Boyd

#Reviewing A New Conception of War

#Reviewing A New Conception of War

Marine Major Ian Brown, who like all Marine officers of the past three decades heard stories of John Boyd and the reforms he sparked while at The Basic School, undoubtedly from instructors with little more than a cursory familiarity with the subject matter. Boyd’s contributions piqued Brown’s interest and encouraged him to dig deeper into the story.

The Failed Thermostat: The Illusion of Control In an Information-Rich Age

The Failed Thermostat: The Illusion of Control In an Information-Rich Age

There has been too much effort by senior leaders, civilian and military, to make war into their own image rather than accept war for what it is. In their efforts to control the image of war, these leaders have deluded themselves and their subordinates. Senior leaders still appear to believe they are adjusting a kind of military thermostat. This is a delusion. The delusion has proven tragically costly.

#Reviewing Aerial Warfare: The Battle for the Skies

#Reviewing Aerial Warfare: The Battle for the Skies

This single volume is perfect for the student or military accession looking for a fantastic introduction on the history of war in the air. Serious scholars might consider going so far as to obtaining multiple copies of this work to hand out to colleagues in other fields. It is a book perfect for classes on the history of warfare. It will find itself on numerous college syllabi and a place as one of the great air power textbooks for the foreseeable future.

John Boyd on Clausewitz: Don’t Fall in Love with Your Mental Model

John Boyd on Clausewitz: Don’t Fall in Love with Your Mental Model

Boyd sought not so much to circumvent Clausewitz as to use the Prussian’s concepts as fuel in his own mental refinery. And Boyd’s message to his audience was that the process of mental refinement could not stop, nor be confined to the ideas of any one individual, no matter how insightful they might be. What might Clausewitz have made of such a critique? Judging by his own words, he would likely have been of the same mind.

#Reviewing A History of Strategy

#Reviewing A History of Strategy

Strategists are a critical bunch. After all, critical analysis is an important skill for those involved in scrutinizing international relations, history, and policy to generate insights. It is therefore curious that Martin Van Creveld’s book A History of Strategy: From Sun Tzu to William S. Lind immediately opens itself to the nitpicking of strategists in two related regards. First, the treatment of such a vast topic is too brief, running just 124 pages. Second, as a natural extension of its brevity, the details about the strategists it addresses are rather sparse. If the reader is able to overlook these limitations, however, A History of Strategy is a useful overview of the figures and ideas that form the canon of strategic thought.

A New Plan: Using Complexity In the Modern World

A New Plan: Using Complexity In the Modern World

This approach takes the traditional ends/ways/means strategy of the industrial era and attempts to contend with the modern environment by obtaining information dominance through understanding an ill-structured problem. But as good as your intelligence might be, if you receive an assessment that predicts the unpredictable, you would be wise to question the sourcing. While one might sympathize with Eisenhower's notion that planning has its own virtues divorced of the result, the reliance on the predictability of inputs and outputs of a linear equation are erroneous. With complexity, outcomes become disproportionate and hence non-linear approaches are required.

#Leadership: The Death of Command and Control

#Leadership: The Death of Command and Control

The phrase “command and control” must be dropped from the leader’s lexicon. Words have history and power. The former command and control structures focused information and decision making onto one supposed superman in a rigid hierarchy and expected him to make infallible decisions with omniscient knowledge. These structures are being defeated, bankrupted, and destroyed as we speak. Even when we remove the history of the words, there is power in them and in their implicit directive to centralize information and control. But the defeat of these systems in modern wars does not support the command and control structure. We should replace the phrase with something that reflects a greater understanding of the relationship between leaders and their organization; let’s call this idea of building effective, resilient, winning organizations…leadership.

John Boyd’s Revenge: How ISIS Got Inside Our OODA Loop

John Boyd’s Revenge: How ISIS Got Inside Our OODA Loop

One of the most influential names in strategic studies is that of Colin S. Gray. He is not only an authority in the field, but a prolific writer. His book The Strategy Bridge — the one that gives this blog a name — is no less than a theoretical system which organizes the entire field, including the ranking of major theorists into tiers. Gray is no fan of John Boyd, the irascible Air Force Colonel who invented the well-known “OODA loop” but wrote nothing, preferring instead to communicate with his audience through grueling presentations rather than written works. The slides can be confusing, and the only academic treatment is Science, Strategy and War by Frans P.B. Osinga, so it is understandable that Boyd’s ideas haven’t achieved much purchase in academic strategic studies. Gray is emblematic of most authorities even though Boyd has a devoted following amongst practitioners and an annual conference devoted to his ideas. Increasingly it seems like Boyd’s ideas were quickly dismissed by strategic theory and then left behind.

