Evidence that we are learning in Iraq

John Boyd was a flamboyant fighter pilot (Known as “40 second Boyd” for the time it took him to get on an opponent’s tail in combat) who changed the way the military adapts to combat lessons. His life has been the subject of several books and he became the center of an intense group of Pentagon acolytes. His influence extands far beyond the US military, as can be seen in that list of references. He is credited with the design concept for the F16 fighter, for example. Before his efforts were successful, Air Force fighters were getting progressively heavier and less maneuverable. They had become fighter-bombers but they were at risk in combat with the lighter Soviet fighters. He changed that with the emphasis on thrust-weight ratios. The F-16 is a huge engine with a pilot sitting on top.

His far more important innovation is called the “OODA Loop.” Military strategy is now focused on “getting inside the enemy’s decision cycle.” Adapting to the changing situation is another way of saying the same thing. Boyd’s loop consists of Observe, Orient, Decide, Act. The end of each cycle is immediately followed by another, and so on until the end of the problem is reached. That point may consist of shooting down the enemy aircraft or winning the War on Terror. Military officers often state the problem as “The enemy has a vote, too.”

The war in Iraq has been a long series of decision cycles. War opponents seem to lack the willingness to acknowledge this fact or are ignorant of the entire process. Even the New York Times, which seems to be accepting the new circumstances, describes the process today. The theoretical concept seems to be beyond them but it can be found in the article if one can ignore the occasional snarky asides. Our strategy is changing as circumstances change. The Times comments that this conflicts with the recommendations of Colonel John Nagl but I don’t believe that is true. This article in Mother Jones magazine, hardly a supporter of the war or the military, shows his ideas. Petraeus has to get the swamp drained before he can implement a long term plan for the next war but Nagl is right and has the ear of Petraeus.

3 Responses to “Evidence that we are learning in Iraq”

  1. allan says:

    I like that ‘drain the swamp’ analogy. But my contrarian brain is whispering in my ear that just about the time the military finally ‘gets it’ and gears up for urban skirmishes and insurgencies, then along comes China with a massive army and naval buildup. It all seems to go in waves. Short waves, long waves, minor and major, building up, winding down, up to the norm, back to the norm like a stretched rubberband. These last decades after WW2 sure seems like a very long and rangy norm stage that is heating up to the tense side of the equation. Hopefully, it’s just another of the shallow and containable waves such as Nam, the ME battles and skirmishes, Cold War days. The question I keep asking myself is who will benefit in a shallow wave, who in a major? So far, the bigger boys with the bigger toys seem to be solidly on the side of containment.

    Good and thoughtful posts…

  2. China has serious problems coming with the rural poor, the environment and bank liquidity. Additionally, there is no reason to believe that they have the capacity to invade Taiwan. They have a navy, which is still technically part of the army, but it is designed to defend, not attack. They can ruin Taiwan by bombardment at the risk of a world-wide trade embargo. We are in the situation of the man who owes his bank a million dollars. It’s the bank’s problem. China needs us and the trade we provide to pay for the oil they don’t have and have to import. I think peaceful evolution is the future for China. Unlike Russia, they have a tradition of doing business and trade.

  3. allan says:

    Very impressive how you can keep abreast of so many different topics. Here’s a little reported ‘nuisance’ that seems under the radar of most of those reporting from China.

    Gobi sands may be just a few years from reaching Beijing