Saturday, July 16, 2016

Inside Our Loop

John Boyd introduced the military to modern air combat theories and resultant aircraft design theories.  His most famous contribution was the OODA loop which can be summed up, very simplistically, as consisting of the following circular steps:

  • Observe
  • Analyze
  • Act
 Note: I present this with abject apologies to Boyd for this gross simplification and, he would undoubtedly claim, misrepresentation of his theory.  He actually had a fourth step and multiple side steps in his presentations.  As I said, this is a gross simplification to illustrate a point.

Thus, he suggested, the pilot that could more quickly (and correctly!) execute this repetitive loop would “get inside” the opponent’s loop and be able to anticipate better and act faster and, ultimately, win.  For example, in air to air combat if I can see that my opponent is beginning a maneuver (observe), analyze his maneuver so as to predict the outcome (analyze), and place myself in a position to take advantage of his final position (act), I’ll be in position to defeat him as a result of having operated inside his OODA loop.

Unfortunately, ISIS, and terrorists in general, are inside our OODA loop.  Consider this, from a Navy Times website article,

“The Navy is moving to place armed watch-standers at recruiting stations nationwide, a move that comes a year after shootings at a recruiting station and a reserve center in Chattanooga, Tennessee, claimed the lives of four Marines and a sailor.”

It’s taken us a year to decide to have armed personnel at recruiting stations.  A year!!!  How’s that for a snail-slow OODA loop?  No wonder we’re not making more progress in the war on terror.

“We are in the final stages of preparations for implementation” of the policy, said Cmdr. Dave Aliberti, policy branch head for Fleet Forces Command’s anti-terrorism, force protection directorate. 

A year, and we’re still not actually implementing it.  We’re just in the “final stages”.  That means we’ve got a ways to go, yet.

Now, what would you or I - logical, reasonable people - decide in about the first 2 minutes after the original incident?  We’d say, “Arm the recruiters.  After all, they’re highly trained in weapons handling and they could always be given additional training for using weapons in civilian settings, if need be.”  Of course, the military sees it differently.

“Some lawmakers called for service members, especially recruiters, to be allowed to carry their personal firearms to work so they could respond to an attack in progress. Aliberti said that was looked at in detail but it is not being considered.

“Because of the nature of their mission it’s something less than ideal to have every recruiter armed when their mission is engagement with the public,” he said. “While that would be one extreme, it’s not something that is being considered seriously at this time.”

Seriously????  We won’t consider allowing recruiters to be armed?  What does engagement with the public have to do with whether professional military personnel are armed.  Actually, isn’t that their job – to be armed and defend citizens against terrorists?  Is the military afraid that the public will find out that war involves guns?

Here’s a further extension of the stupidity.

“Navy leaders have also been less than enthusiastic about allowing sailors to bring their guns on bases. In an April interview with Navy Times and Defense News, the Navy’s top officer said the idea was on the table but that he was concerned about a situation where more guns are present during a shooting creating confusion for law enforcement.”

Think this one through …  If sailors were armed on base, there would be nothing for law enforcement to do after an incident except bag the terrorist’s body for removal.  More guns aren’t going to create confusion, they’re going to end the incident before it becomes a base-wide massacre. 

So, what’s the military’s approach, since they don’t seem to want to use simple, common sense?

“Militarywide, the Army Corps of Engineers is upgrading recruiting stations' security with visual identification features, as well as better access control mechanisms and ballistic shields, he said. The Army Corps is also making alterations to buildings that make them more secure, he said.”

There it is – the pervasive and misguided belief that technology is the preferred solution to any problem.  Armed sailors are the simple answer but the military would prefer to spend enormous sums of money on some idiotic technological solution that keeps budget money flowing.

Well, I’ve wandered off track, here.  The point of the post is that terrorists are inside our OODA loop.  If it takes us this long to implement simple, common sense solutions, how can we possibly fight a war and hope to win?  We have completely forgotten the lessons that Boyd taught us.  We need to be mentally nimble, quick and decisive in our decision making, and bold and timely in our actions.  We need to operate inside the terrorist’s loop instead of the other way around.


(1)Navy Times website, “Navy to put armed sailors at recruiting stations”, David Larter, July 14, 2016,


  1. Are you familiar with the 8-step troop leading procedures? The 8th step is supervise and refine, which I feel is what is going on.

