Author Archives: Chet

Wither war? The View from the Mindshaft

Is this America’s future, endless war?

Steven Metz, Chairman of the Regional Strategy Department of the Army War College’s Strategic Studies Institute, noted in a tweet a few days ago that “Ten plus years and people are still trying to pound the round peg of terrorism into the square hole of war.”

Which got me thinking, again, and this is a discussion Fabius and I have been having for many years: Are we at war with anybody? Is there any chance we will ever be at war with anybody? And the collateral issue, which makes all this more than just a philosophical discussion on the futility of names: What sort of military forces will be useful for us in the first half of the 21st century?

As way of background, strategists have typically reserved the word “war” for something serious. Here are a couple of the best known examples:

  • War is a matter of vital importance to the state; the province of life or death; the road to survival or ruin. (Sun Tzu’s Art of War, Griffith trans. 63)
  • War is an act of violence pushed to its utmost bounds. (Clausewitz, Penguin edition, 1987, p. 103)

Some have noted that in the era of nuclear weapons, Clausewitz’s conception must be modified:

  • Thus the effect of nuclear weapons, unforeseen and perhaps unforeseeable, has been to push conventional war into the nooks and crannies of the international system. (Martin van Creveld, The Transformation of War, p. 11)
  • State-on-state war has gone the way of the dinosaur thanks to America’s willingness to remind everyone on a regular basis that we are the last superpower standing. (Thomas P. M. Barnett, The Pentagon’s New Map, p. 271)
  • War as a massive deciding event in a dispute in international affairs; such war no longer exists. (Sir Rupert Smith, The Utility of Force, p.1)

Note that none of these rule out war, per se, just a replay of WWII or at least one of its major battles. Are they right? Doug Macgregor doesn’t think so, as he wrote in an earlier post:

Continue reading

How OODA loops break

Summary: Analysis of America on the FM website talk about broken Observation-Orientation-Decision-Action (OODA) Loops. But what does this description mean? What are the consequences? Here’s the second of a series by Chet Richards (Colonel, USAF, retired) explaining this important subject.

Once broken, they’re difficult to reassemble.


In the last post, I ruminated on what a broken OODA loop is. But what is it that breaks?

A working OODA loop needs things like (see the OODA loop sketch at the end of this post):

  • A repertoire of actions that can flow implicitly from orientation, that is, you need to be (physically) able to do them and do them intuitively as Boyd would say
  • Implicit guidance and control links that can initiate these actions, that is, you can act when you intend to act
  • Orientation that can trigger appropriate actions, that is, you have made the process of selecting actions intuitive (that does not mean mindless, by the way)
  • A functioning conceptual spiral, that is, the “continuing whirl” of reorientation, mismatches, analyses and synthesis that does a couple of things. First, it keeps our orientation process aligned with reality, the unfolding situation. Think of this as allowing us to deal with the novelty that is flowing “around and over us,” much of it generated by our opponents. Second, it allows us to generate novelty of our own. I go into interminable detail on this in “John Boyd, Conceptual Spiral, and the Meaning of Life.”

If any one of these is absent, if it “breaks,” then the OODA loop is broken.  Just from looking at the length of the descriptions on this list, you can probably guess where most problems arise: Orientation. To come to grips with this, you have to keep in mind that although we often talk about orientation as a picture, as our impression of reality at some point in time, it really refers to the process of keeping those pictures up to date and projecting them into the future so we can use them as decision models.

Or, as Boyd once told me, an orientation is simply a pattern of ideas and actions.

Continue reading

What does a “broken OODA loop” look like?

In a comment to an earlier post, Duncan Kinder had suggested that: Broken OODA loop = madness. This got me to thinking about what a “broken OODA loop” might be. Could Kinder be right? [Readers not familiar with the concept might want to glance over “Boyd’s Real OODA Loop,” available from the Articles page at Fast Transients.]

“Delightful Madness ” by Cyril Walker


Boyd never used the term “broken OODA loop,” but he did outline what he expected OODA loops to do, on page 1 of The Essence of Winning and Losing (also available from the Articles page.):

Without OODA loops, we can neither sense, hence observe, thereby collect a variety of information for the above processes, nor decide as well as implement actions in accord with these processes.

Or put another way:

Without OODA loops embracing all of the above and without the ability to get inside other OODA loops (or other environments), we will find it impossible to comprehend, shape, adapt to and in turn be shaped by an unfolding evolving reality that is uncertain, everchanging, and unpredictable

Then, on page 3:

Also note how the entire “loop” (not just orientation) is an ongoing many-sided implicit cross-referencing process of projection, empathy, correlation, and rejection.

A “broken loop” would imply a process that is no longer “ongoing, ” no longer performing its functions of “projection, empathy, correlation, and rejection.” The upshot is that we can no longer “comprehend, shape, adapt to and in turn be shaped by an unfolding evolving reality that is uncertain, everchanging, and unpredictable.” “Madness” is most apt.

For More Information (and a picture of a OODA loop)

Continue reading

The lowdown on OODA Loops

Fabius mentions our broken OODA loops from time to time. Here’s guide for the perplexed.

Don’t feel bad. It took Boyd a while, too. A big part of his problem was that he was using the OODA loop concept to do three things:

  • Control our actions in the midst of whatever we’re doing now, an operation, karate match, sales campaign, whatever.
  • Modify or even create new actions on the fly as it were
  • Keep our orientation well matched with reality.

Continue reading

Affordable Care Act down the mindshaft: asking what it reveals about us

Summary:  Why do Americans oppose the the Affordable Care Act (ACA, Obamacare) while supporting so many of its provisions? What does this tell us about America? Today Chet Richards “asks the mineshaft”  for answers. It’s a community exercise, from the German Gemeinschaft (see Wikipedia).  Please post your views in the comments!



  1. The oddity of Americans’ view of the ACA
  2. Polls of US public opinion on the ACA
  3. For more information: other posts about health care

(1)  The oddity of Americans’ view of the ACA

One of the more curious aspects of the current political season is opposition to the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (aka PPACA, ACA, Obamacare).  Polls (such as this recent one by Gallup) show that 31% of Americans say they want Congress to entirely repeal ACA — and another 21% want certain parts repealed (most the individual mandate, which finances much of the rest). On the other hand, when the provisions are listed individually, most Americans support them.

One way to explain this phenomenon is that most Americans are “fatally stupid,” to quote University of Michigan professor Juan Cole.  But this is intellectual laziness.

A better approach is to understand the orientations of the people who oppose ACA, although they may support the provisions outside of the act. Can we do this? That’s the question we’re posing to the mineshaft in this posting.

Continue reading