Tactics 101 091 – The OODA Loop, Pt. 2
Speed Up/Slow Down
“In order to win, we should operate at a faster tempo or rhythm than our adversaries—or, better yet, get inside adversary’s Observation-Orientation-Decision-Action time cycle or loop.”
COL John Boyd USAF (Retired)
In our last article, we began our look into the OODA Loop. Within the article, we blended a study of The Battle of Gaugamela in the discussion. The areas we addressed included: 1) A concise study of The Battle of Gaugamela. 2) The origin of the OODA Loop. 3) The genius of John Boyd. 4) Analysis of the actions of OODA Loop – Observe, Orient, Decide, Act. 5) The OODA Loop in practice at The Battle of Gaugamela. 6) Some final thoughts on The Battle of Gaugamela. 7) Lessons learned from Alexander.
As we stated last month, we do not consider ourselves the ultimate experts on the “Boyd Cycle”. However, we are keenly aware of the benefits of a having a good understanding of the OODA Loop. Hopefully, this initial article provided you that understanding. Click here to read Part 1 of The OODA Loop
In this month’s article, we will focus on the two key questions tied to the OODA Loop. First, how do speed up your own OODA Loop and make it more effective? Second, how do you slow down your enemy’s OODA Loop and make it less effective? In answering these questions, we will dissect each of the four actions of the OODA Loop – Observe, Orient, Act, and Decide.
A Quick Review
Before we begin to analyze each of the acts, let’s review each. Within this review, we will discuss in general terms how you make your OODA Loop more effective and vice versa, how you may degrade the effectiveness of another’s Loop.
O (Observe) – This is the ability to receive raw information. There is no interpretation of the information, just receipt of data. As we addressed last month, technology has made a huge impact on the ability to have ‘eyes’ on the battlefield. In some cases, this has resulted in acquiring too much information and leading to information paralysis. The key here is pretty simple. Determine the locations where you believe you can acquire the information you need and get eyes in place to receive it. On the other side, take away the eyes of your enemy so he cannot see things that assist his actions or cannot see things that would hurt your actions.
O (Orient) – Again, this is the decisive piece of the Loop. It is clearly how you interpret the data you receive. The more in synch you are with your orientation as it relates to reality – the better. Consequently, there are two questions in regards to orient. First, what things can you do to assist you to better synchronize with what is actually occurring? Second, what things can you do to desynchronize your opponent’s orientation with reality? We will answer each a bit later in this article.
D (Decide) – Last month, we stressed there are two parts to decide – decide to decide and subsequently, making a decision. There are many actions you can conduct in your planning and preparation to aid in the Decide action. Additionally, there are actions you can undertake to impact your enemy’s ability to Decide. We will elaborate shortly on each of these.
A (Act) – Even though you made a decision, it doesn’t mean it will get acted upon or it gets acted upon in the way you anticipated. Of course, two factors come into play in this. These are communications and command and control. Within the Boyd Cycle, these are addressed as feedback and implicit guidance and control. These factors must be addressed in training, planning, and preparation.
SPEED UP/MAKE MORE EFFECTIVE
“The ability to operate at a faster tempo or rhythm than an adversary enables one to fold your adversary back inside himself so that he can neither appreciate nor keep up with what’s going on.”
COL John Boyd USAF (Retired)
Below we have compiled a group of actions/activities which can assist in making an OODA more fluid and efficient. We have attempted to group them into the actions which they can impact the most. However, there are many which can influence more than one action.
OBSERVE – There are numerous things you can do to set the conditions in Observe. These include:
- Observation must be tied to what the commander wants to observe. The driver in this is the Commander’s Critical Information Requirements (CCIR). As we highlighted in past articles, these CCIR are directly tied to a commander’s decision. These CCIR are the driver for your Recon and Surveillance (R&S) Operations. Please see link below for more detail on CCIR:
- In regards to CCIR; they should be understood by all of your key subordinate leaders. They should know what your key decisions are and what information you need to make those decisions. Additionally, remember that CCIR should be continually evolving. The CCIR you develop at the beginning of planning will change because the friendly, enemy and terrain situations have all changed. If CCIR doesn’t evolve, the quality of decision-making is greatly degraded.
