to clean up the system for the benefit of troops in the field.
Everything successful about the Gulf War is a direct reflection of Boyd’s “Patterns of Conflict”—multiple thrusts and deception operations that created ambiguity and caused the enemy to surrender by the thousands.
America not only picked when and where it would fight, but also when and where it would not fight. Coalition forces operated at a much higher tempo than the enemy.
The underlying ideas of mutual trust, mission orders, and individual responsibility, and the concepts of “harmony” and “flow” and—most of all—the manipulation of time as a production tool were central ideas in both the Toyota system and the strategy of maneuver conflict.
Richards found that a famous observation by Taiichi Ono, the Toyota vice president who created the Toyota system, held true: companies performing reasonably well will not adopt the Toyota system, although they may showcase isolated elements of lean production. Boyd put it more succinctly: “You can’t change big bureaucracies until they have a disaster.”
John Richard Boyd—as is often the case with men of great accomplishment—gave his work far greater priority than he did his family.
Burton learned from Boyd that if a man does the right thing, it does not matter how overwhelming the odds against him. There always is a way to victory. “No matter what the situation is, no matter how bleak or how dark things appear, how scary, there is always a way out,” Burton says. “It works every time. And it all goes back to Boyd’s ideas on maneuver conflict.”
Every morning when Wyly arises, he asks himself, “What is my Schwerpunkt today?”
He contributed as much to fighter aviation as any man in the history of the Air Force. He single-handedly moved the Air Force away from aircraft designed to fly at high speed in a straight line and toward the highly maneuverable aircraft of today. And more than any other person he deserves credit for creating America’s tactical Air Force of the past thirty years: the Air Force F-15 and F-16 and the Navy and Marine Corps F-18 rule the skies because of Boyd.
Boyd’s Energy-Maneuverability Theory did four things for aviation:
It provided a quantitative basis for teaching aerial tactics,
It forever changed the way aircraft are flown in combat,
It provided a scientific means by which the maneuverability of an aircraft could be evaluated and tactics designed both to overcome the design flaws of one’s own aircraft and to minimize or negate the superiority of the opponent’s aircraft, and, finally,
It became a fundamental tool in designing fighter aircraft.
Boyd was the greatest military theoretician since Sun Tzu.
Richards—considering that he has a Ph.D. in mathematics and is a retired intelligence officer—has a rather unusual assessment of Boyd: he thinks Boyd is the most recent link in a chain that began with Sun Tzu and continued with Musashi, the sixteenth-century samurai, and then with Mao Tse Tung. Richards says the similarities between Musashi and Boyd are many: Boyd’s shiny fighter aircraft was like the lacquered armor of a samurai. Both went into battle one-on-one. Both had personal habits that caused others to think them uncouth. Both lived by an austere code of honor and self-sacrifice. Both believed that if they confused an enemy before the battle, they had won even before the fight. In combat, neither ever lost a battle. Both read widely and were single-minded in their search for enlightenment. Both loomed large in their times. Both evolved from fighters into teachers and both left works that lived long after their death. Musashi’s famous work was A Book of Five Rings and Boyd’s was the OODA Loop. The OODA Loop is in five pieces, the “Loop” itself being the fifth. “Boyd was the old warrior,” Richards says.