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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Examples of America’s broken vision. Here’s why we cannot clearly see our world.

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?


  1. Problem: too much civilian control of the military
  2. We’ve learned nothing from our failed wars
  3. The GOP exploits the gullibility of its followers
  4. Evil Iran might reply to our attacks
  5. Conservatives supply the lies, the US government will supply the war
  6. The instinctive response of a US courtier to ugly facts
  7. 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.

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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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Chuck Spinney explains our broken OODA loop

Summary:  Today we have our of America’s sharpest observers, Chuck Spinney, explain what might be our core problem — our broken Observation-Orientation-Decision-Action loop. Until we can clearly see and act, even unlimited good will and patriotic spirit will accomplish nothing.


Some time ago, you asked me to comment on your statement that America’s problem is a broken OODA loop. A friend just sent me this quote by former Supreme Court Justice David Souter spoke with Margaret Warner at ‘Constitutionally Speaking’ in Concord, NH on 14 September 2012.

I don’t worry about our losing a republican government in the United States because I’m afraid of a foreign invasion. I don’t worry about it because of a coup by the military, as has happened in some other places. What I worry about is that when problems are not addressed people will not know who is responsible, and when the problems get bad enough — as they might do for example with another serious terrorist attack, as they might do with another financial meltdown — some one person will come forward and say: ‘Give me total power and I will solve this problem.’

That is how the Roman republic fell. Augustus became emperor not because he arrested the Roman senate. He became emperor because he promised that he would solve problems that were not being solved.



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Updates on the trends shaping our age

Summary: The FM website attempts to show you the future at work today. But sometimes we forecast but forget to update you when it arrives. Consider this post an update to the world terminal’s Arrivals board.  Trains are coming; we still have time to prepare.


  1. Quote of the Year showing America’s broken OODA loop
  2. Europe tries another solution, but still refuses to see the core problem
  3. The next wave of automation: the robot revolution
  4. The Generation Gap is Back (for real this time)

(1)  Quote of the Year showing America’s broken OODA loop

OODA: Observation, Orientation, Decision, Action. The key to a nation’s survival.

“you foolish and senseless people, who have eyes but do not see, who have ears but do not hear”
— Jeremiah 5:21

A demonstration of our geopolitical experts’ inability to learn, as their minds are locked into the worldview of our ruling elites. Two failed wars, expanding conflicts across the world, US tactics empowering our enemies — and they cannot even see the failure. From “Can’t We All Just Not Get Along?“, Michael A. Cohen, Foreign Policy, 22 June 2012:

In the view of Peter Feaver, who writes at the Shadow Government blog for FP and teaches at Duke University, alternative viewpoints have been rejected because they’re not very good ideas: “Radical critiques of American foreign policy are known and given lots of air time proportional to their influence. You can’t swing a dead cat without hearing a serious critique of American foreign policy at an academic conference, for example. These views are known, considered, and rejected. It’s not that no one had a chance to know about the movie — they didn’t want to see it.”

(2)  Europe tries another solution, but still refuses to see the core problem

Everything the EU has done to date does nothing but buy time, time which they’ve wasted.The tragedy of the commons at the European Central Bank and the next rescue“, Aaron Tornell (Prof Economics, UCLA) and Frank Westermann (Prof Economics, University Osnabrueck, VOX, 22 Jun 2012 – This cannot be said too often, until they eventually must confront reality.

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Our fears are unwarranted. America is in fact well-governed.

Summary:  The good news is our problems are relatively minor.  Our leaders probably will take the necessary reforms during the next few years.  Of course they will govern in the best interests of our plutocratic elites, not us.  We’re along for the ride, sliding towards the Third Republic (which might not be a real Republic).

I reviewed the posts on the FM website of the past eight years, mostly cutting edge predictions.  Comments show they were considered outre when written, but most look good in retrospect (picking the right experts was the key).  But on the two most important subjects discussed here I was wrong.

  1. The fate of America’s political regime:  My naive optimism now looks delusional, as the Second Republic (based on the Constitution) has sickened more quickly than in my worst nightmares.
  2. America’s society and economy:  I have repeatedly said that American society was defective, with a broken Observation-Orientation-Decision-Action (OODA) loop.  Recent events reveal that to be false, in an operational sense.

By now anyone paying attention can see the first point (especially if reading the many fine commentaries on this sad story, such as Glenn Greenwald’s articles at Salon).  Today’s we take a brief look at the second.  A previous post, A look at the future of America, unlike the expectations of conservatives and liberals, sketched this out.  Readers suggested that it was not clear, so we will try again.  With more details in a later post.

The story of modern America, well-governed (as some of the Founders expected)

America is in better shape than Europe and Japan.  We have good demographics, sound fundamentals, relatively easily solved problems, and no powerful enemies.  Why the constant sense of crisis?  QE2, hyperinflation, climate armageddon, Obama the socialist, AIDS, alar on apples, jihadists, debt, swine flu – a constant drumroll of doom, explained by Peter Moore in ”The Crisis Crisis” (Playboy, March 1987).   Answer:  elites govern a weak people by exploiting their fears.  For example, look at the “government is broke” panic.

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Why China will again rise to the top, and their most important advantage over America.

Summary:  There is a simple difference between West and East today, the opposite of that seen during the past few centuries.  Good leadership.  They have it; we do not.  This explains much of what we see in the news.

‘‘… moral power is to physical as 3 parts of 4.’’
— Attributed to Napoleon in Treasury of Thought by Maturin M. Ballou (1899)

The center of economic power and innovation moved during the past few centures from East to West. Now it returns home after this brief aberration. Some see these changes as resulting from physical factors (resources such as coal and iron), technological innovation, or social innovation (e.g., capitalism, the Protestant work ethic). While these are important factors, there is another dimension at work: competent leadership. Bet on brains, spirit and social cohesion rather than material factors or systems.

China down; West up.  China back up; West down

Poor leadership drove China’s decline, while the major western nation’s had strong (ruthless, greedy) leadership.  Now the reverse is true, as we see in the daily news.  (We’re speaking here of averages, of course.  Both had foolish and brilliant individuals along the way.)

We can measure leadership in action by the speed and efficiency of its OODA loop — the ability for a society (i.e., its leaders) to Observe, Orient itself to the situation, Decide what to do, and Act.  Most Asian societies do  this well today, and many are getting better at it.  Most nations in the West formerly did this well, but have become increasingly dysfunctional during the past decade or so.  Hence the irrelevance of the common reply to forecasts that Asia — with China leading — will rise to supplant the West:  they have problems X. Y, and Z.  But this view misleads in two ways.

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