Col John Boyd’s OODA Loop is a decision-making cycle of observe-orient-decide-act. A warfighter that can process this cycle quickly, observing and reacting to unfolding events more rapidly than an opponent, can interrupt the enemy’s decision cycle (OODA loop) and gain dominance. Boyd emphasized that "the loop" is actually a set of interacting loops that are to be kept in continuous operation during combat. These observations are the raw information on which decisions and actions are based. We should operate at a faster tempo or rhythm than our adversaries--or, better yet, get inside [the] adversary's Observation-Orientation-Decision-Action time cycle or loop.

                                                (1) Observe. Assess the enemy’s actions and intentions. What is the enemy doing at this time, what is he planning to do? All decisions are based on observations of the evolving situation compared to the situation being addressed. Take the unfolding circumstances and any outside information and apply that information to your mission. These observations are the raw information from the battlefield on which decisions and actions are based. By observing the enemy and predicting his next course of action Warfighter can attempt to disrupt the enemy’s OODA loop before it starts.

                                                2. Orient. Take the information from the observe step and compare to known information to establish orientation. The Warfighter must comprehend his position and ability in relation to the enemy. All considerations need to be taken into account while orientation is being conducted.  The cultural traditions, genetic heritage, previous experiences, or any new intelligence on the area of operation should be processed while orienting yourself.

                                                3. Decide. After all of the information from observation and orientation has been processed a decision needs to be made. If new information unfolds that warrants a new decision the OODA loop starts at whatever step is necessary to adapt to the new situation. The Warfighter must now create a new course of action in relation to the threat and his position relative to the threat. This may be a simple decision such as shoot at the threat’s head, or much more complicated, such as planning troop positions and air-support requirements.

                                                4. Act. Obviously the act step in the OODA loop is the point at which a Warfighter puts his plan into action. The goal is to act before the enemy. After the action step the whole process begins again.

Your enemy must also execute his own OODA Loop in response to the actions of the Soldier or the Soldier’s team. Denying the ability of the enemy to move through his OODA Loop will make the enemy much easier to defeat. An enemy that cannot see friendly forces cannot observe them or orient on them. If the pressure of the engagement forces the enemy to stay in one position, their decisions will be much more limited than if they are free to move at will. Without a new decision, the enemy will simply stay stuck in their last decision, which will be irrelevant to the superior force, as they will be able to move through their OODA Loop and destroy the enemy with sound decisions and actions. With all other factors being equal, the victor in an engagement will be the one that can most rapidly cycle through the OODA Loop.

I love the OODA Loop….I always think about my enemy having an OODA Loop he has to go through too, and our job is to go through our's faster, more efficiently, and with more focus and force,  thereby making them get stuck in theirs so they can’t go to the next step b/c we’re taking that option away….here’s the example I love as a typical “running and gunning” assault….

In this case the enemy is on the defensive so they’ve created a suitable response plan to repel your assault. First, they fire artillery and mortars at the attacking force, then the individual soldier directly fires rifles and RPG’s at the attackers, then once in grenade range, they hurl those bad boys at the force while still engaging with their primary weapon, then they fall back to an alternate position and continue to engage. They intend to do all this in a nice orderly fashion.  Our job is to interrupt that little plan. First we drop cluster bombs and huge artillery shells that cause huge craters virtually redesigning the landscape in a matter of seconds. Then we drop white phosphorous rounds that burn everything it comes in contact with (including their battle buddies that didn’t choose their cover very well), to prevent the enemy from observing our approach. The landscape doesn’t look the same as it did when they went into their firing positions, they can’t see very well due to all the fire and smoke, they can’t really see their attackers, yet are still taking effective fire and heavy casualties…

