Boyd was one of a dying breed, a pure warrior who could effectively articulate the art of war and cut through the bureaucratic BS that infests 95% of the Pentagon. (As an aside, there are many officers who are "vying" for a tour in Southwest Asia as a means to promote their careers - God help America and save us from these sycophants and imposters).
There is a growing number of his followers in gov mil circles - most may be found in the Marines... B
December 31, 2002
Col. John Boyd: The Most Influential Unknown Hero
By Ed Offley
Look up the official U.S. Air Force fact sheet on the F-16 Falcon, and you will read in clear but understated terms this description of what aviation experts agree is the most successful fighter aircraft ever built:
"The F-16 Fighting Falcon is a compact, multi-role fighter aircraft. It is highly maneuverable and has proven itself in air-to-air combat and air-to-surface attack. It provides a relatively low-cost, high-performance weapon system for the United States and allied nations."
First conceived in the mid-1960s, the F-16 is flown today by military pilots in 23 countries from Bahrain to Venezuela. Over 2,200 of the single-engine Falcons have been built, and the U.S. Air Force operates more than 1,380 of them. It has performed with distinction in Operation Desert Storm, Kosovo and the long-running twilight air war enforcing the Iraqi "no-fly" zones.
But nowhere in the official Air Force archives will you find the fascinating and gripping story of how this military aircraft came to be - how the F-16 was conceived and designed by a maverick Air Force pilot leading a tiny cabal of military officers and DoD civilians without the Air Force's knowledge or approval. Nor will you find how once the lightweight fighter plane left the drawing boards, the collective leadership of the Air Force waged a fierce - and ultimately unsuccessful - bureaucratic guerrilla war to have the project killed and its supporters destroyed.
Thanks to author Robert Coram, the full story of this astonishing rebellion within the corridors of the Pentagon comes to life in the informative and entertaining biography of its ringleader, Air Force Col. John Boyd.
When you read Boyd: The Fighter Pilot Who Changed the Art of War (Little, Brown and Company, New York, 2002), you will be amazed to learn that Boyd's involvement in the struggle to field an effective new fighter aircraft constitutes only one chapter of his distinguished, controversial and often contentious life.
The most amazing aspect of John Boyd's record of achievement is not that it is so profound, but rather that the pilot and his record remain unheard of to most Americans. "Boyd was one of the most important unknown men of his time," Coram writes. "He did what so few men are privileged to do: He changed the world. But much of what he did, or the impact of what he did, was either highly classified or of primary concern to the military."
Born and raised in the working-class city of Erie, Pa., Boyd was determined at an early age to succeed, and discovered the U.S. military as the vehicle for his growth. After a brief period serving as an enlisted man at the tail end of World War II, he won an officer's commission and became a fighter pilot who flew combat missions in Korea. Later, while serving as an instructor at the Fighter Weapons School in Nevada, he became known as "Forty-second Boyd" who could defeat any other pilot in mock aerial combat in that amount of time.
As a young captain, Boyd became the first military aviator to codify and formally break down the mysteries of air-to-air combat in a hand-typed memorandum, the "Aerial Attack Study," that soon became official Air Force doctrine. As a 33-year-old graduate engineering student at Georgia Tech, he pioneered a new theory of aircraft performance - the "Energy-Maneuverability Theory" - that would revolutionize the design of all future combat aircraft.
Brash, insightful and profane, Boyd outflanked the generals, cursed the defense industrialists and nurtured a small band of disciples who would grow to form the Military Reform Movement, an unofficial but influential group dedicated to fielding weapons and equipment that would enable America's military to survive and win on the battlefield - not merely line the pockets of the defense industry and its toadies in Congress and the Pentagon.
