Tag Archives: pisrr

The Terminology of XGW

The clean break of XGW from GMW has is amazing. Not only does it represent the greatest advance since the first descriptions of 5GW, it’s simply liberating to no longer carry the water for thsoe more interested in Idealism than in advancing our understanding of war.

Today, I’ve come across a number of thought-provoking articles in Arms and Influence, Castle Arg, Dreaming 5GW, Simulated Laughter, and Soob. They made me think of XGW in terms of the words we use. In particular, two suggestions came to me.

1. The Term “Generation” Must Be Abandoned.

Just as the abandonment of GMW (The Generations of Modern War) is a critical step in the evolution of XGW theory, the abandonment of “Generation” is the next step. Consider the many criticisms of “4GW” available on the web. Previously, proponents of XGW had to argue against these criticism, and assert that the critics did not really understand 4GW. Now, proponents can agree with the criticism, generalize them to criticism of GMW, and present XGW as an alternative.

I propose Grade, thus making XGW X Grade War Theory. The first four definitions of “grade” are:

# A stage or degree in a process.
# A position in a scale of size, quality, or intensity: a poor grade of lumber.
# An accepted level or standard.
# A set of persons or things all falling in the same specified limits; a class.

These fits how G is used in XGW theory.

Grade also has the benefit of not having the strict timeline implications of “generation” while not doing away entirely with the parts of the timeline of XGW that make sense.

This leaves open the question of whether Roman or Arabic numerals should be use. That is, whether “4th Grade War,” “Grade 4 War,” “IVth Grade War,” or “Grade IV War” is clearer as to what it implies.

2. The “Stages of 4GW” Must Be Abandoned

4GWS1, 4GWS2, and 4GWS3 properly refer to only one form of 4GW, the Maoist model, and so exclude any form of 4GW that is not Maoist. Boyd’s PISRR-Loop is both more precise and more general. I’ve mapped the 3 Stages onto PISRR before, but that earlier work is limited. Instead of S1, we should clarify whether we are talking about Penetration anad Isolation. Instead of Stage 3, we should be precise if we meant Reorientation or Reharmonization, and so on.

3. In Conclusion

Consider one of the final actions in winning a 4GW. In GMW, this would properly be referred to as:

“The Third Stage of the 4th Generation of Modern War” (long form)
“4GWS3” (short form)

I propose instead:

???? (long form)
“4GW Reharmonization” (short form)

Orientation and Action, Part II: The OODA-PISRR Loop

The Observe-Orient-Decide-Act (OODA) loop of John Boyd is not only a model of human cognition.

It is also useful in aligning the generations of modern war within the framework of human cognition

Likewise, the broader Observe-Orient-Decide-Act/Penetrate-Isolate-Subvert-Reorient-Reharmonize Social loop is not only a model of social cognition


It is also useful in aligning the kinetic intensity within the framework of social cognition


Both of these findings can be synthesized by viewing the generations of modern war within the framework of social cognition.

Consider that the second generation of modern war (2GW), based on concentrate of firepower, is the strong-suit of the state in war. Likewise, consider that the fourth generation of modern war (4GW), based on idealogical coherency, is the strong-suit of the insurgent in war.

From this we can place the third generation of modern war (3GW), based on mobility, in between the state’s and the insurgent’s spheres of influence.

And this makes sense. In Patterns of Conflict, John Boyd describes maneuver warfare as “blitz/guerrilla.”

(One might just as easily as say “Global Guerrilla / Panzer General“)

There are two remaining generations of modern war, and both fall outside the realms of the state and non-state. The first generation (1GW), built on total mobilization, was designed for states able to conscript a large fraction of the male population but unable to communicate effectively enough to effective combine firepower. Thus we place 1GW to the left of 2GW, as belonging to an actor which we would describe as a state… almost. (Compare the workings of Napoleonic France to that of a modern state to see how a 1G “state” falls short.)

