Robert Coram
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October 4, 2022 11:56 PM (CDT)
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in April 1961, he bought a house in Doraville, a lower-middle-class industrial suburb in northeast Atlanta about a half-hour drive from Georgia Tech. The three-bedroom ranch house at 2860 McClave Drive

“Ps” (pronounced “p sub s”). The state of any aircraft in any flight regime can be defined with Boyd’s simple equation: V, or thrust minus drag over weight, multiplied by velocity. This is the core of E-M.

nothing so simple could have remained undiscovered for so long.

“One day soon, the Air Force will come to you and say that in this airplane when we pull four Gs at twenty thousand feet, we want this excess energy rate. Or the Air Force will tell you we want to have a sustained five-G capability up to thirty-five thousand feet.

(Years later, when he was ambassador to Vietnam, Douglas Peterson said the pilots who flew E-M profiles for Boyd knew from the beginning this was not another busy-work project of the Air Force.

In retrospect, the idea that three men could secretly design a new lightweight fighter is laughable. To think they could push it toward production against the wishes of the Air Force is sheer lunacy. At no other time in history could such a plot have the remotest chance of success. But Boyd was about to prove that fortune indeed favors the bold.

war. It was a year in which he had the chance to wash everything clean. He had begun a voracious reading program and an obsessive search for the nature of creativity,

He began researching a briefing called “New Conception for Air-to-Air Combat” that focused on what he called “asymmetric fast transients” (his name for the buttonhook turns).

Boyd, too, was talking of leaving the Air Force. He wanted to devote all of his time to “Destruction and Creation.” The paper was one of the few things Boyd ever wrote, and it certainly was the longest. While the E-M Theory, for which he was most famous, had been written as a technical document, it was primarily a briefing. Even the “Aerial Attack Study” had been dictated and then transcribed by a typist;

Thinking about operating at a quicker tempo—not just moving faster—than the adversary was a new concept in waging war.

Boyd closed the briefing by saying the message is that whoever can handle the quickest rate of change is the one who survives.

Boyd still believed ambiguity created opportunities for unexpected richness.

Four areas drew most of his attention: general theories of war, the Blitzkrieg, guerrilla warfare, and the use of deception by great commanders.

Sun Tzu’s ideas about conflict include such themes as deception, speed, fluidity of action, surprise, and shaping the adversary’s perception

But perhaps the most significant element in Sun Tzu is the concept of cheng and ch’i, the orthodox and the unorthodox, the traditional and the unexpected.

“Sun Tzu tried to drive his adversary bananas while Clausewitz tried to keep himself from being driven bananas.”

Boyd, borrowing from Sun Tzu, said the best commander is the one who wins while avoiding battle. The intent is to shatter cohesion, produce paralysis, and bring about collapse of the adversary by generating confusion, disorder, panic, and chaos.

The most amazing aspect of the OODA Loop is that the losing side rarely understands what happened.

to get inside the mind and the decision cycle of the adversary. This means the adversary is dealing with outdated or irrelevant information and thus becomes confused and disoriented and can’t function.

use this temporal discrepancy (a form of fast transient) to select the least-expected action rather than what is predicted to be the most-effective action.

Boyd says that to shape the environment, one must manifest four qualities: variety, rapidity, harmony, and initiative.

In a Blitzkrieg situation, the commander is able to maintain a high operational tempo and rapidly exploit opportunity because he makes sure his subordinates know his intent, his Schwerpunkt.

The subordinate and the commander share a common outlook. They trust each other, and this trust is the glue that holds the apparently formless effort together. Trust emphasizes implicit over explicit communications. Trust is the unifying concept.

Boyd, like Sun Tzu and Napoléon, believed in attacking with “moral conflict”—that is, using actions that increase menace, uncertainty, and mistrust in the enemy while increasing initiative, adaptability, and harmony within friendly forces.

“Machines don’t fight wars,” he responded. “Terrain doesn’t fight wars. Humans fight wars. You must get into the minds of humans. That’s where the battles are won.”

There is nothing in the past to compare with the Spinney Report. For that reason alone, it is arguably one of the most important documents ever to come out of the Pentagon.

Spinney proved that virtually everything the Air Force had promised the American people about the F-15 and the F-111D was false. The Air Force declared war on Spinney.

