View Full Version : OODA Loop

10 Mar 04, 21:08
Alright gentleman,

I just started reading some stuff on John Boyd's OODA Loop and am having a little trouble understanding what he's talking about. That tends to happen when you're slow like me. :)

Anyway, it appears as though he's talking about making decisions and reacting much faster than your enemy. This forces them to make decisions based on outdated information, which eventually leads to paralysis due to not knowing what the hell is going on. I realize this is a significant simplification, but would appreciate anyone's thoughts on the subject.

With respect to simulations like ATF, how well can you simulate the impact of speed/suprise affecting the enemy? Or in the case of the OODA Loop, how can you model getting inside the enemies "decision cycle?" I guess that falls into a morale type discussion, but I always wonder if the impact of current doctrine and weapons is somewhat lost in games like ATF because you just can't model the psychological impact.

Also, let me know if you'd prefer these types of posts on the general forum and I can move it there.

Take care,

10 Mar 04, 23:43
Your explanation was very accurate. Boyd thought modern maneuver warfare forces had the ability to move, plan, and execute battle faster and with more cohesion than their opponent. An example of this might be the Battle for Baghdad. Saddam Hussein assigned one of his sons the task of defending the city and area around it. As Coalition forces advanced, one Iraqi commander stated he was issued a series of orders. Field commanders would inform subordinates and begin planning to execute the order. Just when they are about done planning, a new order would come in. So they had to scrap their plans and start over again. This happened again and again. Each new order created greater confusion until the Republican Guard became paralyzed. They didn't collapse back into the city. Troops just pretty much remained in the same positions they were in the day the war began.

As with any ideal, there are counter-arguments. One of the most compelling is how does the OODA loop function in OOTW. In these kind of operations time and its relevance in the OODA loop is less definitive. In Vietnam for example, prolonging the OODA and its impact on the effort served the enemy well. Terrorists and insurgents in Iraq might attempt to employ similar methods. Our forces, and the American people in general, might still have problems with slowness when we are so accustomed to speed.

IMHO, commanders need to develop the ability to function in both time cycles while remaining focused. How that might be accomplished is somewhat beyond my scope of knowledge. Maybe if placed less importance on firepower, and the speed it and technology provides, we'll be able to deal with slow.

Testing such ideals in ATF would probably require a human opponent. It is possible to simulate things like shock, but the effects are very defined. A human player would react to shock in a number of ways impossible to simulate. Hopefully, ATF will develop something like PBEM.

Rob Carpenter
10 Mar 04, 23:48
You have the gist of it :)

To recreate in a computer game you try to "show" the enemy a number of things that are not related, they (assuming a human player, but even the AI) will either make a decision based on this incomplete, and hopefully incomprehensible data, or not. If they make a decision you hope they have not deduced your real intent, and that you have anticipated this action and have prepared yourself accordingly. If they don't make a decision then you are one step down your plan, and hopefully the enemy still doesn't know what you are doing.

As an example you are attacking. Insteading stacking all your combat power on one flank, probe on both flanks, observe what the enemy does, then commit more forces in such a way to upset his action, and reinforce your own. Assume the enemy attacks on of your probes do you:

a. reinforce the probe,
b. carry out your preplanned action on enemy attack or
c. ignore the enemy and continue attacking on the other flank.

A indicates you have lost the OODA cycle this time, B indicates you are on or inside the enemies cycle (you have anticipated and reacted to his action), C is inconclusive depending on situation (you aren't reacting to him, but neither have you anticipated his action.)

This is what planning is all about, you should have a battle plan in every game you play, you should think about how the enemy is going to react to your plan, then think about how you can counter it. You then modify your plan to take into account the likely enemy reactions. But you need a flexible reserve to counter the move that the enemy makes that you did not expect :)

Thats the whole fun of wargamming, especially against a human! Its all about psychology and out thinking your opponant.