- Intelligence Preparation of the Battlefield (IPB) is a tremendous aid in assisting the commander in answering his CCIR. As a review, the four steps of IPB are 1) Define the Battlefield Environment, 2) Describe the Battlefield’s Effects, 3) Evaluate the Threat, and 4) Determine Threat Courses of Action. In combination and analyzed effectively, it should allow you to understand the enemy and the terrain. This understanding provides you with the answers to what you need to observe and where you need to observe it. (Link on IPB follows:
- When you assign a unit a task to observe, they must simply report back with what they see. They do not report back with their own analysis (orientation). If they do their own filtering it will likely impact your orientation. A basic report such as, “I see 10 tanks moving west at NAI (Named Area of Interest) is sufficient.
- If a piece of information is critical to your execution, use redundant assets to observe it. There is nothing worse than losing your eyes at a location where you seek critical information. Redundant eyes can assist on losing track on an enemy asset or action.
- Despite the thoughts of some, observation assets are not infinite. Consequently, you must prioritize what you want to observe. Don’t be afraid to retask these assets. As CCIR changes, so should the assignment of observation assets.
- Remember, not observing something is many times just as valuable as observing something. Confirm or deny!
- An observation is not an observation unless it gets communicated. If it is critical, once again, have redundant means to get it communicated.
- You must get the jump on your opponent in terms of the Recon and Surveillance Fight. Let him get the initiative and you may not be able to get in the locations you want to conduct your observation. Just as critical, let him get the initiative and he will occupy the locations he wants for observation.
- Don’t forget the value of a Soldier with a set of binos. Many times, we get enthralled with technology and tend to minimize the value of a simple Observation Post (OP).
- If an observation asset is critical, protect it!
- One of biggest challenges a country will face in combat is an understanding of the culture of its enemy, the country it is fighting in, and the civilian populace of that country. For the United States, this was a steep learning curve in Iraq and Afghanistan. As Boyd emphasizes in his diagram; cultural traditions is a key component within Orient. Cultural traditions work both ways. First, you must understand how your own culture influences your perceptions. Second, you must strive to understand the culture of the environment you are operating in. In beginning to understand another culture, you can do this initially by study and professional development prior to any combat. This sets a foundation that will grow significantly as you arrive in the area of operations.
- Past experiences in this particular environment will certainly shape how you perceive things. You must be careful; a smart enemy will not be predictable. Unless of course, he wants you to think he is predictable!
- Past experiences also include many aspects besides recent combat with your enemy. Studying military history can be of great value in the ability to orient. There is much to learn from others – successes and failures.
- There are numerous to hone your Orient abilities and those of a unit. There is particularly great value in the use of simulations.
- The key in making Decide as effective as possible is determining early on what your potential decisions may be. A Commander must step back early in the process and make a solid stab at what his key decisions in an operation may be. This should be the driver in the initial R&S plan.
- There are a number of tools a commander/staff can develop greatly assisting him in making a timely decision. Many of these are developed in the planning of the operation and in particular in the wargame portion of planning. Two of the most important are the:
- Decision Support Template
- Decision Support Matrix
Please read our past article on these at this link:
- It is important that a Commander keep his decision-making tools with him during the fight. What these may be all depends on the commander. These tools provide clarity during the heat of battle.
