Thanks to Rob Pincus, I have found a cleaner copy of Colonel John Boyd’s Aerial Attack Study (AAS). It was recreated by Mr. Mark Hart from the declassified 1964 version. The recreation is much easier on the eyes than the reproductions of the original mimeographed edition that are generally available.
Prior to Colonel Boyd’s AAS, fighter combat was viewed by the majority of fighter pilots as an intuitive skill rather than one that could be codified. Some conceptual principles had been developed along with elementary tactics such as the Thach Weave, but Boyd was the one who wrote the definitive book. Only Major General Frederick “Boots” Blesse had preceded Colonel Boyd in writing a book, No Guts No Glory, about jet fighter combat. Major General Blesse’s book wasn’t the exhaustive treatise on the subject that the AAS was.
A friend of mine shared a memory of this article on Facebook. I’m glad that he did.
I’ve evolved my thinking about Orient to include more nuance but the article is still a good primer on the depth of Boyd’s concept and how we can and should apply it.
“Orientation is the schwerpunkt [focal point]. It shapes the way we interact with the environment—hence orientation shapes the way we observe, the way we decide, the way we act.”
— John R. Boyd, Organic Design for Command and Control (1987)
And please keep in mind that it does a disservice to Colonel Boyd’s ideas when they are reduced to a simplistic four point circular diagram.
Proverbs 26:17 English Standard Version (ESV)
Whoever meddles in a quarrel not his own is like one who takes a passing dog by the ears.
Our Decisions usually determine our Outcomes as I’ve mentioned in a previous post. Many, if not most, of our decisions are made ahead of time. When we make the same decision repeatedly over time, that is obviously the case. If we have made bad decisions ahead of time, the likelihood we WON’T select that decision from our list of options is minuscule.
Begin to attrit the enemy at the maximum effective range of your weapons.
That was one of the most important things I learned as a young Infantry Lieutenant during the Cold War. We would have almost certainly been facing Soviet forces larger than our own. We had to wear them down as they closed with us in order to destroy them before they could reach us. This is every bit as true today in the context of personal protection.
“Don’t fire until you see the whites of their eyes” is a famous saying from the Battle of Bunker Hill during the Revolutionary War. Very few people understand that ‘the whites of their eyes’ basically represented the maximum effective range of the smoothbore musket. That’s the underlying concept of the order.
No matter what our weapons are, we need to understand their maximum effective range. Maximum effective range is sometimes limited by the weapon, as in the case of the smoothbore musket or pepper spray. In other cases, it is limited by the capability of the user. The firearms instructors and SWAT team members of the Los Angeles Police Department are capable of using their weapons at a greater distance than the average patrol officer. That’s not a slam on the patrol officers, rather it is a result of training, practice, and experience.
In order to know the maximum effective range of your weapons, you have to understand them and test them. This testing and understanding is a key component of John Boyd’s Aerial Attack Study. An integral part of ‘Orient’ is knowledge of the capabilities (Previous Experience) of your weapons.
Keep in mind that ‘line in the sand’ is both a chronological concept as well as a geographic point. If a situation goes on for a while, it’s time to put an end to it, one way or another.
An implied task, the first time of the 1,000 days, was simply devising a way of getting through it. To avoid boredom and make the process efficient, I recorded cassette tapes of several different regimens. The regimens were all based on my needs at the time, which mostly consisted of improving my competitive performance in IDPA and other shooting sports. I limited them to 10 minutes duration so I had compact practice blocks. When I wanted more practice, I could do more than one in a day, sometimes consecutively and sometimes one in the morning and one in the evening.
Having a specific structure for my practice also helped avoid ‘grabasstic gunclicking,’ which as a friend said, is what dryfire often devolves to. I didn’t realize it at the time, but I had inadvertently incorporated one of fundamentals of tactical decision-making; have a plan ahead of time. My decision-making research of the past few years made the value of having several practice regimens available quite obvious to me. John Boyd’s Aerial Attack Study was instrumental in providing me with this moment of clarity.
My regimens of the second 1,000 Days are considerably different than those of the first. Several of the regimens are based on higher level police qualification courses, such as the Federal Air Marshal Tactical Pistol Course (pre 9/11) and the LAPD Bonus Course. While most police qualification courses are easily cleaned by a competent marksman, a few are much more demanding and I prefer that.
In other cases, I took police quals that had a good basic structure but mediocre standards and enhanced them. My favorite is the State of Illinois Police Qualification Couse. For the armed private citizen, the distances and round allocations are good but the standards are so low that some of my friends in Ill‑Annoy can literally pass it with their eyes closed. The enhancements I made were to make the target smaller, cut the times in half, and do parts of it Primary Hand Only and Support Hand Only.