Spinney knew that if he followed the usual procedure and included a list of recommendations, the focus would shift from the problem to which chores would go to what agency. He wanted the focus to remain on the problem. He chose to be the wrecking crew.

Part of Spinney’s battle joy was that the Air Force did not know how to deal with his report. One of Boyd’s fundamental dictums when waging bureaucratic war was to use the other person’s information against him.

He understated everything so that any revisions would only make his conclusions more damning. (Boyd’s belief in using the adversary’s information against him is the practical application of Asian writings, particularly The Japanese Art of War, in which translator Thomas Cleary talks of “swordlessness,” or the ability to defend oneself without a weapon, a concept that by implication means using the enemy’s weapon against him.

Spinney is one story. The Marine Corps is about to become a separate story. The Army is another story. Jim Burton, still another. All these stories have two things in common: Boyd and “Patterns of Conflict.”

By now the “Patterns” briefing was the credo, the manifesto, the coalescing force for the reform movement.

The Atlantic published “The Muscle-Bound Superpower” in the October 2, 1979, issue. It was the first of three events that launched the reform movement onto a national stage.

the reform movement was taking place on Capitol Hill. The Defense Appropriations Subcommittee of the House Appropriations Committee held a hearing.

In April 1980 came the third major event that gave the reform movement a national presence: Desert One, the debacle in the desert during the failed attempt by the Carter Administration to rescue hostages in Teheran. Eight men died, five more were seriously injured, and eight aircraft were lost.

Then, in May, Fallows weighed in with another piece titled “America’s High-Tech Weaponry.”

He also preached, “People, ideas, hardware—in that order.”

Publications from Business Week to the New York Times did stories about the Reformers.

One of the colonels was a Marine Corps officer named Al Gray. Gray later became a general and asked to hear the briefing several more times. He and Boyd had long private sessions in which they discussed the ramifications of “Patterns.”

Nunn told Spinney to remove the classified materials from his briefing, write it as a report, and submit it to him.

Jim Fallows published his first book, National Defense, to an extraordinary reception.

No one could counter Boyd’s briefing because no one in the Building was doing similar work; the Pentagon had no military theorists. Boyd was out there all alone and gaining converts by the day.

The Great Wheel of Conspiracy illustrates how little the Air Force knew of the Reformers and how wrong they were in considering the movement an organized cabal.

The Great Wheel of Conspiracy listed Boyd and Sprey on a spoke labeled “Consultants.”

By late summer of 1982, defense reporters for Time magazine were interested in the reform movement. This was due in large part to Hugh Sidey, then one of the grand old men of American journalism. Sidey, who wrote a column for Time titled “The Presidency,” spent hours talking with Boyd and came away a believer.

Grassley returned to the Senate and called for Senate hearings. He was going to hear from Spinney even if he had to subpoena him.

Spinney talked for more than two hours and held nothing back. The Reagan defense budget was going to be a fiscal disaster for America, he said.

Fight the enemy, not the terrain.”

intuitive grasp of the ebb and flow of battle, Fingerspitzengefuhl.

“You must have inductive thinking,” he said again and again to the Marines. “There is not just one solution to a problem,” he said. “There are two or three or five ways to solve a problem. Never commit to a single solution.”

The most important thing was that the ideas become known.

Wyly said that in an amphibious operation, getting on a beach was not the real challenge; getting off the beach and moving into enemy territory was the challenge.

By staying focused on the testing methodology, Burton was protecting the lives of American soldiers; he held the mental and moral high ground.

If you go outside the system, he said, you will be viewed as just another whistle blower. And whistle blowers get no respect; they get others to help them do something that they can’t do themselves.

“Do your homework. If they hose you one time, they will never again respect you.”

He let them proceed, let them justify their actions, then sprang the trap. “That’s not what the data says.”

That day, when Boyd turned a hearing on high-tech weapons into a hearing on military personnel matters,

Richards found that a famous observation by Taiichi Ono, the Toyota vice president who created the Toyota system, held true: companies performing reasonably well will not adopt the Toyota system, although they may showcase isolated elements of lean production. Boyd put it more succinctly: “You can’t change big bureaucracies until they have a disaster.”

Finally, Richards set up two Web sites ( and to showcase Boyd’s ideas and how they relate to business.

Every morning when Wyly arises, he asks himself, “What is my Schwerpunkt today?”