    Arming military personnel would be the simple solution, but I can say with high certainty that the brass are worried about work place violence and mass shootings, similiar to the ones that happened in fort Hood. They don't want to give potential targets the means to defend themselves for fear of making more potential shooters. Quite insane is it not?

  2. The easy answer is to arm the recruiters and I'm all for that provided they are properly trained. But, for many recruiters, I'll bet the last time they fired a weapon was in basic training. Not all recruiters serve in the combat arms, many serve in administrative or technical positions.

    One issue to resolve is visiting gun free zones like schools and sporting arenas.

    1. If a serviceman hasn't fired a weapon since basic then we need to overhaul our general training. As the Marines used to say, every man is a rifleman. Every serviceman should be proficient with rifles and handguns.

      As far as training, civilians can get carry permits with around 4-8 hrs of training. The potential difference in training is that civilians are trained in not only the safe handling and use of the firearm but also the legalities of deadly force. If that's missing from military training, it can be added to a recruiter's firearm training. It's only a couple of hours.

      Gun free zones are a major mistake but that's for another blog.

    2. Back to the main subject, terrorist groups and "lone wolves" will always operate with in our OODA loop. They're smaller with less organizational overhead, meaning they operate by broad agendas and individual initiative then by orders or specific goals set forth by their commanders. They only thing that we really can do is mitigate risk by hardening defenses, either by increasing or ensuring secruity is being done correctly, limiting accessibility, etc. We have make this targets unattractive to these terrorist elements, but that being said, they'll just pick a different target and we don't have the resources to protect every military installation or service member. By allowing the individual service member the chance to defend themselves if they feel the need, we have "hardened" our defenses and deter some attacks.

      I recommend you read "The starfish and the spider" by Ori Brafman & Rod Deckstrom, for I feel it offers relevant insight on this subject.

    3. You're not grasping OODA loops, yet. Our police force is operating under essentially the same rules of engagement after a string of police ambushes and yet the attackers have adapted. An example of operating inside the lone wolf attacker's loop is when a police officer sees a long figure approaching, with, say, black tactical gear or cammies, the police should already be anticipating, have a gun out, and be edging towards cover. Get inside the loop and act first. Act doesn't have to mean shoot first but it does mean begin to act.

      We also need to profile! But, that's another blog.

    4. In this politically correct age, can the Marines still say, "Every Man a Rifleman?"

      I would add Shoot/No Shoot training that police officers take as a requirement for arming recruiters. These are similar to first-person video games where the officer is put into different situations and forced to make quick decisions.

    5. My apologies, I was applying OODA to the national level, not to the individual. For a lone wolf or small group to dress up in camouflage is tactically stupid in most of these kind of situations. Baton Rouge it was unnecessary an along with a openly carried rifle, drew attention to him. Most attacks are lower profile. Undoubtedly your familiar with COIN, which the (Army version) states terrorists will most likely try to blend in with the local population for to decrease risk to themselves and their mission.

      Walter, in the military, we regularly practice weapons handling, threat assessment, and which threats are valid targets in addition to established ROE. If thats not the definition of shoot/no-shoot training, I don't know what is.

      Also, recruiters must be NCO's in rank, and rarely do they employ lower ranks in an administrative role with in their offices. Recruiters must pass a selection process to see if their qualified enough to be one, due the their exposure to the public. They tend to be professionals and are still required to maintain standards such as weapons qualifications.

    6. "... I was applying OODA to the national level, not to the individual."

      I'm applying it to both. At the national level, we need to recognize the emergence of lone wolf or very small teams (observe), understand what that means - it means that terrorists have been unable to form large cells and co-ordinated, funded, equipped teams and are resorting to small teams and small arms or small explosives (analyze), and adjust and respond by changing the ROEs for police, allowing profiling, and emphasizing local intel and surveillance (act).

      I've already discussed the individual loop aspects.

  3. Gun free zones are often targets for violence for that reason, they are gun free...

    1. Recruiters I feel, as should soldiers of certain rank, be allowed same privileges to carry firearms as police officers are. If a recruiter dosen't feel the need to be armed while meeting with potential recruits, that should be his decision to carry or not.

  4. I would be very surprised to see any commander allow weapons. The near certainty of a negligent discharge (ND) and the resulting investigations is a more pressing concern than the remote possibility of a terrorist attack. A ND can get personnel relieved but a terrorist attack usually brings sympathy.

