Monday, May 4, 2009

Modern Military Thinkers: John Boyd

John Boyd had both the mind of the bold, daring soldier who never surrenders and that of a brilliant scholar whose thirst for truth uncovers new patterns in places where nobody thought there was anything else to question.

He is known mostly for his "observation, orientation, decision, action" loop (OODA loop). This is unfortunate because his contributions are as wide-ranging as the ones from titans like Clausewitz. It is also unfortunate because OODA is not a loop but rather a cycle. But anyway, most people's knowledge of Clausewitz doesn't go farther than "war is the continuation of politics by other means".

As I'm doing with every military thinker I post about, I will leave the task of exploring Boyd's theories to my readers. A little warning, you are in for a wild ride.

One of the spin-offs from Boyd's thinking is the so-called maneuver warfare, which was adopted by the US Marine Corps as a doctrinal framework. There is also a movement leaded by Chet Richards, that applies Boyd's thinking to business.

Boyd never wrote a book. His preferred way of exposing ideas were his legendary briefings, which lasted half a day. The text of these briefings can be found in the web. Frank Osinga recently published a book which is the ultimate analysis of Boyd's theories: "Science, Strategy and War". This book is a bit pricey from Amazon and I would rather recommend the print-on-demand service from Routledge.

One of the things that impressed me in Osinga's book is his analysis of the context in which Boyd formulated his ideas. According to Osinga, Boyd's experiences as a fighter pilot, his self education and the scientific ambiance contemporary to his studies are important to understand his theories. I also recommend the biographical book by Robert Coram "Boyd: The Fighter Pilot Who Changed the Art of War".


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