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.
Telephone [in the United States] –is an internationally popular game, in which one person whispers a message to the ear of the next person through a line of people until the last player announces the message to the entire group. Although the objective is to pass around the message without it becoming misheard and altered along the way, part of the enjoyment is that, regardless, this usually ends up happening.
Often, a message that starts out like “My uncle shook hands with the Mayor once” eventually turns into “President Reagan’s grandmother slept with Batman for years” or something equally mistransmitted.
Telephone game issues plague the firearms training industry and are a problem. Several occurrences of it have been brought to my attention just this week. One of the most important things I’ve learned in the training industry is to assume everything that anyone tells me secondhand is wrong. Whenever possible, I go back to the source or vet the information through several other sources, if necessary.
Items that are most vulnerable to mistransmission are intellectual, statistical, or theoretical concepts. These include items such as:
- Lt. Col. Jeff Cooper’s Color Codes
- Statistics from ‘the FBI’
- Legal issues
- Hick’s Law without the power law of practice refutation
- My personal favorite, Col. John Boyd’s work, aka ‘the OODA Loop’
What first brought this to my attention this week was reviewing an article a friend wrote about Situational Awareness. In my review, I pointed out that Cooper himself said that even while he was actively teaching, the Color Codes were being grossly misinterpreted. He explicitly stated that they are NOT a system of Situational Awareness but rather stages of Mental Preparation and triggers for Personal Defense. Upon mentioning this to my friend, he said:
And I think it says quite a bit about how misunderstood the concept is that you’re literally the only person to point out that Cooper never intended the colors as situational awareness levels, but rather mental preparedness. Out of a dozen people giving me feedback.
Cooper’s writings on the subject are readily available on the Internet with just a small amount of research. In Volume 13, No. 1 of his Commentaries, he says:
The Color Code refers not to a condition of peril, but rather to a condition of readiness to take life.
He elaborates on the meaning of the Color Codes in no less than six of his Commentaries over the years. All his Commentaries are available on the Internet. There is even a video of his entire lecture about the Color Codes available on YouTube.
He makes a point at 15:20 in the lecture about the distinction explicitly.
In the course of doing the review, I came across a blog post that purported to explain Cooper’s Codes. While the cursory overview given wasn’t awful, the post stated that the Codes were contained in the ‘Awareness’ chapter of Cooper’s book Principles of Personal Defense. Unfortunately, there is no such chapter. Principle One in the book is Alertness but no mention of the Color Codes is contained therein. False memory at work.
In that sense, the Color Codes are similar to Boyd’s work, which has been mostly butchered into unusability by the training community. Not an hour after making my comments to my friend, I came across yet another recently published article about ‘the OODA Loop’ that grossly oversimplified Boyd’s work. The ways I have seen Boyd’s work grotesquely misstated are legion. We can easily portray the oversimplification of John Boyd’s work in a graphic.
One article last year by a member of a well-known and regarded training company claimed that Boyd had developed ‘the OODA Loop’ during the Korean War to counter the ‘shocking losses’ of F-86s at the hands of Mig pilots. In fact, Boyd’s first mention of ODA [only one O] was in 1976 after he had transitioned to strategic acquisition planning and no longer even flew aircraft. Estimates of the kill ratio in Korea for the Sabre jet has dropped from 10 Migs for each Sabre to 5.6/1 but this isn’t a ‘shocking loss’ statistic in the slightest. Clearly, the author hadn’t done one bit of research on the topic but was just regurgitating a distorted and false memory.
Despite the readiness of information in the Internet age, there is often a tremendous amount of intellectual laziness within the training community. Doing research isn’t as much fun as shooting. Hearing someone regurgitate important concepts in a class or even a side conversation and then failing to go back to the source to vet and understand it is poor scholarship. It would get a college freshman an F on a simple term paper. If we in the community can’t even get a passing grade on a college term paper, should we be teaching people how to defend their lives and the lives of their loved ones?
Let’s turn to the research and vetting issue from the standpoint of the practitioner. Someone who wants to defend their own life and the lives of their loved ones ought to be able to get that passing term paper grade, too. When you hear something ‘important’ attributed to a third party, don’t accept it at face value. Research it on your own and find out what was actually said or published. It’s rarely hard and usually doesn’t take much time. You may be surprised at how different the two versions are.
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.