Orientation and Action, Introduction: On War Since John Boydon July 16, 2007 at 12:00 am
“Patterns of Conflict,” by John Boyd, edited by Chuck Spinney and Chet Edwards, Defense in the National Interest, Boyd’s last edition, December 1986, PowerPoint edition, 27 February 2005, http://www.tdaxp.com/archive/2005/05/23/john_r_boyd_s_patterns_of_conflict_brief.html.
“Unto the Fifth Generation of War,” by Mark Safranski, ZenPundit, 17 July 2005, http://zenpundit.blogspot.com/2005/07/unto-fifth-generation-of-war.html.
The Generations of War in the Context of the OODA Loop
Whether you view reality as land, or as a sea, or even a mystical body, one thing is clear: you exist with it.
More specifically, you can effect the world and the world can effect you. Action flows from you to the world, and information flows from the world to you. Whether you kick a rock, pet a dog, or eat a snack, the your flow of action and the world’s flow of information make life what it is.
This is true no matter what you are. If you are a fighter, process remains the same. The fighter acts on the world, and the world blowbacks to the fighter. Blowback is the residue — the only thing that remains — of the fighter’s action after the action. A happy and lucky fighter gets easy and pleasant blowback. Fighters to choose poorly have less pleasant experiences.
The above three charts show the individual and the world as entities, and the lines are their relations. The graphics are called Entity-Relation, or E-R diagrams, and are commonly used to understand databases.
Another way to look at things is with flowcharts. Let’s take a look at the same fighter / world system, but with flowcharts. Here, a process called “fighting” effects a direct access storage device called the “world.”
Remember, this is exactly the same thing as before:
But what is this fighting? What sub-processes make up this process called “fighting”? Or for that matter, what sub-processes make up the process we called “being human”?
Air Force Colonel John Boyd invented something he called a “decision loop,” made up of four sub-processes called “observing,” “orienting,” “deciding,” and “acting.” While his original graphic was rather ugly, we can expand our “fighting-world” flow-chart to show his decision loop:
Or, even better:
Because the four stages start with O, O, D, and A, the decision loop is sometimes called an “OODA” loop. In the model…
- We observe reality. We take that observation and make sense of it. We oriented new things we see against what we already think we know.
- After we oriented new facts, we may go back into observing. This may happen if we are confused, or we just want to “wait and see.” Alternatively, we might decide what to do.
- When we make decisions, two things happen. Obviously, the first thing is that we observe that we made a decision. We might then orient that with thinking that our decisions have often been bad, and paralyze ourselves with doubt.
- The other thing that happens when we make a decision is we go on and act. Action effects the world, like when we chase a cat or rob a bank. Actions are implicitly guided by our orientation too. For example, you go through the entire OODA loop to decide to walk to the store, but many individual actions (how to move your legs to walk) are guided by your orientation without any decision to do so.
With this introduction of John Boyd’s out of the war, read on to see how it explains the many generations of modern war…