Is the OODA loop obsolete?

i like that, i usually have a talking point about the break down of seeing focus etc...
JLW mind if i steal that for my discussion points
Not at all. I can't take complete credit for it though. I adapted it from something I read once in describing a person's actions in a critical incident, but unfortunately I can't remember the source material.
I just did some quick searching and found VDA being attributed to Ken Hackathorn. While I didn't learn the terminology directly from him, it is very likely that the source does trace back to him.
JLW- the "See-Decide-Attack/Break" version of OODA came from Trevor and Constable's biography of WWII Luftwaffe fighter ace Erich Hartmann, he of the 352 kills.

The thing to remember according to a retired LTC friend of mine is that a lot of the embroidery put on OODA theory was not the work of Boyd himself but has been added by other writers. Some of it is historically invalidated. Another point is the nature of OODA loops as applied by tactical units versus individual combatants.

I put this up in the Facebook thread. It's long, but it's a good read. LTC Kratman was an enlisted infantryman at Campbell and in Panama before he jumped over:


I’m gonna throw this out there, and you can take it or leave it. I mean no disrespect to anyone who has taken the time to analyze OODA according to their understanding and try to make it more consumable or useful. That being said, I really wish that folks would stop applying it to things it doesn’t pertain to, then use that as a reason to reinvent another concept to replace it, or claim it’s invalidated. I came from the ground side. I went back to the ground side. I love the ground side. But for some reason, when we start talking OODA on the ground side, it’s almost like it’s a challenge to invalidate it, usually based on a lack of understanding in the first place, because God forbid we learn anything useful from aviation. I'm going to have to break it up due to the size limits on posts.

OODA is purely a method to describe the decision making process. It’s not a strategy, it’s not a tactic. You’re doing it whether you know what it is or not. It can be conscious, subconscious, or unconscious. You are in multiple loops on micro and macro levels at any time you’re doing something. You can’t win or lose a battle because you did or didn’t apply the OODA loop. It’s an understanding of our decision-making that helps us improve performance and/or design training to improve performance . Nothing more. It can be applied to individual actions and organizational responses equally well to understand the process, as long as it’s not perverted into something it’s not, which is all too common.

Yes, you can become faster at moving through the loop. We do this by building experiential databases in the old brain housing group that hardwire some of the steps through pattern recognition, but we’ll get to that later. The big thing to understand is that being faster through the loop doesn’t mean you win. It just means you’re making decisions faster, and potentially better depending on the fidelity of your “orient” and the appropriateness of “decide”. If you’re making better decisions faster, that’s what we want—but you can still punt it into the stands if you can’t execute for internal or external reasons.


Observe-To see or perceive and register it as being significant. That’s paraphrasing the dictionary definition, but it illustrates why “observe” is the correct word. We have to see, yes, but we also have to recognize what we are seeing as significant in order to move forward with it. We “see” lots of things, but if we don’t register them as being significant, they never go further.

Here’s a training opportunity to improve the front end of the process wrt knowing what to look for and recognizing patterns. I can “see” an aircraft across the circle without training (OK there’s even some training that’s useful here on knowing where to look), but are there vapes on control surfaces indicating high alpha? Is his track crossing rate slow or fast given his aspect ratio to me? Observing the whole picture gives me a lot more information in which to respond to. Same thing works on the ground—on room entry, someone is moving forward toward me, and arms start coming up with a combination of shapes visible in the hands that I correlate as a rifle, even though it’s just bits and pieces from an odd angle that don’t fit the classical profile of a rifle to someone who hasn’t seen it presented this way previously.

Orient-to acquaint with the existing situation or environment. We have to take the information that we observe and understand it in the context of our body of experience. We all have a body of experience and we understand things through the lens of this collective experience. We have to categorize and understand what we are seeing to move forward with a response…this categorization may be correct or incorrect. No guarantees.

Here, we have an opportunity to increase performance by expanding the experience base to take the observations and recognize how they fit together to define the situation we are facing. Situational training, repetition, vignettes, etc., designed to demonstrate situations against which we want to increase our performance enhance our ability to understand the problem so as to respond appropriately. With the example above, if we hit the merge with an aircraft that was vaping to make a 180 out pass and take out the turning room, and his track crossing rate was slow, while I’m at 500 understanding of the situation is that his total energy package is low while mine is high, which presents me with an understanding that should guide my decision-making to bias towards decisions that exploit that difference. I’ve taken in the information that I have observed, found a pattern in my experience with which to understand what I’m seeing, and now I’m oriented. On the ground, I enter a room and observe three individuals, two are cowering and one is moving forward with what I registered as a rifle. Quickly, I can prioritize the rifle guy as an immediate threat and recognize or orient to the situation that I’ve got an immediate threat to deal with and two possible threats that are not immediate…so I’m responding to a single target problem with follow-on considerations.