    1. Near certainty of a ND???? We have tens of thousands of police officers carrying guns every day and don't consider them to be in danger of "near certainty of a negligent discharge"!!!!

      Are servicemen somehow inherently more prone to NDs?

      Yes, NDs happen because of user stupidity (that's the definition of an ND) but the mere remote possibility of an ND is no reason to forbid weapons. We trust these guys to carry all manner of weapons in the field but somehow we can't trust them to carry weapons in the US?

      Perhaps we should remove all weapons from our inventory and send soldiers into battle without weapons if you believe we're more likely to shoot ourselves than the enemy?

      Finally, relieved for ND is still alive. Facing a terrorist without a weapon is likely death. I'm pretty sure I know which option everyone will pick. Sympathy to someone who is dead doesn't mean much to that person.

    2. NDs happen often for cops but are often not reported.
      Marines have lots of NDs even though they are a very low percent of personnel. ND are near certainty because if you allow a large enough group of people to carry pistols (most of these plans focus on pistols which have more NDs than other weapons) there will be an ND somewhere.

    3. Well, I'll give you one non-scientific data point. My brother is a police officer in a mid-size city. We discussed NDs several years ago and at that time he stated that over his 17 years of experience he had never heard of an ND. That doesn't prove anything, one way or another, but it offers some insight that NDs are hardly prevalent and probably border on non-existent.

      Setting that aside, I return to my question: how does the mere theoretical possibility of an ND affect our need for self-defense?

    4. From a very quick Internet scan, I saw that in 2010 the Marines reported 6 NDs. That doesn't seem like enough to justify not being prepared to defend oneself!

    5. 6 NDs for the whole USMC seems very low.

      For what it is worth, it is not uncommon for pistol ranges to have someone fire prior to the targets being presented or fire into the ground. Both of those are safety violations.

    6. A training incident is hardly the type of ND you suggested. A training range is the place you're supposed to make mistakes in order to learn!

      This is a non-issue.

    7. ND with injury are very very rare. And terrorist attacks are something the service is charged with combating, ND are not.

  5. "OODA" not "OAA"
    O - Observe
    O - Orient
    D - Decide
    A - Act

    The OODA loop concept lead to the Marines adopting the "maneuver warfare" concept. I think another good example is how JDAM lead to mobile/relocatable targets which move before the kill chain targeting can get updated.

    1. Did you read the article? I specifically acknowledged that I was grossly simplifying the concept and, regarding the missing step, explicitly stated,

      "He actually had a fourth step and multiple side steps in his presentations."

      Here is the entire acknowledgement:

      "Note: I present this with abject apologies to Boyd for this gross simplification and, he would undoubtedly claim, misrepresentation of his theory. He actually had a fourth step and multiple side steps in his presentations. As I said, this is a gross simplification to illustrate a point."

      Good grief, read the article!

    2. CN Ops, you got the OODA loop exactly right.
      But have you considered the possibility (probability?) that in peacetime armed services, following the DA part of it might be prejudicial to your career? If you decide and act, something might go wrong. All decisions and actions, however well-informed and well-intentioned, may turn out to have been mistaken. Make a mistake that can be attributed directly to you, there go your chances of promotion, or indeed continued employment. Pass the buck, pass the buck, request further examination of options, insist that nothing can be done immediately until the decision has been spread among so many others that you can't be held to blame… in peacetime, that's the safer option, and you'll be promoted whatever the outcome.
      In wartime, things become a little different, but are you sure the US armed forces are really preparing for war?

    3. The timid and weak may be afraid of second guessing but those are not the people we want in our Armed Forces, are they? I've made a million decisions, big and small, throughout my career with the full knowledge that any one of them could end my career. However, I've gone to college, I've been trained, I continue to educate myself, and I have no fear of failure. I know what's right and wrong, both technologically and morally, and I'll stand by my decisions. If I make a mistake, I'll own it and accept the consequences. I'll also let my record speak for itself. If worse comes to worst, I'll find another job without any trouble.

      Is the US military serious about preparing for war? Not even a little bit.

  6. I am reminded of the commander in Lebanon who would not allow M-16s to have magazines in them, because that would look hostile to the locals. That worked out well.


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