- One of the key connections between Decide and Act is the Commander’s Intent. As we discussed in our prior article on commander’s intent; it facilitates initiative on the battlefield. When the fog of battle has settled in and a fleeting window of opportunity avails itself; it is commander’s intent that enables subordinates to exploit it. The key in this is that the subordinates understand the intent and know what constitutes operating in that intent. More on intent:
- Going hand in hand with intent is trust and confidence. A commander must trust his subordinates that they will operate within his intent. This in turn builds confidence in subordinates that they have the freedom to make these critical decisions. This trust and confidence just doesn’t happen overnight. This is developed in peace time and training. It is then solidified in combat.
- Commanders should reward subordinates when they exercise initiative within the parameters of his intent. Likewise, if initiative is lacking or does not fit within the intent parameters; the Commander must in some form reprimand subordinates.
- There are many ways to practice decision-making skills. Tactical Decision Games (TDG) are a great tool. Simulations are excellent in Orient and even better in Decide.
ACT – One key thing to remember is you cannot look at “act” in a vacuum. Almost always, act leads to another act.
- A commander must place himself on the battlefield where he believes he can best influence the fight. Most times, that location will be where he considers the decisive point of the operation. More on the Decisive Point follows:
- If you have a weaker subordinate commander; ensure he has some supervision (Unit Executive Officer, Operations Officer or Command Sergeants Major).
- A delay in execution can be caused by a myriad of factors. However, there are many things that should be done before combat to speed up your ability to act once a decision made. These include:
- Possessing an established doctrine on conducting various operations.
- Better yet, understanding that established doctrine. (There is a leap from possess to understand!)
- Unit Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) are a huge time saver.
- Training for various tasks in realistic conditions.
- The key at lower levels is a mastery of battle drills. Actions should be engrained within everyone in a unit. They should be second-nature when the decision is made.
- Quality rehearsals also greatly assist in the transition to Act. Of course, the more realistic the better. Rehearsals make an impact on many things we have highlighted before.
- Rapid two-way feedback (communication) during execution is imperative. It is the driver in moving through the cycle and establishing a new cycle.
- Accurate/timely Battle Damage Assessments (BDA) within execution is crucial. In fact, they are essentially the beginning of the Observe action, once more.
“It’s like they’re moving in slow motion.” (Boyd referring to the enemy if you are operating inside their OODA Loop)
COL John Boyd USAF (Retired)
When we talk about slowing down an OODA or making it far less effective; several things come to mind. These include creating uncertainty, generating ambiguity, presenting new actions, creating suspicion, presenting danger, and deceiving the opponent. So how do you achieve this?
- Intelligence Preparation of the Battlefield (IPB) is again the beginning in impacting your opponent’s OODA Loop. Your IPB process should strive to answer the following in regards to effecting the Observe act:
- What assets does he possess for observation?
- Does he possess Recon and Surveillance (R&S) doctrine?
- What has he done in the past in regards to R&S? Trends?
- What locations do you believe he wants to occupy to man observation posts, set-up screen lines etc…?
- Based on what you believe his courses of action are; what do believe his CCIR are? This will assist you in determining what he wants to observe and where he may emplace his R&S assets.
- An enemy obviously has difficulty observing anything if visibility is poor. This is particularly true if he is also technologically challenged. There are several things you can do to impair the observation of your foe. These include:
- Conduct your own operations in limited visibility (especially if you have an advantage in experience, training, and technology).
- Limited visibility includes executing missions at night or in poor weather conditions.
- Limited visibility also includes utilizing smoke for obscuration. As we have emphasized before, if you are using smoke you must know what you’re doing. Don’t degrade your own OODA Loop because of your own smoke. More on smoke:
- Another way to impair his observation is to literally take away his eyes. The means to achieve this vary according to the eyes the enemy possesses. This could include the following:
- Using indirect fire on observation posts.
- Using patrolling/infantry attacks against enemy observers.
- Destroying unmanned aerial vehicles/drones with air defense weapons.
- Using technology to jam or hinder his observation technology.
- Your own R&S units can conduct a variety of missions to impact his ability to observe. These include conducting screen, guard or cover missions.