Now imagine this at the individual level where it really gets fun…So imagine you’re an individual enemy insurgent having survived the initial attack above. You hear the sounds of the explosions and small arms fire getting closer and closer. As you poke your eyes around the corner for a look, the concrete explodes in your eyes where the bullets strike the wall, narrowly missing your head. The last glimpse you saw as you fall backward a step and try to shake it off was that of several dark shadowy shapes closing in on you. You learned your lesson about sticking your head out around corners, so you regain your composure and prepare to angle your AK-47 around the corner and give them a burst of automatic fire to give those attackers something to think about. “Yeah”, you think to yourself, “I’m doing good.” Just then, you notice a small green object clanking past the corner about three feet from you. Your eyes focus on it and you realize that little green deadly egg is a fragmentation grenade just in time to see it explode. You feel the steel pushing through parts of your body and you fall backward from the blast. You try to stand, but for some reason, your upper leg seems to push past your lower leg and touches the ground. You try to take a breath and you realize that it is like trying to breathe through a sopping wet rag. Then you realize the reason for this is that most of your lungs are sticking to the wall behind you. As you gurgle for air and your vision dims, the last picture your mind snaps is that of an American flash suppressor spitting fire in your face. Too late for you…someone has moved through the Loop faster and more efficiently than you.

Of course this is a combat example but the OODA Loop applies to everything we do. Think about someone in sales...the faster she goes through her OODA Loop the more sales she'll likely make (Especially if she progresses through the Loop faster than her client addressing any potential roadblocks to her sale before they even arise). Think about the football quarterback, the MMA fighter, the marathon runner....

Lifting the Fog of War

Dr. Dave Ricciuti

It is of immense importance that the soldier, high or low, whatever rank he has, should not have to encounter in War those things which, when seen for the first time, set him in astonishment and perplexity; if he has only met with them one single time before, even by that he is half acquainted with them.                                                                                                           -Carl von Clausewitz (1)

War has a way of highlighting man’s weaknesses—both physical and mental. Combat reveals the limits of human ability that once crossed; often result in significant losses in individual and unit performance.  The emotions and experiences of combat differ wildly among individuals.  For some, combat heightens their senses and sharpens their reflexes; but for many, an increase in the intensity and frequency of combat exposure can cause a corresponding increase in fear and stress.  Numerous effects have been noted, seen, and experientially and experimentally proven to occur during times of high stress/combat.  All of these potential effects of high stress environments and the engagement of the adrenal stress response in the body have only one goal: survival. 

Lifting the Fog of War
From a purely physical perspective, the ambush moment initiates a lightning-fast, whole body response that is coordinated by a small portion of the brain known as the amygdala.  The output from the amygdala into the brainstem areas that are in control of our reflexes creates massive coordinated muscular contractions, postural shifts, changes in eye focus and pupil dilation, etc. in response to a threat.  The fear and desperation created by a sudden attack causes first the “flinch or freeze” response which is then followed by the well-known “flight or fight” response.  What is vital to understand is that all of these responses which are built into the “fight or flight” system of the body are only a part of the story. In fact, this response is in fact a secondary response of the body to an immediate threat and occurs after the incredibly fast response of the amygdala. For developing a training methodology that most efficiently enhances real-world survival, understanding this distinction is vital: amygdalic reaction, first – fight or flight response, second.  The amygdala connects directly into the brainstem of the body where all of our instinctual responses and reflexive responses to danger are stored. This is a beautifully designed protective mechanism of the body that does not require conscious thought.   In fact, modern researchers believe that many of the amygdalic responses to danger do not involve the cerebrum, the cognitive/thinking portion of the brain at all. The reflexes bypass our learned behaviors.  By thetime the cortex has figured out the situation, the amygdala has already started to defend against possible dangers.The information received by the amygdala from the thalamus is unfiltered and biased toward action. In contrast, the cortex's job is to prevent an inappropriate response rather than an appropriate one.