Likewise, place the fifth generation of modern warfare (5GW) to the right of 4GW. 5GW is the domain of non-states… almost. When a 5GW is used by a state, it’s actually the province of a “state within” that acts as an internal insurgency. The Military-Industrial-Complex devised by President Truman is the work of such a 5GW conspiracy-within-the-state.

Blue Circle encompasses the Realm of the State
Red Circle encompasses the Realm of the Non-State

The take-away from this visualization is as follows:

  • each ‘higher’ generation of war is less kinetically intense than the one before it.
  • Further, states tend to be victorious in areas where intensity is high but not overwhelming — between 2GW and 3GW.
  • At the same time, non-states tend to be victorious at low but not underwhelming kinetic intensity — between 3GW and 5GW.
  • Finally, 1GW and 5GW fall outside the realms of both the state and the non-state, and into the lands of the proto-state and the state-within.

Orientation and Action, a tdaxp series
1. The OODA Loop
2. The OODA-PISRR Loop

OODA-PISRR, Part III: Formless Fast Transients

This is your waveform


This is your waveform on fast transients


Any questions?

begins his epic briefing, , describing the need for fast transients:

In other words, suggests a fighter that can pick and choose engagement opportunities—yet has fast transient (“buttonhook”) characteristics that can be used to either force an overshoot by an attacker or stay inside a hard turning defender.

Yet while mere fast cycling is important.

Idea of fast transients suggests that, in order to win, we should operate at a faster tempo or rhythm than our adversaries—

A better strategy is to aim for getting inside the enemy’s head

or, better yet, get inside adversary’s observation-orientation-decision-action time cycle or loop.

The purpose is to hide the form of the fighter, creating a confusing, menacing, ambiguous, unpredictable disorder

Why? Such activity will make us appear ambiguous (unpredictable) thereby generate confusion and disorder among our adversaries—since our adversaries will be unable to generate mental images or pictures that agree with the menacing as well as faster transient rhythm or patterns they are competing against.

This is not simple optimization for speed. If a fighter wanted to optimize for speed, he would merely practice his routines so he could act without thinking (bypassing decision in the OODA loop) and rope-a-dope when attacked (so one can bypass subversion in the PISRR loop). His cognition loop would then be:

The Fast Fighting Machine: Non-Deciding, Non-Developing

Rather, this is optimizing for formlessness.

The OODA-PISRR cycle, the Social Cognition Loop, was previously displayed as a circuit:


It could also be shown to be a wave with a unique form

Vertical Axis is kinetic Energy, Horizontal Axis is Time

All merely going faster would be do is decrease the cycle-time of the waveform. It would definitely be menacing to face an enemy going fast. But not confusing, ambiguous, or unpredictable.


Fast transients rely on appropriate use of Decision and Subversion to get inside the enemy’s cognition loop and make your waveform disappear.

As John Boyd said in Patterns of Conflict, describing the Mongol Horde:

By exploiting superior leadership, intelligence, communications, and mobility as well as by playing upon adversary’s fears and doubts via propaganda and terror, Mongols operated inside adversary observation-orientation-decision-action loops.

In a similar way, by exploiting decision and subversion, the winner operates into the enemy’s cognition loop.

As Chet Richards quoted Sun Tzu in Riding the Tiger (previously featured on tdaxp):

Be extremely mysterious, even to the point of soundlessness;
Be extremely subtle, even to the point of formlessness;
Thereby you can be the director of the opponent’s fate.

Victory with OODA is not just going fast, its using decision and subversion to deprive the enemy of the patterns needed to detect you. By acting in ways that are incoherent to one’s enemy’s, one’s waveform becomes confusing, menacing, ambiguous and unpredictable

One reaction is to create what Boyd called “many non-cooperative centers of gravity” in the enemy, making his waveform disappear too. But while the winner’s waveform is merely apparently chaotic, the enemy’s waveform is chaotic.

Next, the enemy ceases cycling, paralyzing him in one cognitive state. Visually


Of course, not all transients are fast. Until they are.