Coram's book is crammed with hilarious, outrageous and jaw-dropping anecdotes of Boyd's encounters with the brass and his own people. A chain-smoker, Boyd once set a general on fire with his cigar. Another time, Boyd so flummoxed a colonel with his masteries of the facts that the officer foamed at the mouth and fell out of his chair in a fit, prompting them to announce the invention of the Air Force "air to rug maneuver." He gleefully stole more than $1 million in computer time from an Air Force unit so that he could refine a theory on aircraft design - and bragged about it to a senior general. He tormented his supporters with late-night telephone calls that would drag on for hours. One junior aide who lived 25 miles from the Pentagon would tear himself away from Boyd's late-evening office disquisitions and drive home, only to have the phone start ringing the instant he turned the key in his door - Boyd had timed his subordinate's commute to the second.
After retiring from the Air Force as a colonel, Boyd turned down many offers from industry in order to serve as an unpaid Pentagon consultant, continuing his revolutionary work as a civilian. His focus shifted from aircraft design to the wider issue of analyzing the reasons for success in conflict. This led to Boyd's seminal work, "Patterns of Conflict," an unpublished, two-day briefing that he gave for almost two decades throughout the military. This lecture first revealed Boyd's breakthrough, the "OODA Loop" (for Observation-Orientation-Decision-Action) a theory of how military commanders can win by getting inside the mind and outpace the decision cycle of the enemy commander.
Boyd's breakthrough theory would play a pivotal, but hidden role in the shaping of the U.S. victory in Operation Desert Storm, Coram writes. Then-Secretary of Defense Dick Cheney consulted extensively with Boyd and credits the retired fighter pilot with helping him resist an initial Army plan that would have employed the coalition ground forces in a pitched battle with the Iraqi army. Instead, the Army used the now-famous "Left Hook" flanking movement to encircle and destroy the foe.
The U.S. Marine Corps also embraced Boyd's theories of "Fourth Generational Warfare" and today honor him as one of their own.
As impressive as Boyd's intellect and his drive for self-improvement stands out, one comes away from Coram's biography with an even greater respect for the fighter pilot's ironclad integrity. He set generals on fire and outflanked the bureaucrats because he saw that they were enemies of his solitary mission: To give America's fighting men and women the best tools to attain victory.
His friends and former subordinates all recall a standard Boyd speech that distilled the moral dilemma that sooner or later confronts every person working in the Pentagon: "Tiger (he called all of his favorites that), one day you will come to a fork in the road. And you are going to have to make a decision about which direction you want to go. You will have to make compromises and you will have to turn your back on your friends. But you will be a member of the club and you will get promoted and you will get good assignments. Or you can go that way and you can do something - something for your country and for your Air Force and yourself."
There is no doubt in which direction John Boyd headed.
Boyd died of cancer in 1997 and is buried at Arlington National Cemetery. But his rich legacy is preserved in two ways: Several of his longtime supporters, including Thomas P. Christie and Franklin "Chuck" Spinney, still work in the Pentagon on procurement issues. Several Boyd colleagues have also compiled a collection of his essays and briefings at their website, Defense and the National Interest, for anyone interested to read about this dedicated officer and his revolutionary theories.
Ed Offley is Editor of DefenseWatch. He can be reached at email@example.com.
never heard of Boyd...until now...
(but I guess I have the excuse of being a civilian...)
Good post. Thanks.
I ordered a copy of Coram's book on Boyd yesterday. I'm looking forward to it.
"Let's pray there are more like him out there, and that we don't forget his lessons."
There are.. they call themselves "Boydians" numbers are growing ... one wonders what could have been acomplished had there been upper management support for his ideas in the beginning.
You are welcome... not "all" of them... some have been self converted.... B
Boyd and Military Strategy
Independent of any specific geographical conflict, what sorts of strategies deal best with the types of conflict that go under the names "fourth generation warfare," "low intensity conflict," or, as favored by the late American strategist, Col John R. Boyd, "highly irregular warfare"? For our potential adversaries have surely learned that to challenge our high technology fighters and tanks in a "fair fight" will only produce defeat, but they may also be learning from Somalia, Bosnia, Kosovo, and even Iraq that there may be other ways to achieve their goals. Boyd's insights on what makes an effective competitor may help us understand our strengths as well as our vulnerabilities in this new environment and what we should do to achieve our national interests at acceptable cost.