Pat Proctor
11 Mar 04, 11:37
I have deliberately tried to model the OODA loop in how the computer makes decisions in ATF. I do not try to "slow it down", but rather limit the computer's choices to a number that a human commander could reasonably manage.

11 Mar 04, 12:42
I think time is not of the essence in OODA. It's not really about being faster to make decisions; its about being able to change your frame of reference to recognize opportunities when events occur that do not match your expectations.

I believe it is the second 'O', orientation, that is the soul of OODA. It is human nature to have expectations and assumptions; we see the world largely as we *expect* to see it. We tend to filter our observations and arrange them into the framework of our preexisting beliefs. We are most comfortable when our observations reinforce, or appear to reinforce, what we believe we already know. When this happens, most people have little difficulty in making timely and effective decisions.

"Getting inside" in OODA terms isn't about being faster; its about breaking into the enemy's expectations. By showing him things that seem to reinforce his model of how the world works, but aren't really the same at all, you deny him the ability to make easy, correct decisions. To recognize what is really happening, he must change his worldview, something most humans are loathe to do. If you throw him a bone with a seemingly predictable action,he is likely to grab hold (at last, something he understands!) and react in a nice, predictable way. It doesn't matter how fast he makes that decision; its still the wrong one. Or, seeing both the familiar and unexpected at once, he dithers and marks time ineffectually. Either way, unless he successfully changes his orientation, he is screwed.

OODA was invented by a fighter pilot. Air combat, much like fencing, tends to proceed in a sort of dance, where a movement is selected and the opponent counters in a standard countermove, and then ripostes in one of a few standard ways appropriate to the current posture, which is in turn countered again in a standard way. Usually, the loser is the first one who makes an error in their part of the dance. In this almost ritualized combat, indeed speed and reaction time is usually of the highest import.

Boyd's innovation was to refuse to participate in the ritual. Instead, he exploited his understanding of what the opponent expected to see, and did something vagely familiar but not quite what you'd expect. The opponent, predictably, would try to force Boyd's move into the "standard" lexicon and perform a standard countermove. But Boyd, having a good idea of how the opponent was likely to (incorrectly) react to his first move, was already doing something else almost but not quite fully unexpected to further disadvantage his opponent.

You could perceive this as Boyd being "faster". But, the heart of his technique is operating in a way that simultaneously reinforces and conflicts with the opponents expectations, so that the opponent will act predictably and ineffectually while trying to force his observations into his existing frame of reference, rather than reorienting to the new reality and thereby recognizing what new opportunities exist.

--- Kevin

19 Mar 04, 18:20
For me this is about this:

Seek to improve your capabilities and situation so that your are no longer required to choose between making a quick decision and a well-informed decision - you can have both.

At the same time, you force the enemy commander into making decisions based on lousy and late information and at the same time the faster pace of your decisions (and sometimes your faster transport if you are equipped with this concept in mind) also forces him to make these tougher decisions faster.

Of course, neither quick-or-not decisions nor well-or-ill-informed decisions are really binary, but it illustrates the point.

19 Mar 04, 23:29
I just finished reading Boyd's bio by Robert Coram. Very good read. This whole OODA loop thing is very interesting to me. I'm working my way through his "Patterns of Conflict" briefing. It's not bad, but I know I'm not getting the full picture. I wish there was a better way to learn about Boyd's theories, but the guy never really wrote anything down. There's another book called "Mind of War" (I think) that goes into all his theories (EM and OODA along with his learning theories).

Take care,

Ryan_ Murphy
23 Sep 04, 04:54
Here is a whole website dedicated to Col. Boyd's memory. It was set up by one of his "acolytes," Chuck Spinney.


William S. Lind's columns on 3GW and 4GW are featured as well.


Herman Hum
23 Sep 04, 05:21
I just finished reading Boyd's bio by Robert Coram. Very good read.
One of the finest books I have ever had the pleasure of reading.