“The way to win in a battle according to military science is to know the rhythms
of the specific opponents, and use rhythms that your opponents do not expect.”
What does it mean to pierce an opponent’s OODA (Observe-Orient-Decide-Act) loop?
We reach the answer through the generational experience of the western professionals who revolved through the OODA loop swifter than their adversaries in theory, but have they done so in practice?
Does this stand the test of history? Would it not mean that the fastest opponent would always prevail? There are factors beyond speed such as agility and breadth of thought as displayed in General MacArthur’s haste push of the X corps into Korea which ended up pulling the Chinese into the conflict resulting in numerous defeats during the end of 1950.
Swift movement is but execution. The process of choosing the action and tactic is of equal importance as defeats of forceful swift actions as enacted by General Lee in Gettysburg. Gunslingers know it is not the fastest draw but the righteous aim who wins the day.
THE OODA LOOP
Colonel John Boyd, an innovative aviator of the US air force, developed an iterative feedback model, what is now known as the OODA loop, discerned from his days dogfighting in the Korean War. It has seen use in both military and civilian trades and is also used to hone athlete’s responses and decisions alike.
The process holds constant revolution between the following stages:
Observation, which leads a participant
Orienton possible options,
Decideon an appropriate course of action
Acton that decision.
People tend to overlook observation. The evolving and myriad skill to be aware and discerning of constantly changing environments. All stages of the OODA look are intertwined as the changing sensory input and mental picture alter our perception of the previous moment. Fluidity in decision making is a skill emerging from all phases blended.
DETAILED OODA LOOP
A vital stage in understanding the OODA Loop is to look at it through the lens of the scientific method. In this perspective, decisions are hypotheses, and actions are essentially the process of testing selected hypotheses. If the quality of the information is imperfect, or if one’s orientation to the resultant knowledge is flawed, then speed may not be useful; it will only hasten an inappropriate decision or action.
In other words, faster might not be better. Like a dancer who loses their balance, the solution is not to go quicker, but rather to stop, recover, and get back in tempo. The same applies to the OODA Loop. To employ it effectively, a participant must understand timing as well as the broader concept of rhythm.
TEMPO, SPEED, AND TIMING
Tempo has been defined by many from official publications to renowned martial artists. One of them was Bruce Lee whose definition of tempo as “that little fragment of time which is the most suitable to accomplish effective actions.” In this definition, successful combatants sync their speed, so their actions coincide with those of their opponent’s, with the goal being to be able to act at “the exact psychological and physical crux of weakness in an opponent.” This specific rhythm in which movements are executed could be called cadence, and to apply this concept, it helps to look at combat through the idea of beats.
Beats are commonly found in the arts, such as meter in poetry or the time signature of music. More broadly, a beat could be considered as any action or moment of change. They are present in fights as well. Consider the one-two combo in boxing, a simple count that integrates rhythm into a punching drill. In such a combo, the one count is a jab with the lead hand, while the two count is a back hand cross. The drill can be made more complicated, with threes, fours, fives, and sixes added in to represent hooks and uppercuts on both sides, but, whatever their number, the punches are the beats.
A ballet instructor counts in “one-and-two-and-three-and-four.” To represent the space between each beat which enacts the same rhythm of the punching combo. We are most vulnerable in between each beat when we calibrate and when balance and tempo can be shattered..
HITTING THE OPPONENT ON THE HALF-BEAT
The goal of each fighter is to sever other’s OODA loop. Have them miss a beat. Speed is just one factor here. The psyche’s capacity to recognize opportunities assessing fluid scenarios and as Bruce Lee wrote speed in delivering a stroke will lose most of its effectiveness unless the stroke is properly timed.”
In practice, it takes more than speed as at a certain point this approach becomes divorced from one’s opponent and their actions. Instead, decisions and actions should ideally happen in a way which sets up the opponent and makes them vulnerable to having their rhythm disrupted.
Bruce Lee identified two traditional methods by which a fighter could use their cadence to accomplish this setup, the first was to adopt slower than normal actions in the lead up to a decisive attack. In this application, after an opponent has adapted to our cadence, they are vulnerable to sudden accelerations in our actions. Alternatively, the lead up could be at a normal or quicker than normal speed, setting up a final attack at a slower cadence. This strategy effectively forces the adversary to commit to an action, allowing a combatant to watch the reaction and strike once the adversary is misaligned. Bruce Lee labeled these methods as “striking on the half-beat.”
Military application of the OODA will have greater complexity; however, the principles remain the same. Advantage is met not by cycling through the process as rapidly as possible as this approach supports dissociation of one’s own decision-making process from that of one’s opponent. Instead, the OODA Loop should be used to identify those little brackets in time when the opponent is most vulnerable to having their rhythm broken to enact their disruption of rhythm. In other words, the OODA’s loop is maximized when it is used to identify and exploit the opponent’s half-beat. Of note, this is consistent with Boyd’s own emphasis on the importance of the orientation stage of the OODA loop.
A recent practical example of this strategy was the September 2019 drone attacks on Saudi Arabian oil facilities, which briefly wiped out half of Saudi Aramco’s production capacity. In this case, the timing of the attacks may have been more important than the physical effects, since they occurred in the lead-up to Aramco’s initial public offering.[ What’s more, the longer term impact of the attacks may have contributed to reduced investor interest and an Aramco valuation that did not meet its initially intended target.[ At the very least, the attacks succeeded in compelling Saudi Arabia to focus on restoring its production capacity, in effect breaking their rhythm and forcing them to stop, recover, and get back on time In addition, Iran, widely believed to be responsible for the drone strikes, found increased influence with the Houthis in the aftermath of the attack, which was precisely what the Saudis had been hoping to prevent by entering the Yemen War. The timing of the attack, then, could be argued to have benefitted both the Houthis and Iran by catching the Saudis on a half-beat.
Boyd’s OODA Loop has long been held up as a means to reduce reaction time and enable quicker and more streamlined decision-making. While greater speed is clearly an advantage in combat, viewing the OODA Loop through the lens of faster is betterover-simplifies the model, and prevents combatants from realizing the full potential of this decision-making framework. By understanding that speed and timing are complementary, the potential of the OODA Loop can be maximized by focusing it to recognize these moments when an opponent is at the apex of vulnerability, and providing options to exploit those openings at the most opportune time.