#Reviewing Airpower Reborn

Airpower Reborn: The Strategic Concepts of John Warden and John Boyd. John Andreas Olsen, ed. Naval Institute Press, 2015.


Airpower Reborn: The Strategic Concepts of John Warden and John Boyd is a compilation of strategic thought by six well-respected airpower thinkers. Through its examination of airpower theory and theorists, the book navigates a maze of contentious but important topics regarding the relationship between airpower and military strategy. In this five-chapter anthology, the authors dissect airpower’s historical successes and failures while engaging the theorists, advocates, and zealots who have attempted to communicate its value to a sometimes apathetic if not outright hostile audience. But more important than the book’s examination of airpower theory is its exploration of military strategy in general.

Anyone who enjoys challenging the status quo will find the attempt to reboot modern strategic thought refreshing, if not overdue.

Airpower Reborn is a book for many audiences. Airpower thinkers will enjoy the balanced discussion of their field. Airpower critics will find contentious claims to explore, discuss, and dispute. Strategists of all types will find an engaging, contemporary look at military strategy through the lens of those who believe airpower has fundamentally changed the character of war. Plus, anyone who enjoys challenging the status quo will find the attempt to reboot modern strategic thought refreshing, if not overdue.

The editor, John Andreas Olsen, is one of the most globally respected authors on the subject of contemporary airpower. He is a Colonel in the Royal Norwegian Air Force currently serving in the Norwegian Ministry of Defence. His excellent bibliography includes A History of Air WarfareAir Commanders,and John Warden and the Renaissance of American Airpower.

In his introduction, Olsen offers a modern and balanced approach to the history of airpower thought. He pokes at the zealots who oversold airpower in its infancy and who dug an intellectual hole out of which today’s airpower thinkers are still trying to climb. However, Olsen also takes aim at some of airpower’s staunchest critics as he introduces the central and controversial thesis of the book: the ground-centric paradigm of strategy which equates taking and holding territory with winning a war is not only outdated, but has been the root cause of repeated strategic failure by Western nations over the past fifty years.

He then steps through a brief introduction of each chapter on his way to his recommendation for all countries to establish a “dynamic and vibrant environment for mastering aerospace history, theory, strategy, and doctrine.” Coincidentally, the Chief of Staff of the US Air Force recently brought together a cadre of influential and respected airpower thinkers from the US, the UK, and France, including some of this book’s contributors, in order to foster exactly the intellectual environment Olsen recommends. Great minds think alike, I suppose…

He pokes at the zealots who oversold airpower in its infancy and who dug an intellectual hole out of which today’s airpower thinkers are still trying to climb.

As the book is an edited compilation of independent but related essays, it suffers from a few gaps and overlaps common to such works. Yet, individually, each chapter presents a cohesive argument.

In Peter Faber’s chapter, “Paradigm Lost: Airpower Theory and its Historical Struggles,” he argues that before the mid-1980s, airpower theorists and advocates tried to overthrow the existing, land-centered paradigm of war — and failed. Faber explains the bases of this paradigm, from Machiavelli to Clausewitz and beyond, then describes and fairly critiques the efforts of early airpower advocates who often oversold or misunderstood the role of airpower.

“The Enemy as a Complex Adaptive System: John Boyd and Airpower in the Postmodern Era,” is Frans Osinga’s introduction to John Boyd in a mere 44 pages — a feat any Boyd acolyte will find unimaginable. Be prepared, however. This heady discussion of Boyd and his work is not for the faint-hearted (or the intellectually distracted) as it explores complex adaptive systems, philosophy, cognitive sciences, and of course, Boyd’s famous OODA loop. According to Osinga’s thesis, Boyd contributed to more than just airpower theory; his work has had a fundamental impact on theories of war, conflict, and even business strategy.

USAF aircraft of the 4th Fighter Wing ( F-16 ,  F-15C  and  F-15E ) fly over Kuwaiti oil fires, set by the retreating Iraqi army during  Operation Desert Storm  in 1991. (USAF photo by Tech. Sgt. Fernando Serna)

USAF aircraft of the 4th Fighter Wing (F-16F-15C and F-15E) fly over Kuwaiti oil fires, set by the retreating Iraqi army during Operation Desert Storm in 1991. (USAF photo by Tech. Sgt. Fernando Serna)

“Smart Strategy, Smart Airpower” is a readable discussion by the brilliant and controversial John Warden, who argues airpower has been limited by an outdated paradigm of war. Warden also claims the old paradigm (essentially the same land-centric paradigm Faber described) is the cause of the West’s modern war troubles. Instead, he advocates influencing leadership, processes, and infrastructure before attacking fielded forces — his Five Rings Model. To answer the critics who tritely simplify this model to: “decapitate (bomb) enemy leadership to win the war,” Warden’s well-written chapter clarifies a number of misconceptions by explaining the nuances of his model in contemporary and historical contexts.

