Author Archives: Chet

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)

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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.

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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.

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Why liberals lose: weak strategy

Summary: Today’s post by Chet Richards (Colonel, USAF, retired) applies the analytical tools of strategy and tactics to American politics.  At the end is a primer on grand strategy.

Juan Cole (Prof History, U MI), one of our most perspicuous observers on the Middle East, ran a blog post the other day that illustrates why conservatives have such a strong hold on certain segments of our society. The item featured a map showing average life expectancy by state, and Cole’s summary was:

With the exception of Utah, there is a pretty strong overlap between lower life expectancy and deep hostility to the Affordable Care Act. Those who need it most are most opposed to it.

Fair enough. But why? Although one can sympathize with Cole’s frustration, his conclusion illustrates why liberals are struggling so hard:

Know what that is called? Fatal stupidity.

So long as liberals have that attitude, they will feed the very movement they so righteously denounce. It wasn’t that long ago, for example, that Rick Santorum was making a credible run at the GOP nomination by shouting at his audiences:

They think we’re stupid!

Boyd suggested four elements of an effective grand strategy. You can look them up at Patterns of Conflict slide 139 (PDF here).  The second is:

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Is 4GW magnifique?

Summary:  FM writer Chet Richards (Colonel, USAF, retired) describes what our military refuses to see, that 4GW has become the dominate form of warfare in our age.  That others are mastering it, while we spend vast sums preparing for wars that will not occur again during our lives.  And, like all war, 4GW is Hell.  See the links at the end for more information.

I don’t understand it; our 4GW foes don’t need to. From Prof Sam Liles @ Selil.

We therefore repeat our proposition, that War is an act of violence pushed to its utmost bounds; as one side dictates the law to the other, there arises a sort of reciprocal action, which logically must lead to an extreme. This is the first reciprocal action, and the first extreme with which we meet (first reciprocal action).
— A warning by Clausewitz. From On War, Book I – On the Nature of War, Chapter I – What is War? #3 Utmost Use of Force.

Clausewitz’s observation was made in the context of state-vs-state warfare, where, as he notes, the aim is to “disarm the enemy.” In the form of warfare common today (called fourth generation or non-trinitarian warfare) that conclusion may not be so straightforward.  For example, in the original paper on the subject, which introduced the term “fourth generation warfare,” Bill Lind and his colleagues noted that:

First generation warfare focused tactically and operationally (when operational art was practiced) on the enemy’s front, his combat forces. Second generation warfare remained frontal tactically, but at least in Prussian practice it focused operationally on the enemy’s rear through the emphasis on encirclement. The third generation shifted the tactical as well as the operational focus to the enemy’s rear.

Fourth generation warfare, like terrorism, might well move the operational focus back even further:
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Mission Accomplished in Libya

A couple of years ago, I suggested that

Involvement of allies reduces the requirement for U.S. military forces, and a show of international solidarity could alleviate the need for armed intervention. You might also raise the issue of why we’re always the ones trundling our military forces around the world searching for a place to replay the Battle of the Bulge. Couldn’t we and our allies learn some lessons from the Vietnamese, Afghans and Iraqis that we could use in those conflicts that do pop up? (Pentagon Labyrinth, p. 70)

And apparently we did.  As summarized by Ivo Daalder and Admiral James Stavridis (US permanent rep to NATO and SACEUR, respectively):

… an historic victory for the people of Libya who, with NATO’s help, transformed their country from an international pariah into a nation with the potential to become a productive partner with the West. (“NATO’s Success In Libya,” Intl. Herald Trib, 31 Oct 2011)

We achieved our objectives, avoided an occupation, suffered no US casualties, lost no aircraft, tanks, or HUMVEEs, and spent a trivial amount of money. So why don’t I feel like gloating? Continue reading