Boyd: The Fighter Pilot Who Changed the Art of War - by Robert Coram

Pilots who pride themselves on their finesse, who never deviate more than fifty feet from their assigned altitude or more than ten knots from their airspeed, or who fly maneuvers strictly by the book, would say that Boyd was "heavy-handed." And they would be correct. But there is little finesse in air combat. Many civilians and those who have never looked through the gun sight -- then called a pipper -- at an enemy aircraft have a romantic perception, no doubt influenced by books and movies about World War I, that pilots are knights of the air, chivalrous men who salute their opponents before engaging in a fight that is always fair. They believe that elaborate rules of aerial courtesy prevail and that battle in the clear pure upper regions somehow is different, more glorified and rarified, than battle in the mud. This is arrant nonsense. Aerial combat, according to those who have participated, is a basic and primitive form of battle that happens to take place in the air. Fighter pilots -- that is, the ones who survive air combat -- are not gentlemen; they are backstabbing assassins. They come out of the sun and attack an enemy when he is blind. Aerial combat is brutally unforgiving. To come in second place is to die, usually in a rather spectactular manner. Most casualties never know they are targets until they are riddled with bullets, covered with flames, and on the way to creating a big hole in the ground. Those who want to engage in the romanticized World War I pirouette of a fair fight will have a short career. Thus, aerial combat favors the bold, those who are not afraid to use the airplane for its true purpose: a gun platform. There is nothing sophisticated about sneaking up on someone and killing him. Aerial combat is a blood sport, a knife in the dark. Winners live and losers die.

Upon first learning of Boyd's early work with E-M, people naturally ask if he had a "target Ps" or an "ideal Ps." This is not only wrong, it is meaningless. More is usually better in a fighter, but "target" or "ideal" smacks of optimization and Boyd despised optimization. He wanted E-M to explore possibilities across the entire flight envelope. He then tweaked designs, made small variations, and saw how they compared, always keeping the improvements and discarding the degradations. He evolved this way to a design by trial and error. He did not know what he was looking for before the fact. He selected improvements as a basis for further variations and tests -- very Darwinian, which by its nature put him on an unpredictable path. The end result emerged when variations no longer yielded improvements. The result was an artistic balance and compromise, not an optimization.

Boyd delivered what was to be called his "To Be or to Do" speech. "Tiger, one day you will come to a fork in the road," he said. "And you're going to have to make a decision about which direction you want to go." He raised his hand and pointed. "If you go that way you can be somebody. You will have to make compromises and you will have to turn your back on your friends. But you will be a member of the club and you will get promoted and you will get good assignments." Then Boyd raised his other hand and pointed another direction. "Or you can go that way and you can do something -- something for your country and for your Air Force and for yourself. If you decide you want to do something, you may not get promoted and you may not get the good assignments and you certainly will not be a favorite of your superiors. But you won't have to compromise yourself. You will be true to your friends and to yourself. And your work might make a difference." He paused and stared into Leopold's eyes and heart. "To be somebody or to do something. In life there is often a roll call. That's when you will have to make a decision. To be or to do? Which way will you go?"

"If you want to understand something, take it to the extremes or examine its opposites," Boyd said.

The OODA Loop is often seen as a simple one-dimensional cycle, where one observes what the enemy is doing, becomes oriented to the enemy action, makes a decision, and then takes an action. This "dumbing down" of a highly complex concept is especially prevalent in the military, where only the explicit part of the Loop is understood. The military believes speed is the most important element, of the cycle, that whoever can go through the cycle the fastest will prevail. The key thing to understand about the OODA Loop is not the mechanical cycle itself, but rather the need to execute the cycle in such a fashion as to get inside the mind and the decisison cycle of the adversary. This means the adversary is dealing with outdated or irrelevant information and thus beomes confused and disoriented and can't function.