- Having forces trained and skilled at counter-reconnaissance is invaluable in taking eyes away.
- Even if an enemy is in a position to observe; the information he obtains can be negated if he can’t communicate to those who need to know. Thus, if you have the ability to disrupt his communications – all the better.
- Within your planning, you will determine the elements (assets) of your plan you want to protect. In past articles, we have discussed this and termed this as Essential Elements of Information (EEFI). EEFI is critical in Observation. If the enemy cannot observe or impact these elements; the better for your execution.
ORIENT As we have stressed many times, orientation is all about matching perceptions with reality as close as possible. So what are some ways to widen the gap between perception and reality within the mind of your adversary? These could include:
- Of course, deception is the first thing that comes to mind. If you can sell your deception plan as reality; you have certainly entered your foe’s OODA Loop. As we addressed in prior articles, deception is a challenge to pull off effectively. At the higher levels, detailed planning and preparation are imperative. At the lower levels, a well-conceived feint or demonstration can truly mess with an enemy’s reality.
- Another deception technique is the utilization of decoys. Clearly, there is an art to emplacing decoys so they do not look like decoys. If utilized properly, they can give the enemy a false perception on strength, composition, and the action of your forces.
- In conducting future operations, you must be keenly aware of what you have done in the past. Likewise, you can be sure your opponent is keenly aware of what you have done in the past. Your past operations plant seeds in your foe’s mind as he goes through his orientation. If you become predictable (and do not realize it), you aid in his orientation. If you are predictable (and realize it), you may be able to influence a false orientation. If you are not predictable, you make it challenging for him in orientation.
- Within Boyd’s work, the words variety, rapidity, harmony, and initiative resonate throughout. In regards to the enemy’s OODA Loop; variety and rapidity are especially important. If you can expose your foe to a variety of events, at a swift pace; you can easily cause overload within orientation. Of course, this is a challenge for any unit and commander. Conducting synchronized operations, utilizing all the assets a commander has at his disposal is the start in variety and rapidity. Unfortunately, many times you see piece-meal attacks that have little coordination between main and supporting efforts. This will do nothing to overload anyone’s orientation.
- A well-planned, prepared, and executed information operations campaign can influence the perceptions of an enemy. Obviously, the use of media (in all its various forms) is a central part of that campaign.
- Through your IPB, you may be able to glean some nuggets on how the enemy makes decisions. Perhaps, there is no such thing as establishing commander’s intent and exhibiting individual initiative. If so, this clearly impacts Decide.
- The best ways to affect the timeliness and effectiveness of your enemy in Decide is to continue to expose him to variety and rapidity of actions. The objective is to overwhelm the enemy commander’s senses by showing him many irrelevant things along with your maneuver–induce overload. So how do expose him to variety and rapidity. Here’s some techniques:
- Firing artillery smoke rounds can leave questions in an opponent’s mind as to your intentions.
- Smoke rounds can also portray the use of chemical weapons. This may cause an enemy to get into protective posture at an opportune time.
- Increased radio signatures can plant seeds that action by you is eminent.
- Random vehicle movement (dust signatures) can again be interpreted as eminent action on your part.
- A well-orchestrated feint or demonstration can paralyze an enemy.
- A false air-assault insertion is a resource intensive endeavor. However, if executed effectively (buy-in from the enemy), it can be more resource intensive for your opponent.
- Harassing indirect fire (field artillery/mortar) can derail an enemy’s decision cycle. This is especially true if rounds can impact near an enemy’s command post.
- The use of flares (signal/star clusters) can lead an enemy to believe contact is imminent.
- The use of lights at night can put questions in the mind of the enemy (including questions relating to your competence). Like the other actions above, it causes the enemy to think.
- We have seen the use of loudspeakers on the battlefield to be very effective. Tapes of vehicles maneuvering (particularly tanks) may lead an enemy to believe an attack is forthcoming or units are repositioning.