Being a fan of the NRA Markmanship Qualification Program, I developed dryfire versions of both Defensive Pistol I and Defensive Pistol II. The time limits set for these courses are quite generous but they have an accuracy standard of 100 percent. Since we’re accountable for every round we fire, I like the idea of a strong accuracy standard, in general.
In a defensive encounter, every bullet you fire that doesn’t hit its intended target is headed straight for a bus full of nuns and orphans being followed by a limousine of personal injury lawyers on a conference call with the District Attorney.
There are also some improvisations I like to make. My research into Serious Mistakes and Negative Outcomes made me a believer in the absolute necessity of verbalizing and being able to use a flashlight in conjunctions with a handgun. I usually dryfire something like Defensive Pistol I using a flashlight at least once a week.
One of the concepts I retained from my first 1,000 Days was making a good hit with the first shot. There’s too much emphasis placed on shooting fast in the community and not enough on making sure the first shot counts. Based on the incidents in my databases, I came to the conclusion that making a solid first hit above the diaphragm is the way to gain the initiative in an armed encounter.
Then I told myself, ‘Hey, I need to slow down and aim better.’
What if your situation or job precludes you from having access to a firearm every day? Some thoughts about that in Part III.
The decisions we make almost inevitably determine the outcomes that result. Good Decisions lead to Positive Outcomes and Bad Decisions lead to Negative Outcomes. We all know that decision making is difficult in a broad array of situations. Having a framework for decision making can be helpful.
Skill development and to a lesser extent, ‘situational awareness’ are the most often taught or talked about aspect of personal protection. In the broad scheme of things, though, those are only a couple of aspects to the process of not being criminally victimized. Ultimately, skills and awareness are just inputs to our decision making process. The decisions we make are what will determine the outcome of any encounter.
It’s trendy now to view Colonel John Boyd’s OODA Loop as if it is a model that can help us ‘think faster,’ i.e., make tactical decisions more quickly than our opponent. Unfortunately, that’s just not the case. The O-O-D-A Loop is a representation that describes in a strategic sense how one party thinks during the course of the decision process. That is a far cry from being a usable decision model or even framework. Colonel Boyd never mentioned O-O-D-A as a tactical decision model, nor do I believe he intended it as such.
Those who wish to look to Colonel Boyd for a decision model would be best advised to read his Aerial Attack Study. Over 50 years after its publication it is still considered the manual for fighter combat. The Aerial Attack Study describes a decision process almost completely the opposite of the way most common taters describe the O-O-D-A Loop. By performing an in-depth analysis of the situations fighter aircraft could encounter, Colonel Boyd described exact maneuvers and counters our fighters could use to defeat the enemy. That’s a better framework for defining tactical decision making.
This post is the first in a series describing a conceptual framework for decision making. Several other people contributed thoughts to it and I thank them for their input.
Know the Rules and Have Adequate Skills were proposed to me as inputs to good decision making by my friend LTC (Ret.), JAGC John Taylor. In addition to them, I include Understand the Situation.
If we overlay these two sets of inputs, a graphic would look like this.
Finally, to make Good Decisions, we need to consider two levels of focus:
- Tactical – doing things right, our techniques and procedures
- Strategic – doing the right things, what is in our and our family’s best long term interests
What rules do we need to know?
- Use of force
- Use of deadly force
- Employer policy and cultural peer pressure are corollaries to the legal
- Other rules
- Firearms and other weapons’ safety rules
- Our personal core values
- Rules of ‘the interview’ (between predators and prey)
- Difference of criminals’ psychological rules from our own
- Changes from the (your) past
Knowing the legal rules bears some discussion. There are several excellent books about the legalities of using deadly force, such as:
The Law of Self Defense
However, there isn’t much material about the use of non-lethal and less-lethal force. This leads to some confusion in people’s minds about tools like pepper spray. One common tater opined that pepper spray couldn’t be used legally unless the victim had already been physically battered and the battery was continuing. While this might POSSIBLY be true in some States where citizens, or perhaps subjects, exist in an almost perpetual state of arrest, it’s certainly not true in most of the US, where the citizenry remains free.
As an example of relative importance, most law enforcement officers will never apply deadly force in their entire careers. On the other hand, they will use some kind of physical force on a regular basis. As private citizens, there are only a few situations that justify the use of deadly force on our part. Having the ability to employ some form of non-deadly force is an option that needs much more serious consideration than it is generally given.
Note also that of the ‘Other rules,’ only the Safety rules for firearms are commonly taught. Although the balance of the Other rules aren’t thought of, they will definitely be inputs to our decision making.