Alan Stephens’ “Fifth Generation Strategy” claims that for fifty years, the West has failed to achieve strategic success in expeditionary wars because it clings to first generation strategy — a Napoleonic view of warfare which bases strategic success on taking and occupying territory with large armies in foreign countries.

Two  F-22  Raptors fly over the Pacific Ocean. (USAF photo by Master Sgt. Kevin J. Gruenwald)

Two F-22 Raptors fly over the Pacific Ocean. (USAF photo by Master Sgt. Kevin J. Gruenwald)

In response, Stephens presents a modern alternative he calls fifth generation strategy — a combination of Boyd and Warden’s thought that 1) sees tempo and strategic paralysis as levers of strategic success and 2) argues achieving military objectives does not always lead to the desired strategic outcome. Unfortunately, Stephens undermines his own work with a number of political and parochial jabs which may draw the ire of some readers, regardless of their merit

Achieving military objectives does not always lead to the desired outcome.

The book closes abruptly with “Airpower Theory” by Colin Gray in which he offers an airpower theory in the form of twenty-seven dicta — formal pronouncements — somewhat disappointingly plucked directly from Chapter Nine of his book Airpower for Strategic Effect. That this list of dicta was essentially copied-and-pasted into Airpower Reborn left me wanting, if not disappointed. Gray’s prolific and thoughtful airpower bibliography indicates he could have put forth a more tailored contribution to the book. For the interested reader, I recommend exploring his other works including Understanding Airpower: Bonfire of the Fallacies.

Still, it has been decades since the last significant contribution to airpower theory. Given the shifting character of war and rapid technological change, a solid modern airpower theory will be required for the West to achieve strategic success in future conflicts. But Airpower Reborn is not a work of airpower theory; it is a work about airpower theory and its relationship to military strategy. This book will fuel a much-needed and overdue discourse on airpower theory and military strategy.

This persistent (and mistaken) belief that modern airpower theory rests solely on century-old airpower prophecy says more about our failure as airpower advocates than it does about airpower critics.

Airpower Reborn is both an anthology of airpower thought and a call to action. Today, there is a great need for contemporary airpower thought. This book is a commendable attempt to spark discussion about airpower theory and strategy. Also, Olsen’s call to action is both timely and relevant, since the words “Douhet was wrong” still ring from people’s mouths. This persistent (and mistaken) belief that modern airpower thought rests solely on century-old airpower prophecy says more about our failure as airpower advocates than it does about airpower critics. It is our job to effectively develop and communicate modern strategic airpower thought to our interested brethren. In this, we seem to have failed. Luckily, Olsen’s Airpower Reborn is a great step toward reinvigorating and improving the critically important field of airpower theory.

For a more in-depth review of Airpower Rebornclick here.


JP “Spear” Mintz is an airpower strategist currently working on the Air Staff. The views expressed in this article are the author's and do not imply or reflect the official policy or position of the U.S. Air Force, the DoD, or the U.S. government.


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Uploading John Boyd

Uploading John Boyd

As our national security environment morphed into an enigmatic state over the past year, I found myself once again invoking John Boyd — the legendary fighter pilot and theorist who “changed the modern military,” as James Fallows once wrote. As I thought through the consequences of misjudging rapid geopolitical change, the fiasco of clear/hold/build, and the challenges of strategic patience, I recalled Boyd’s important advice…don’t just be a reactor, be a shaper.

Clausewitz and Airpower

Clausewitz and Airpower

Identifying a central theorist of airpower, or group of theorists, invariably generates controversy. Most agree that the Italian general Giulio Douhet was important, but few grant that he lends much direct insight into modern warfare. William “Billy” Mitchell is a critical figure in the institutional history of the USAF, but his influence of airpower thought was much less important. Trenchard and Arnold were more organizational pioneers than airpower theorists.That said, almost everyone who’s studied post-war American airpower agrees that John Boyd and John Warden were important influences, even if they disagree as to whether than influence was good or bad.

Military as Seminal Agent: Violence as a Vehicle for Destruction and Creation

Military as Seminal Agent: Violence as a Vehicle for Destruction and Creation

Ultimately, management of violence is an instrumentality for the military. The end sought is a new reality. The military destroys to create. No serious student of military history misses this point, but too often the focus on destruction blinds us to our responsibility for acts of creation that inevitably ensue.Ultimately, management of violence is an instrumentality for the military. The end sought is a new reality. The military destroys to create. No serious student of military history misses this point, but too often the focus on destruction blinds us to our responsibility for acts of creation that inevitably ensue.