OODA-PISRR, a tdaxp series in four parts
1. The Social Cognition Loop
2. The PISRR Cognition Loop
3. Formless Fast Transients
4. System Perturbations

OODA-PISRR, Part II: The PISRR Cognition Loop

The late Air Force Colonel John Boyd’s five stages of victory, the elements of his PISRR loop, are often shown like this:


But PISRR is a mirror of the OODA loop, so it should look like this:


If that chart looks a lot like the OODA loop

that’s on purpose. As the previous post quoted Larry as saying

There are many similarities, almost mirror images, to the OODA loop and the PISRR loop.

Until now, however, a solid visual representation of this has not been available. The “five arrows from a circle” description of PISRR hardly does it justice, while my naive charts from the first part of this serious were also deceptive.

In the last post I charted John Boyd’s PISRR cycle as:


But what really goes on is:


Likewise, the last post displayed the Social Cognition Cycle as:


when really it is:


In the PISRR loop, there is no forward feed between Isolate and Subvert.

One grows smarter in two ways: learning and development. Learning is the acquisition of new facts. It is a quantitative change in knowledge. Learning is the attainment of ever more precise models of the world. It is normal science, the de-fuzzy-ification of knowledge.

Development is a qualitative change in knowledge. It is the destruction and creation of mental categories. It is revolutionary science.

Learning can happen without development, but development requires learning. Another to say this is that new information

Consider a recent Slashdot story on struggle among mice. To quote from the article:

To find out, they first subjected mice to a different dominant mouse daily for 10 days. Even 4 weeks later, the “socially defeated” animals vigorously avoided former aggressors or unfamiliar mice. BDNF and an indicator of gene expression increased markedly in their social memory circuit. Yet, the social avoidance behavior was reversible by giving the animals antidepressants.

He and his colleagues also discovered that social defeat triggered an upheaval in gene expression in the target area of the circuit, the nucleus accumbens, located deep in the front part of the brain — 309 genes increased in expression while 17 decreased. This pattern persisted even 4 weeks later, with 127 genes still increased and 9 decreased, paralleling the changes seen in social behavior. The researchers suggest that this alteration in gene expression encodes the motivational changes induced by aggression. When BDNF was deleted, or the animals were given antidepressants, most of the changes in gene expression reversed.

In Boydian times, the dominant mouse first subdued the victim mouse. This was an immediate quantitative change in the behavior of the victim mouse. This “mouse system perturbation” then triggered a horizontal change to the genetic factors of the mouse.

By first subduing the victim mouse, the dominant mouse was actually able to subvert it by effecting a qualitative change in the victim mouse — to get inside the victim mouse’s brain (literally) and change what it wanted.

A theoretical, and less mousey, example of how one can subdue to subvert is my hypothetical description of . I mentioned a way to attack a State without letting the government know that it is being attacked. This also is composed of attempts to subdue the state (change its quantitative characteristics) in a manner designed to subvert the state (change its qualitative characteristics).

Both OODA and PISRR are Cognition Loops. OODA describes how one moves from inaction to action, while PISRR describes the mental shift from action to inaction. OODA is how one thinks, while PISRR is how one teaches.

Both can be used to win — and force another to lose.

OODA-PISRR, a tdaxp series in four parts
Part I: The Social Cognition Loop
Part II: The PISRR Cognition Loop
Part III: Formless Fast Transients
Part IV: System Perturbations

OODA-PISRR, Part I: The Social Cognition Loop

The late Air Force Colonel John Boyd’s five stages of victory, his , are often shown like this:


But once one looks at it like a loop


all sorts of things become apparent.

First, one might try to change the existing OODA loop:

To look “more like” the PISRR loop


but the differences, such as the Decide->Observe loop-back, mean that PISRR is not the same as OODA..

More profitable is to follow Larry Dunbar’s realization

While I now understand the strategy of OODA (as well as any non-expert could), PISRR should be give equal time. OODA is going from Potential Energy (Observe) to Kinetic energy (ACT). PISRR is going from Kinetic energy (Penetrate) to Potential Energy (Reharmonize).