Since it’s probably the first thing we should consider, we’ll go into Know the Rules in more depth in the next installment. Far too many people don’t consider the Rules very much, especially the Other rules.
There’s a Safariland holster blowout sale on my webstore. Glock 17 and S&W M&P holsters at prices you can’t afford to pass up.
John Johnston and I had the opportunity to discuss the nature of Colonel John Boyd’s theories on Ballistic Radio recently.
The OODA Loop isn’t as simple as many people would like it to be. In some cases, it hardly applies at all.
The podcast of our conversation has now been posted.
If we get carjacked, as long as you and I can both get out of the car, they can have it; I have insurance. But if either of us can’t get out of the car because we get hung up in the seat belts or something, turn your face away from me and close your eyes because I am going to start shooting. I don’t want his loathsome blood-borne pathogens to get in your eyes.
–my personal policy/Standard Operating Procedure, as related to a former girlfriend who lived near Murder Kroger in Atlanta
A California man shot the carjacker of his van Friday as the carjacker drove away. The carjacker died shortly thereafter and the shooter was arrested for Murder. Once the threat of Death or Serious Bodily Injury has passed, the time for gunfire has ended.
“Nice people lock their doors.” –my mother
“Firearms shall not be discharged at a moving vehicle unless a person in the vehicle is immediately threatening the officer or another person with deadly force by means other than the vehicle. The moving vehicle itself shall not presumptively constitute a threat that justifies an officer’s use of deadly force.” —LAPD Manual Volume 1 Section 556.10 POLICY ON THE USE OF FORCE
Policies, SOPs, or whatever you wish to call them are simply committing to memory, or writing down, actions that you have thought about ahead of time. For some reason, the word ‘policy’ evokes a great deal of resistance on the part of people I talk to about it. Not thinking about things ahead of time is probably the most Serious Mistake Gunowners Make and I will have to add that to the next edition.
In a crisis, the conscious mind has an extremely short life span, probably less than a second. Once the conscious mind expires, either training/practice or the amygdala will take over. Trying to make up a plan on the spot is an extraordinarily difficult task.
Perhaps the inability or lack of desire to think ahead is the reason for the popularity of the OODA Loop. Relying on the OODA Loop implies that you can out-think the situation in the moment. This is just being lazy and an excuse for not thinking ahead. No plan survives the test of combat, as the saying goes, but it is ALWAYS easier to modify a pre-existing plan than to make one up on the spot.
Fighter pilots have been at the forefront of developing policy and procedure for ‘in the moment’ encounters. Their creations over the past century have shown increasing sophistication as they have evolved.
- Dicta Boelcke, a list of principles, was formulated during WWI by Hauptmann Oswald Boelcke, a German fighter pilot and squadron commander. It is interesting to note that he was killed when he violated one of his own dicta, never close in on a single combatant when others are also pursuing it.
- Lieutenant Commander Jimmy Thach recognized the superiority of Japanese fighter aircraft in the early days of WWII. To counter them, he developed, using matchsticks on a tabletop, the Thach Weave as a defensive maneuver. Then he tested the maneuver under conditions simulating the disadvantages US Navy fighters would face.
- No Guts, No Glory, a USAF training document, was written by Major General (then Major) Frederick C. Blesse shortly after the Korea Conflict. It was an explanation of his experiences flying F-86 Sabres against MIG fighters and how to defeat them.
- Colonel John Boyd wrote the Aerial Attack Study, which is the most comprehensive manual on fighter combat ever written, in 1959. In it, he methodically worked out all the possible attacks and counters a fighter could make in relation to both bombers and other fighters. His study was heavily based on a thorough understanding of the flying and weapons capabilities of both US and Soviet aircraft.
In every one of these documents, specific principles, procedures, and pitfalls are worked out in advance. Speed of decision in tactical situations is achieved by picking from a list of possible options to best solve an unfolding incident rather than trying to ‘think faster,’ which is physiologically impossible. The distinction between ‘thinking faster’ and picking from a menu of possible decisions escapes many common taters about the OODA process. Boyd’s description of the process is much more involved than generally assumed and explained using a simplistic circular diagram. That circular graphic does no justice to the concepts that Colonel Boyd developed.
In order to make decisions in advance, it’s necessary to think about likely scenarios, at least, ahead of time and decide how to solve them. This includes the legal ramifications of your possible actions. Thinking ahead is a key component of avoiding becoming a victim or incurring a Negative Outcome in the criminal justice system.
John Johnston and I will be discussing this timely topic in more depth on Ballistic Radio tonight. Ballistic Radio is available over the Internet.
