Decisions without actions are pointless. Actions without decisions are reckless.” – John Boyd
If you follow any tactical, survival, military or law enforcement publications or have attended training, you probably heard of the OODA Loop.
This acronym stands for Observe - Orient - Decide - Act and was first introduced to the world by Colonel John Boyd, a fighter pilot who flew several dozen combat missions during the Korean War. While stationed t the Fighter Weapon School, he began to think back to his time in Korea and concluded that two critical features of the F-86 aircraft led to their remarkable air-to-air combat success and a 10-1 kill ratio. The first was the larger canopy which gave pilots a better view of the situation. The other factor was the hydraulic control of flight surfaces, allowing U.S. pilots to make faster transitions. He concluded that there were two ways to beat someone in aerial combat: speed up your decision-making or slow down theirs.
This decision-making model, as it has been described, is routinely presented in very simplistic terms while making it appear that all one has to do is follow the loop, and you’ll win. This could not be further from the truth, as anyone involved in threatening, deadly, or high-risk situations will tell you. There are many variables one must take into account in each of the phases. Boyd understood this in developing this concept.
Without getting too scientific or confusing, I will make this so that someone who has not heard of the O-O-D-A loop can understand how it fits into survival decision-making and its application in a combat situation. (hopefully). First, understand that Observe and Act involve inputs and outputs to the external world of reality. Orient and Decide are internal to the decision maker’s perception of reality. So, in essence, what you have is the idea that perception is the reality whether it is or not.
This is how a pilot might use the OODA Loop:
Observe the adversary with onboard sensors, radar, etc. but especially with their vision.
Orient themselves by predicting the course of maneuvers by the enemy based upon an assessment of the enemy’s energy state, knowledge of enemy tactics, aircraft, and relative advantage of position.
Decide on the maneuver needed for himself to defeat an adversary’s attack or counter an adversary’s defensive move while on the offensive.
Act by accomplishing the maneuver with great speed, designed to be unpredictable and asymmetrical. The outcome from such maneuvers is a disruption from the fight path, so the cycle is repeated in a series of maneuvers that can be accomplished with the speed that the adversary cannot react with appropriate counter-maneuvers, then victory is certain. The key is for the cycle time to be shorter than the opponents.
In a combat context, two tactics are involved: one is to slow down the enemy’s OODA Loop decision processing, and the other is to speed up one’s own OODA processing.
Using a sports analogy to explain this concept might help. Say you are the quarterback of a football team. You call a play and line up. You survey (Observe) the defense looking for cues that might affect your call. You try to anticipate the movements and placement of the opposing players (Orient). Based on your knowledge of the other team’s actions from watching the game film and your observations, you (decide) to go with the play you’ve called, and so you run the play (Act). Once the play starts, the OODA Loop processing of both teams kicks in as players try to outmaneuver each other to score or keep the other from scoring. This OODA Loop processing continues until the play is done or there is success for either team.
In other aspects of life, such as business, the OODA Loop processing can and should be viewed as a business model in that you see what your competitors are doing or offering and figuring how to get the better of them, such as undercutting price, offering sales, making a better product, etc. Organizations that look at business within this model have a culture of continuous improvement.
From a personal defense standpoint, the person who can observe their adversary through any means will usually have the advantage of getting into the Loop first. If you can begin your processing ahead of your opponent, they will be able to analyze, decide, and act before your opponent can react. Remember, the idea is to slow your opponent’s OODA Loop processing or speed up your OODA Loop.