Decide- Come to a resolution in the mind as a result of consideration; make a choice from a number of alternatives. Both these are applicable to describe what is going on here. In the larger picture, or a unit leadership decision, and also in low time stress individual decisions, you can take all the information that creates the situation you are responding to, consider the pros and cons of potential courses of action, and make an appropriate decision. Sometimes this can happen fast, sometimes it can afford to be much slower. Where we stand to gain from training for individual performance is in creating, to some extent, the second situation. Although not entirely scripted and room exists for alteration, there are paths or COAs that we are proficient in executing as a total “library” of responses. Some have served as appropriate responses to stimuli that have been judged to be similar to the current situation, with an acceptable outcome. This can be as broad or macro level as “I’m going to go nose high to exploit my energy advantage” in the situation above, or as micro-fine as unconsciously deciding to apply firm and rapid pressure to the trigger at a rate which will be less precise than other alternatives based on range to and size of target combined with immediacy of threat.

So above, say I’ve merged with low-energy state adversaries a bunch. Sometimes I’ve gone one circle level, sometimes I’ve gone two circle level, sometimes I’ve gone nose low, sometimes nose high. Or, maybe I know those as possible options only through training. If I’ve narrowed the decision I need to make at the merge to those options, and I know that through teaching and experience against this airframe with this disparity in energy that nose high gives me the best shot at putting me in a favorable position, then I decide to follow a nose-high game plan. In the room scenario, I decide that I can apply multiple rounds to the pressing, immediate threat without an immediate need to transition to another target.

Act-Do something; make something happen. So here, the rubber meets the road. Fairly straightforward…we enact our decision. Many have tried to argue the invalidity of the OODA model because they don’t see or acknowledge all the overlapping loops. Large “combinations” of actions grouped as a “response” could be taking place here (nose high game plan or engage single threat—don’t lose sight of others) all the way down to how much pressure I’ve put onto the stick to maintain a desired flight path up the front of the circle or disengagement of a selector as part of the “engage” response. We need proficiency here to execute the tasks appropriately.
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All these loops are happening, and all these loops can be cut off with a need to restart based on observing (seeing, feeling, perceiving) an input which changes our recognition of the problem, or orientation.

If you take a look at each of those steps, you can see where we can help to make faster moves to the next step through exposures, repetition, etc., and that’s the value of OODA.

As an example of large disparity, say a Cessna 152 pilot with a few hundred hours jumps into a hornet vs another hornet flown by a WTI grad. Assuming the Cessna guy even knows he has to get to a merge, he doesn’t have an experience base of what to look for to understand energy package, he doesn’t have his “game plan” options sorted into rapidly assignable categories, and he doesn’t have the stick and rudder skills in this airframe to execute anything. He’s a grape, and there’s a lot of possible ways to increase his performance…what to see, how to interpret, responses categorized into pre-programmed broad courses of action, etc.

Say now you put a nugget hornet guy in a hornet against the WTI…in a Cessna. The WTI guy has all the experience and data points to decide quickly and win…in a hornet, but no capability to execute in the Cessna. OODA doesn’t win. The same thing applies if a commander sees a battlefield situation against a regimental adversary that he’s seen and responded to before and won…but doesn’t have the troops, logistics, equipment to implement that same course of action or…with such a large array of components, his orientation or assessment of the situation could also be incorrect or the information he was receiving about the situation was incorrect, leading his previously used response to be a failure. As a teaching moment, if this were an exercise, this commander could then take a look at what the actual situation was, where his intel was incorrect, and create the mental associations required to have this info onboard for future consideration. You can apply this all the way down to an individual paper miss in the shoothouse…what did I do wrong? Not recognizing rate of reticle movement towards edge of target zone? Accepting overly aggressive trigger actuation? Etc., and affect future performance.

Anyway, that’s how I see it. It’s how I’ve been trained in it, and believe me the aviation world places a lot of emphasis on understanding and improving performance. Take it or leave it. Maybe I’ve explained it poorly, and I could do better in a several hour lecture, but I’ve got to get some work done. But, hopefully, someone finds it useful.
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Thanks for taking the time to share that. A lot of it mirrors how I understand OODA as well. I will admit some of the technical flight references were not understood, so I appreciated the easier to follow example you also gave for us ground guys. I will agree that too often people do not understand that OODA is a linear cycle, but not a solitary one. This is where your explanation was great -- too often those of us who have been steeped in these concepts and ideas assume knowledge that simply isn't there for those who don't have it smashed into their brains at some entry-level or career-level planners course and have trouble boiling everything down. You hear a lot of over-used terms like "I got inside his OODA loop" or "we need to dedicate some cycles to that." If you understand Boyd's OODA loop this makes perfect sense and you know what happened or what you want your guys to do when those phrases are used. For me, I always like to include the topic of Speed when the OODA loop comes up. Discussions like this are a great gate-way to some kool-aide drinking doctrine spewing staff officer circle-jerks, but MCDP 1-3 is a good reread.


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Here is a link related to this discussion. The audio quality is poor, but is great material. First of the series.

John Boyd Patterns of Conflict Part 1