Summary: Guest author Mike Few looks at America’s broken observation-orientation-decision-action loop, and proposes a three-program for reform.
Tell Me How This Ends:
Restoring American Power in the 21st Century
By Mike Few
Many posts on the FM website speak extensively about America’s Decline and broken OODA Loops. If his assessments are accurate, then what must be done to fix our internal problems?
The answer may lie in the Observe Function of Boyd’s OODA loop, changing the way that we see ourselves and the world. But, changing the broken Observe Function is not easy. It requires brutal honesty and a willingness to change. Above all, it requires us to listen to some hard truths.
Today, we feel a need to “fix” the Syria and Iran problems. Last year, it was Yemen and Libya. Next year, it’ll probably be Mexico and China. Why do we feel the need to solve the world’s problems when they do not directly affect our national security? Why haven’t we had a period of introspection to determine why we lost the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan?
It starts with how we observe the world. Since 9/11, the American public has been afraid of the terrorist bogeymen, a distraction from actually facing the real problems of the 21st Century. These problems include but are not limited to water shortages, energy shortages, rise of the rest, decline of the American middle class, crisis of the nation-state, rise of the transnational companies, and the burgeoning of the megabank.
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.
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)
Summary: I’ve written thousands of words about America’s broken Observation-Orientation-Decision-Action (OODA) loop. Here we have examples of broken observation & orientation in action. These are the mechanisms that prevent us from seeing the world clearly, a precondition for acting effectively. The comment section is open for analysis of this problem. How did we come to this? How might we recovery our vision?
- Problem: too much civilian control of the military
- We’ve learned nothing from our failed wars
- The GOP exploits the gullibility of its followers
- Evil Iran might reply to our attacks
- Conservatives supply the lies, the US government will supply the war
- The instinctive response of a US courtier to ugly facts
- For More Information
I intended to label each section, describing the specific method used to deceive or channel our thinking. But I left that pleasure for you, the readers.
Bonus question: should I have broken this post up into individual, shorter posts? If so, how many?
The image is embroidery on muslin with acrylica from Jafabrit’s Art.
(1) Problem: too much civilian control of the military
“Why civilian military secretaries are no longer needed“, Harold rBown (Carter’s SecDef), op-ed in Washington Post, 18 October 2012 — Brown describes how the uniformed service chiefs have grown in power, now largely superseding the civilian service secretaries of the Army, Navy, and Air Force — who have become “redundant appendages” who are ” little more than a mouthpiece” for the military. So civilian control has atrophied. Solution: abolish the civilian secretaries! We’ll save money, and slide even faster towards our new political regime.
Brown was the SecDef of that radical leftist Carter, nicely showing the range of political opinion among America’s elites. For more about this see:
(2) We’ve learned nothing from our failed wars
“Afghanistan: Why America’s Longest War is NOT a Campaign Issue“, Robert Dreyfuss, The Diplomat, 19 October 2012 — Sound analysis by a smart guy, but he operates within the bubble of America’s elites — as seen in his conclusions.
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.