Harmony can be considered non-destructive waves of changing potential energy. To reharmonize would be to reunite these non-destructive waves of energy into a society.

There are many similarities, almost mirror images, to the OODA loop and the PISRR loop. Both rely explicitly on trust, this must have been where Col. North screwed up the PISRR loop. Both are powerful strategies in war. While OODA can be considered an organizational loop from Special Operations forces to a Leviathan force, PISRR can be considered an organizational loop going from Leviathan force to a System Administration force.

That is, OODA describes escalation and PISRR describes de-escalation


(Compare also to normal and revolutionary change.)

This implies that one can replace the “external world” in the OODA loop with the PISRR loop, and vice verse, so:


Yet here “Act” is redundent, because the first step of the PISRR loop — Penetrate — is itself an action.


We may call it a day, if not for a red flag. A clue in John Boyd’s language tells us we are missing something profound


If “Penetration” is a form of “Action,” then should Reorientation not be a style of Orientation?

The red flag alertts us to another similarity in PISRR and OODA — Decide and Subdue


In a comment I made to Dr. Dan Nexon, I mentioned

The difference between 3GW and 4GW difference is that 4GW tries to force a qualitative change, while 3GW tries to force a quantitative reevaluations. As I mentioned in another post [1], 4GW focuses on Orientation while 3GW focuses on Decision.

For example, we can simplify the British public’s thought process as

“While the cost of war is not too high, fight bad guys”

Strategic bombing tries to change the value of the quantitative value “the cost of the war” past the fuzzy value “too high.” The bombings themselves increase the cost of the war, while propaganda decreased “too high” (by saying “a Berlin-centered England wouldn’t be so bad…” ).

4GW would have tried to change the identity of the British public itself. It would have tried to shift the British public, not just into neutral observers, but allies. It would have convinced the public in the 1940s, in a way that many Marxists were able to do by the 1970s, that Britannia herself was the evil empire.

In other words, Orientation and Subversion all focus by changing qualitative characteristics of a person. It alters whether or not a person would do something, all other things being equal. Subdue and Decide focus on quantitative change, whether or not a man can practically achieve his goal.

This implies that Subvert is part of Orient…


which means we can simplify the model to:


We now have a realized model of the “cloudy” OODA-PISRR model we started out with




This combined loop may be called a Social Cognition Loop, because it reflects the subject’s OODA loop and the object’s PISRR loop as part one one cycle. Like a sine wave.

Yet this Social Cognition Loop is wrong, and Boyd is incomplete. A wise fighter will try to break it anyway. He can’t, but he can destroy something else.

OODA-PISRR, a tdaxp series in four parts
Part I: The Social Cognition Loop
Part II: The PISRR Cognition Loop
Part III: Formless Fast Transients
Part IV: System Perturbations

State Department Subversion (what a piSrr!)

Exporting democracy: not a job for State,” by Thomas Barnett, Thomas P.M. Barnett :: Weblog, 16 July 2005, http://www.thomaspmbarnett.com/weblog/archives2/002059.html.

Remember PISRR: Penetrate-Isolation-Subvert-Reorient-Reharmonize: the five steps to victory? The Joe Wilson shenanigans were an Isolation attack on the President, trying to separate him from American people. Here’s word on another part of the anti-Bush Doctrine effort: Subversion by the State Department

Review of Larry Diamond’s book on the CPA in Iraq (Squandered Victory and David Phillips’ bitch-session on how all that brilliant postwar planning at State was ignored by the Pentagon (Inside the Postwar Reconstruction Fiasco.

How good was the State postwar planning effort?