If personnel in the future conflicts are to deal with the asymmetric extreme of modern warfare, while maintaining a capacity for more conventional conflict, then training needs to ensure that they perceive or believe that they are well prepared and able to cope in a range of situations. If the body will react without the benefit of our conscious brain where we store all of our typical tactics, techniques and training, the traditional approach of over-learning to engender instinctive reactions does not result in optimal combat performance.  The cognitive dissonance and amygdalic reactions that are virtually guaranteed in a real world fight wreak havoc on the typical trained, fine motor responses taught in most current combat training and there is evidence to suggest that skills learned will quickly degrade under extreme and prolonged stress

Training Implications.
We know that the amygdala contains, instinctive and intuitive fears, but also that it can learn.  Combat affects soldiers violently, and they must be conditioned to deal with their fear.  If training can condition a warrior to kill, then training can condition him to cope with fear. The key is not desensitization, but sensitization. Soldiers need to know how their minds and bodies will react to fear and develop a combative mindset that mitigates the psychological and physiological effects of fear. Experiential learning is critical in sensitizing soldiers to the bedlam of combat.  Numerous experiments have shown that while it is virtually impossible without radical brain surgery to completely eliminate the instinctive amygdalic response to danger, it is possible, through training, to modify the flinch response. The amygdalic receives INPUT from every sensory system of the body. Thus the amygdala can create responses to danger signals represented in the visual, auditory, olfactory, tactile or gustatory systems. In other words, the amygdala can instantly respond to any sensory input into the body that indicates danger, regardless of the source. A training alternative is to provide realistically stimulated environments that can increase personnel self-efficacy or confidence to deal with the unexpected. Promising work in the aviation human factors domain shows that the performance of aircrews in high-risk and high-stress conditions can be improved by enhancing a range of basic communication, interpersonal and situational awareness skills.  Research also suggests that this form of stimulation does not need to be high fidelity or overtly realistic—it just needs to expose personnel to the unexpected in a situation where they are able to demonstrate they can cope. Training that balances fundamental military skills while encouraging innovation at the team and individual levels, would assist not only with asymmetric operations, but also contribute to recently identified complex warfighting requirements for versatility and agility.  

The pay-off for lifting the fog of war would certainly be huge:  Preparing warriors to operate effectively in such an environment will only be achieved through realistic training that embraces conditions of chaos, uncertainty, and ambiguity, and employs a realistic, free-thinking opposing force, with real-world capabilities and strategies.  Tactically speaking, research has proven that as the number of available options increases, so does reaction time. In other words, having one available alternative, in a situation that requires the fastest possible reaction time, is the best situation available – as long as the available option is capable of meeting the threat.  Future war will remain characterized by friction, ambiguity and chaos, and will be more complex, diverse, and lethal than ever before. Speed, precision, lethality, and range of weapon systems have combined to compress events in time so that warfighters must make decisions faster and therefore have less time to process and evaluate the situations as they unfold around them.

Australian Army Richards B. A., Hodson, A., Wright, R., Churchill, R.  and Major Blain, J. (2003). Future conflict and its implications for personnel in the Australian Defence Force.

Murphy, PJ, Cotton, AJ, Collyer, R S & Levey, M, 2003, ‘Psychological support to Australian Defence Force operations: a decade of transformation’ in Kearney, G E, Creamer, M, Marshall, R & Goyne, A (Eds), Military Stress and Performance – The Australian Defence Force Experience, Melbourne University Press, Melbourne.

Peters, R, 1999, Fighting for the Future, Stackpole Books, Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvannia.

von Clausewitz, C, 1982, On War, Penguin Books, London.

Wilson, C, Braithwaite, H & Murphy, P, 2003, ‘Psychological Preparation for the Battlefi eld’, in Kearney, G E, Creamer, M, Marshall, R & Goyne, A (Eds), Military Stress and Performance – The Australian Defence Force Experience, Melbourne University Press, Melbourne.

Wilson, I, 1998, ‘Mental Maps of the Future: An Intuitive Logics Approach to Scenarios’, in Fahey, L and Randall, R, 1998 (Eds), Learning from the Future: Competitive Foresight Scenarios, John Wiley & Sons, New York.