Boyd's OODA "Loop" From "The Essence of Winning and Losing," with commentary. 91 KB PowerPoint presentation. [Also works as a slide show. Printer-friendly version on page 5.]
Interested readers can find excerpts from Boyd's Discourse on Winning and Losing in HTML format, as well as presentations by several of his colleagues, at "Theory of Maneuver Conflict" on War, Chaos, and Business. The next section presents the elements of the Discourse in their original format.
Tribute To John R. Boyd, by Harry Hillaker. The designer of the F-16 pays his respects to the father of the F-16. From the July 1997 edition of Code One, the Lockheed Martin Aeronautics Company magazine for the fighter community.
The Strategy of the Fighter Pilot, by Keith Hammonds. Boyd's simple, elegant OODA loop works great in business, too. In the June 2002 Fast Company.
A Discourse on Winning and Losing
This is the title Boyd gave to his collection of briefings on competitive strategy (widely known as the "Green Book," with apologies to Wittgenstein). Defense and the National Interest is pleased to present these as a resource for research and implementation. They are Adobe Acrobat (.pdf) images of the actual charts used in his legendary 8-hour briefing sessions. You are welcome to download these for your personal use, but in accordance with Boyd's express wishes, these versions are not authorized for commercial reprint. Please note that they are copyrighted by the Estate of John R. Boyd. (Download a free Acrobat reader here.)
Introduction The Abstract and Conceptual Spiral (July/August 1992). An overview of the rest of the Discourse and introducing his "Pattern for Vitality and Growth" (411 KB)
Patterns of Conflict (December 1986) Boyd's monumental look at what makes any organization competitive. Encompassing 2,500 years of the history of conflict, this briefing introduces his famous "OODA loop" concept. (2,845 KB)
Organic Design for Command and Control (May 1987) Perhaps the most approachable of Boyd's briefings and as applicable to business (or to the PTA) as to war. (399 KB) Also available in HTML on War, Chaos, and Business.
Strategic Game of ? and ? (June 1987) The heart of competitive strategy. A noted psychiatrist recently observed that the goal of Boyd's strategy is to inflict severe psychological trauma on the opposing commander prior to any actual engagement. This briefing tells how to do it. (573 KB)
Destruction and Creation (September 1976) Boyd's original paper on strategy, linking such diverse sources as Gödel's Incompleteness Theorem and the Second Law of Thermodynamics to the practice of strategy. (in HTML with links to Chuck Spinney's commentary "Evolutionary Epistimology" on War, Chaos, and Business).
The Essence of Winning and Losing (January 1996) Boyd's "Last Briefing" A 5-chart summary of the Discourse, including the final version of the "OODA loop." (in HTML on War, Chaos, and Business)
New Conception for Air-to-Air Combat (August 1976) Although predating and so not included in the Discourse, this briefing is an important way station on the road to the OODA loop. Here is where Boyd concluded that there was something missing in his own energy-maneuverability concept and ended with the observation that "He who can handle the quickest rate of change survives." This proved to be the observation that led Boyd from air-to-air combat towards a more general theory of competition. (1,292 KB .pdf)
A Swift, Elusive Sword, presented at the Fall 2001 Boyd Conference in Quantico, Virginia. A 180 KB PDF slide show that illustrates themes from the book.
"Shock-based Operations: New Wine in Old Bottles," Lt Col John N. T. Shanahan, May 2001. Doctrine in the 21st Century must deal with opponents who change rapidly to adapt to our technological superiority. The best way to deal with these "complex adaptive systems" is with a doctrine that produces shock and paralysis, not one that tries to bludgeon them into submission. (378 KB MS Word document.)