- Remember, even if a decision is made, it does not mean it gets acted upon. It must be communicated in a timely and effective manner. If you have the ability to impact his communications, you can effectively delay the transition from Decide to Act.
- As we addressed previously, Battle Damage Assessment is critical in determining the effectiveness of your action. Just as a crafty enemy can paint a picture that his losses were more or less than actual – so can you. These false results feed the enemy’s new Observation.
- As an enemy begins Act, there are many Acts you can conduct yourself to impact his Cycle. These include:
- Committing your reserve. If his Act has the potential to greatly impact your mission; it may be necessary to utilize your reserve. Remember; use your reserve to exploit success or to preserve your forces.
- As always, effective artillery can severely impact an enemy’s operation.
- Timely attack aviation (rotary/fixed wing) can disrupt an enemy operation. A good rule of thumb is to understand that your results will normally not be as fruitful as you predict.
- The use of FASCAM (Scatterable mines emplaced by artillery) can throw off any enemy timeline.
- Again, the use of smoke may make it more difficult for an enemy to Act. Well-placed smoke can also silhouette vehicles as they come out of the smoke.
- Jamming an enemy’s radio transmissions during the heat of battle can have a powerful impact.
We have spent the last two articles discussing the OODA Loop. Hopefully, these articles have been of benefit to you. To summarize our discussion, we thought we would utilize an analogy by one of our esteemed colleagues – Andy Nocks.
Tactical combat action is a battle of wits; a chess game with much higher costs. To be clear, it is understood that a game of chess is benign compared to tactical combat actions, but let’s use this as an analogy to help us think thought this.
The chess board – it is discreet. There are lines that constraint maneuver and positioning. The game pieces must operate within these boundaries. The same is true for the operational environment and specified Area of Operations (AO). An AO is discreet – it becomes your “game board”. Through analysis of the “military aspects of terrain – OAKOC”, we define the lines that constraint maneuver and positioning. We determine where we have the advantages and disadvantages versus the enemy. With this understanding, I know what is possible in terms of maneuver and “therefore”, this appreciation enables me to maneuver more effectively or ACT faster than the enemy.
The chess pieces and rules – each side is equally matched. Each piece is constrained by its finite rule set; the Rook moves forward, backward, left right; the Bishop moves diagonal – both forward and backward; and so on. In contrast, military capabilities also have some fundamental “rules” imposed by the laws of physics and the nature of the equipment in relation to the “military aspects of terrain”. In tactical studies, we answer the “therefore” question by challenging the commander to see both himself and the enemy. With this understanding, I am empowered to ACT and match my strengths against enemy weaknesses and protect my own vulnerabilities from the enemy’s strengths.
Playing the chess game – skilled chess players are always OBSERVING-ORIENTING-DECIDING-ACTING (what?, so what? which means? therefore?) in greater depth and synchronization than their opponent. They visualize a series of chess moves overtime which anticipates/predicts the opponent’s moves vice reacting to them. In tactical combat actions, we do the same thing. We create conditions that enable us to ACT (therefore?) faster than the enemy (as opposed to reacting) by developing plans that include aspects of the “Tenets of Army Operations” founded upon three specific principles of mission command. By OBSERVING-ORIENTING-DECIDING, we create plans that include “Flexibility and Initiative”. Flexibility ensures that if I was not smart enough to anticipate/predict an enemy action, I can modify my plan with minor adjustments that still enables me to ACT faster than the enemy. Initiative is tied directly to three specific principles of mission command. First, as the commander I must “create shared understanding”. This means that as I go through the OBSERVE-ORIENT-DECIDE activities of Boyd’s OODA loop, I must describe my understanding and visualization to my subordinates in sufficient detail so they have the same understanding. Once we understand and visualize the same thing, I empower my subordinates to ACT in accordance with my intent through “disciplined initiative” and “prudent risk”. This is the essence of my ability to ACT faster than the enemy.