Boydian Phase Changes and Clausewitzian Non-Attrition War

Dominant Battlespace Awareness and Future Warfare,” by Jeffrey Cooper, Dominant Battlespace Knowledge, October 1995,

Some interesting words on John Boyd and Carl von Clausewitz by a military strategist. All emphasis is mine. Both of these are from readings in preparation of my International Law paper.

First, Boyd and his OODA loop:

Cycle-Time Dominance: DBK [Dominant Battlespace Knowledge] improves the understanding of critical combat dynamics as they occur so that they may be translated into timing and spatial cues for tactical actions.

Many analysts have returned to the Observation-Orientation- Decision-Action (OODA) Loop (see Col John R. Boyd, USAF [Ret.], A Discourse on Winning and Losing, August 1987) to understand the potential impacts of the Information Revolution on combat operations. Unfortunately they have focussed on the decision side rather than the action side. Good communications are analogous to Boyd’s key technical requirement for 3,000 psi hydraulics, to link a pilot’s rapid decisions to his aircraft’s performance. As with air combat, small advantages in each maneuver action ultimately result in a decisive firing solution. This is particularly attractive for repetitive action/response cycles in combat. Time becomes the critical determinant of combat advantage.

Phase Dominance: But what shorter cycle times really achieve is to let U.S. forces to select the right time to engage the enemy so as to maximize differences in relative combat capabilities. Phase-Dominance builds small advantages into decisive victories. DBK informs commanders of the natural operating cycles and rhythms of enemy forces (as well as their own) and ensures that actions can be executed exactly when needed.

Maintaining the coherence (a combination of mental and physical concentration) of combat units is never easy — especially when they are forced to alter their state in combat (one reason why the reorientation conducted by the 20th Maine at Little Roundtop is considered a classic). Armies change their tempos and shift back and forth between road march and assault formation; between defense against air to defense against ground; or from either to offense; from one objective to another, especially in meeting engagements. Each change not only perturbs unit coherence but risks a loss in the essential phasing between the integrated joint forces that produces overall operational coherence. It requires a different mental attitude and task sets — a resetting of the cycle. The coherence of an organization takes time to reestablish (this might be called a phase-change time-constant). In the interim, the unit cannot act in focus and is more vulnerable.

Surprise works because it comes from unexpected directions, but a larger reason is that it hits at unexpected phases in the operational cycle; it forces an unexpected and disruptive phase- change with the attendant loss of coherence while re-orientation is taking place. Thus, U.S. dive bombers caught the Japanese carriers by surprise at Midway during their extremely vulnerable refueling and rearming phase of cyclic operations.

tdaxp’s Comment: But then why doesn’t Boyd’s Patterns of Conflict mention phase changes?

Last, Clausewitz and the decisive battle.

Decisive Combat: The most fundamental changes in warfare may be the return of Clausewitzian decisive victories in place of attrition warfare. The latter paradigm, exemplified by World Wars I and II, were waged by large, relatively equal, industrialized nation-states, and won largely by material and mass, not by coups de main or great battlefield victories (even those like Kursk and Stalingrad).

DBK lets commanders exploit seams in the enemy’s forces, gaps in his abilities, and openings provided by his sequential operations. Forces and fires can be rapidly reassigned between holding, breakthrough, and exploitation operations. Opponents can be kept from cohering their forces so that the United States avoids the need to take on enemy forces en bloc (as General Sullivan noted of Operation Just Cause). Mobile, lethal, and rapid operations conducted in parallel could let U.S. forces defeat units in detail at a time of our own choosing across the battlespace. The other side can act only in a pre-planned but uncoordinated manner in the face of our initiatives. The result may thus resemble the classic coup de main, except not executed as a single main-force engagement but a parallel set of tactical operations.

tdaxp’s Comment: But isn’t attrition warfare more like in Clausewitzian warfare than in Boydian War?


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