Bulging Muscles Won't Win The Next War, By David Hackworth. Gustavus Adolphus was a master of using a small, highly trained and motivated, agile forcea lá Boydto defeat his fearsomely-armed, but ponderous, imperial adversary. Now, at the dawn of the 21st Century, we have become the muscle-bound imperials. Reprinted from Soldiers for the Truth.
East vs. WestThe Strategic Challenge of the 21st Century. How operating inside an opponent's OODA loop can help achieve the ancient goal of "formlessness." Originally presented at the Air War College in 1995. 1.5 MB PowerPoint presentation.
Because Boyd was not well known to the public (or even the military) at large, many people are unfamiliar with his career and the origins of his strategy. For those who are interested in learning more, Defense and the National Interest presents a collection of biographies and synopses of his career.
Genghis John, By Chuck Spinney, originally published in the Naval Institute Proceedings. This is the most approachable introduction and overview, written for a general audience.
"From Air Force Fighter Pilot to Marine Corps Warfighting: Colonel John Boyd, His Theories on War, and their Unexpected Legacy," thesis by Major Jeffrey L. Cowan, U.S. Air Force, for the Master of Military Studies degree, USMC Command & Staff College. A new professional biography that traces Boyd's career and development of his strategic concepts. Written from the viewpoint of a USAF fighter pilot, but with a solid background in doctrines and practices of land warfare.
"The Essential Boyd," Dr. Grant Hammond, Director of the Center for Strategy and Technology, Air War College. An in-depth study of the evolution of Boyd's strategic ideas by one of the Air Force's leading civilian strategists. Goes into considerable detail on the origins and implications of Boyd's concept of using time as a weapon. On War, Chaos, and Business.
Prologue to best-selling author Robert Coram's new biography of Col Boyd. Scheduled for publication in November 2002 by Little, Brown & Company, New York. On War, Chaos, and Business. Preorder now available at Amazon.
The Strategic Importance of Boyd and the OODA Loop, an excerpt from the recent book, Modern Strategy, by the distinguished British strategist and author, Colin Gray.
About the Comments (Full text of the references are available on Infowar)
464 The Gadfly and the Falcon (Re: Boyd: The Fighter Pilot Who Changed the Art of War (Robert Coram, Little Brown, 2002) November 18, 2002
462 Book Review: BOYD: The Fighter Pilot Who Changed the Art of War, November 5, 2002
455 How Col. John Boyd Beat the Generals, August 12, 2002
441 The Great American Gong Show: Woodrow Wilson Meets Dr. Strangelove, February 23, 2002
388 Boyd's Question: Are Sanctions on Iraq a Sensible Grand Strategy? September 24, 2000
350 NTC Problems Suggest a Deeper Question: Ready for What? March 17, 2000
Why Synchronization Dumbs Down Your OODA Loop, March 15, 2000
The Question of Values (II) Why Awarding Medals is Like Cog Maintenance in a Fredrick Taylor Production Line, November 15, 1999
The Question of Values, November 13, 1999
Asleep at the Switch in Versailles .. or ... Why Nonlinear Realities Overwhelm Linear Visions ... or ... Why did Slobo Cave? September 6, 1999
291 Don't Mess With the OODA Loop, June 24, 1999
278 The Real Revolution in Military Affairs
Can NATO Cope with 4th Generation War? May 29, 1999
274 Drive By Shootings and Moral Influence, May 16, 1999
Driving Bill and Madeline Bananas, April 28, 1999
A Balkan Sun Tzu vs. the NATO Clausewitz: A Tentative Interpretation of the Serbo - NATO War, April 4, 1999
Ready for What?
Will Street Fighting be in Our Future? March 23, 1999
READY FOR WHAT? -- Black Hawk Down: A Story of Modern War vs. The Oracles in the Cave, March 5, 1999
Ready for What: The Sclerotic Mentality of Star Wars vs. the Poor Man's Nuke, December 6, 1998
199 Genghis John, October 9, 1998
Admiral Gehman Changes His Tune
or Why Emperors Lose their Clothes, August 28, 1998