Part I. in this series dealt with the topic of COIN, which is not a theory but rather a type of warfare. Part II. appropriately begins with the late theorist Colonel John Boyd, whose many contributions to American military thinking went generally unrecognized in his own lifetime, except for a narrow group of senior officers and political appointees. A group that included Dick Cheney, who as Defense Secretary in the first Bush administration, reportedly sought and followed Boyd’s counsel in regard to revising the warplans for Operation Desert Storm ( what John Boyd would have thought of the current Iraq war, I’ll leave to others, but that Cheney was deeply impressed by Colonel Boyd and his ideas in 1991 is difficult to dispute). In the aftermath of the Gulf War, USMC General Charles C. Krulak wrote:
” The Iraqi Army collapsed morally and intellectually under the onslaught of American and Coalition forces. John Boyd was an architect of that victory as surely as if he’d commanded a fighter wing or a manuever division in the desert”
Colonel John Boyd:
Colonel Boyd was virtually unknown to the general public until the publication of Robert Coram’s recent biography, which I read initially because the claims for Boyd’s importance seemed to border on the fantastic. Boyd, however, walked that talk. Formally a fighter pilot and an engineer, Boyd was a brilliant and abrasively eccentric autodidact. Known variously as “40 second Boyd”, ” the Mad Major” and ” Ghengis John” to his contemporaries, Colonel Boyd racked up a staggering list of professional accomplishments:
122 Combat sorties in the Korean War
Command of USAF base in Thailand during the Vietnam War
Original USAF “Top Gun”
Author of the official USAF Aerial Attack Study
Creator of the E-M Theory (which led to the design of the F-16 and F-18)
Creator of the OODA Loop
Cognitive theorist for a ” dialectical engine” of learning in his paper, Destruction and Creation
Inspiration for the development of USMC ” Maneuver Warfare” doctrine
A foremost authority on the lessons learned from 2400 years of military history, distilled in two mega-briefs entitled Patterns of Conflict and A Discourse on Winning and Losing
A major inspiration for the later development of Fourth Generation Warfare (4GW) theory and to a lesser extent, influenced concepts such as Network-centric Warfare (NCW), among others.
I do not claim to be an expert on the considerable depth or extent of John Boyd’s ideas; for that you need one of Boyd’s associates like Dr. Chet Richards or Franklin “Chuck” Spinney, both of whom can be found at Defense and the National Interest, but I shall attempt a brief summary. Colonel Boyd, who was deeply read but perhaps most influenced by the ancient Chinese philosopher of war, Sun Tzu, reintroduced fluidity and creative adaptivity to American military strategy of a kind that had seldom been seen since the daring tactical prowess of Robert E. Lee. Boyd’s emphasis on Observe-Orient-Decide-Act (OODA) treated a military unit, from the individual soldier to an Army corps to the national leadership, as an adaptive, learning, organism. “Getting inside” the enemy’s OODA loop through unpredictable action, deception and psychological attacks on their mental and moral resilience, would disrupt their ability to anticipate and respond effectively to physical attack and maneuver.
Boyd saw mental and moral levels of warfare as critically important compared to the physical and technology was of little importance without the will and discernment to apply it’s power effectively. Much of what Boyd stressed in his briefs ran counter to the modern American military practice of building a logistically massive, industrial age, killing machine and predictably directing it’s overwhelming force more or less at the enemy, be he Confederates in Atlanta, Germans across the Rhine or Viet Cong in the rice paddies of the Mekong Delta (“Hey diddle diddle, straight up the middle!“). Boyd viewed his OODA loop as an essentially destructive mechanism while grand strategy and, above that, a “theme for vitality and growth” were the constructive elements for victory in his strategic theory.
Recommended Reading and Links:
These are the closest to “official” sites for the strategic ideas of Colonel Boyd. A wealth of material to read and download.
Boyd: The Fighter Pilot Who Changed the Art of War by Robert Coram
Fast Company “The Strategy of the Fighter Pilot”
Maneuver Warfare Handbook by William Lind