Many critics of the Bush administration’s handling of Iraq (including Diamond) have cited this project as an enormous opportunity lost, because of turf battles between the State Department and the Pentagon. By this account, Foggy Bottom had planned for a post-Saddam Iraq, anticipating many of the awful things that could go wrong. There is only one problem with this version of events: for the most part, it’s not true. The Future of Iraq Project was not a serious post-Saddam planning exercise for a department readying itself for war. According to the Iraqi writer Kanan Makiya, who was perhaps the most influential voice within the democratic principles working group, it was mostly busywork for Iraqi exiles whom State wanted to guide and control. For exiles like Makiya-and some neoconservatives in Washington like me, who would have welcomed serious postwar planning in any quarter-it was clear that the Near Eastern bureau at State, which oversaw the project, did not want to engage in any planning that might make the path to war easier.

This is why the new office of stability and reconstruction ops in State will never work. State will always (and should always) want to avoid war, because it’s the Department of Peace. Meanwhile, the Defense Department will always (and should always) want to avoid the peacekeeping that must inevitably follow war. What’s needed is a third department between the two, one that focused not on war in the Gap or peace in the growing Core but on getting weak states from the Gap to the Core.

White House PISRR on and with NPR

A Battle Over Programming at National Public Radio,” by Stephen Labaton, New York Times, 16 May 2005, http://www.nytimes.com/2005/05/16/business/media/16radio.html? (from Liberals Against Terrorism).

The Administration’s new appointee to the Federal Government-influenced Corporation for Public Broadcasting is trying to move programming away from news and commentary and toward music. This is important because it morally Isolates liberals and Reorients an influential portion of American media [PISRR].

  • Morally Isolating liberals is an important goal in the Conservative program. This serves many purposes.
    • It breaks apart the ideological networks that support liberal 4th Generation Political attacks on the Conservative movement.
    • It makes it harder for those networks to spread, by “removing preachers from pulpits.”
    • And it also messes with liberal OODA [Observe-Orient-Decide-Act] loops.

      To quote John Robb

      Grand strategy, according to Boyd, is a quest to isolate your enemy’s (a nation-state or a global terrorist network) thinking processes from connections to the external/reference environment. This process of isolation is essentially the imposition of insanity on a group. To wit: any organism that operates without reference to external stimuli (the real world), falls into a destructive cycle of false internal dialogues. These corrupt internal dialogues eventually cause dissolution and defeat.

      This is the insanity which makes liberals personally attack their own leaders and other wonderful things for us.

  • Likewise, Reharmonizing National Public Radio. Turning NPR from a high-brow liberal to high-brow conservative vehicle would be a coup. But it is too difficult to do in one swoop. It must be done in stages. This is the first part of a serious attempt to take away NPR’s liberal voice. If Conservatives are able to hold the executive, expect news to come back later — with “balance.”

It is fascinating to see an Isolation-Reharmonization PISRR attack that leaves out the middle stage — subversion. It is even more fascinating to watch President Bush, a natural fourth-generation politician, make his mark.

Update: Praktike does see a Subversion angle.

PISRR and the Three Stages, Try 1

I’ve been trying to define the relationship between PISRR (Penetrate-Isolate-Subvert-Reorient-Reharmonize) and the Three Stages of Fourth Generation Struggle. Making it more difficult is that while the Three Stages are a path to power, PISRR can either be a path to power or a method of fighting insurgency. That is, an established government can run through the steps of PISRR to “fold up” an insurgency.

So in this post I only look at the Stages/PISRR from the perspective of a growing insurgency. First, I created a chart to see how PISRR correlated to the Stages


Penetration is clearly a net-building S1 activity, while Reharmonization is achievable only by an establishment and so is S3. Likewise, Subversion is a net-on-net attack and is S2. I then assumed that either individuals or nets can Isolate others (either by selected terrorism or Distributed Denial of Service attacks) while Reorienting a society is done either with an effective network (like the Viet Cong dismembering children vaccinated by Americans) or a government — so Reorientation is S2/S3 and Isolation is S1/S2.

Another way to look at Stages/PISRR from the perspective of an insurgency is


The further down the chart, the closer to the goal — victory. All lines are two directional except the lines extending from “Initiate Struggle” and the lines that enter “Victory.”