The latest edition of The Tactical Wire is the Concealed Carry Special Edition. It includes an article about the OODA Cycle that I authored.
The OODA cycle, frequently referred to as the OODA Loop, was developed by the late Colonel John R. Boyd, USAF. The OODA cycle has subsequently become highly influential in thinking about how to conduct combat operations at all levels from the tactical to the grand strategic. It is often simplistically depicted with only four components in a circle, although that hardly does justice to the depth of Boyd’s thought.
What it’s not is what is so often pictured.
A better way to look at it would be this:
The article is my explanation of why. There are several other good articles also.
Living in California, I think it may be in my best interest to consider the worst-case scenario.
–a person who shall remain anonymous
I’ve previously mentioned my issue with planning for the worst case, but since ‘worst case planning’ comes up so often, the topic bears some further discussion. The essential problem is assuming that planning for the worst case is merely planning for the most likely case taken to a greater extent. Unfortunately, that’s not necessarily true. The optimum solution in worst case planning may actually be a less, or even least, optimal solution for the most likely case.
The questions of competing probabilities and definitional issues rear their ugly heads again in this decision process. As an example, the worst case scenario that people imagine in a home defense scenario consists of multiple intruders, armed with projectile weapons, with their weapons in hand, ready to shoot the defender in reaction time. While that’s certainly possible, it’s definitely not the most likely case, if the bump in the night is really a burglar. And even the definition of ‘worst possible case’ is open to question in the context of home defense, as is the definition in many contexts.
The question I posed previously was “Is ‘the worst possible case’ having a dangerous armed intruder in your house or shooting and killing a family member by mistake?” Therein lays the definitional issue. The statistical/tactical issue is that the most likely case is probably a lone intruder, not armed with a projectile weapon, who is preoccupied with stealing your stuff and not waiting in ambush for you.
Let’s address the statistical/tactical issue since I’ve already mentioned the definitional issue. In the past, I have, in fact, planned for the worst possible burglary case envisioned by people. My plan for a late night, already in bed, worst case scenario was as follows:
- Put on my M17A1 protective mask
- Place my pistol (then a 1911A1) in hand
- Open the bedroom door slightly
- Pick up an M7 CS grenade and pull the pin, using a small hook I had placed on the door frame
- Have my then wife grab onto my clothing, close her eyes, and stop breathing
- Roll the grenade out into the kitchen and let it fill the house with CS gas
- My house was small and
- would have completely filled with CS gas within a few seconds
- Go out the door and move toward the back door as an exit
- Shoot anyone who was in my way in the head, whether they were standing or laying on the ground prostrate from the effects of the gas
- I’ve been in a confined cloud of CS from a grenade; it’s incredibly incapacitating.
- That’s where I got the idea.
- It’s not like the CS chamber most veterans have been exposed to.
- Exit the house, regroup, and plan my next move to a safer location
I was certain of the efficacy of this plan, since even a hardened group of assassins would be unlikely to expect a counterattack that would have made John Wick look like an Eagle Scout. However, I did consider that there were several downsides to the plan.
- Most likely, the grenade would have set the house on fire and burned it down. My landlord would have been unhappy and the couple who lived upstairs might have burned to death.
- The authorities probably would probably take a dim view of my executing a bunch of people, even if they did have nefarious intent.
- If my then wife had been accidently overcome by the gas, I would have been faced with the choice of finding her, picking her up, and carrying her out of the house, or leaving her behind with the rest of the deaders while the house was burning. (I would have carried her out, but that is a decision, not a given, in a serious house fire.)
I had also planned a lower intensity response for the more likely scenario of one guy with a screwdriver stealing my stuff. That plan was to challenge him from whatever concealment was available and tell him to get out. If he took one step toward me, I would have shot him. If I could see he had a projectile weapon, in hand or not, I would have shot him immediately.
Note that even in a simple scenario, there’s a decision tree (if, then, else). Those kinds of decisions are best made ahead of time. Making decisions before the situation arises is part of the Orient phase of the OODA process. Forward looking decisions are what allow you to speed up decision-making in the moment, not trying to think faster on the spot. Trying to construct a decision process in the midst of an incident will force you back into the Orient phase and actually slow down your decision-making.
The issue with worst case planning is that it usually ignores both the direct and opportunity costs implicit in the plan. Worst case planning also frequently lacks any branching or contingency aspects, which is not the way life works. Consider carefully ALL the ramifications of worst case planning in light of most likely case possibilities. What you may find is that it’s best to plan and prepare for the most likely case. Then, think of how that plan can be adapted to a much smaller probability of the worst case scenario.