Maintain Situational Awareness

Anyone who has been reading this website for a while knows my great admiration for the Colonel John Boyd’s OODA Loop. He used this term to describe how a pilot could keep ahead of his enemy — or behind in the case of aviation combat — so as to win any encounter. In many hours of training younger, fitter, hot-shot jet pilots, Boyd would repeatedly challenge them to beat him. No one ever did.

Here’s a schematic similar to those he used in the hundreds of briefings he did over the years at the Pentagon (a place he derisively named “The Building”) and later at various war colleges.

For some years Colonel Boyd’s ideas were widely studied in a number of venues. Boyd was an Air Force officer, but following the familiar dictum about a prophet being without honor in his own country, it was not the Air Force who adopted his ideas, but the Marine Corps. And they did so with great enthusiasm. Their use gradually spread into other fields where competition and staying one step ahead meant success for those who learned to apply the principles with some discernment.

When I read this story in The Daily Mail — which I picked up in the Twitter feed — about the two American Marines on leave in Belgium, the fine print riveted my attention:

Belgian journalist Marin Buxant tweeted that the US Marines were on leave in Brussels when they spotted the man and followed him on the train. When the suspect went into the toilet, the Marines recognised the sound of a weapon being armed and decided to act immediately.

The rest of the story is drama (though being shot in the neck, as one Marine was, isn’t “drama” — but if that jarhead is conscious, he’s already been replaying the scene in his head countless times to figure out how he could have avoided that slug. He will be drawing cold comfort from the fact he prevented over three hundred more rounds from being fired into the passengers on that train).

I usually suggest this book, which I have read several times and loaned out; I’m not now sure to whom:

Boyd: The Fighter Pilot Who Changed the Art of War

However, I see there is a much newer book, tying Boyd’s ideas to “The War on Terror”:

A Vision So Noble: John Boyd, the OODA Loop, and America’s War on Terror

There were far fewer reviews of the second book than the classic by Coram, but one reader/commenter said he found it an “excellent distillation”.

[The second page also informed me, in Amazon’s inimitable record-keeping style, that I’d already purchased A Vision So Noble in May 2012. This happens to me all too frequently: since I belong to Amazon’s “Book Bub” I get daily notices about specials on books (most of them trash, some of them keepers). I go only for the free ones, but they have to meet a basic criterion: that the freebies don’t appear to be post-menopausal chick lit or the equally predictable but manly dic-lit. Ugh.

I think Vision got lost in the crush of that book/bub/hub so I’ve retrieved it; very glad to have this chance at it since I can’t pay for books anymore, and besides, they’re too heavy to hold. C’est la guerre. I’ll admit to having considered begging some authors for review copies, but since I’m too unreliable to keep any bargains, I don’t do that. Sigh.]

Since I haven’t read Vision I can’t tell you his details. But Coram’s book was honest about Boyd’s feet of clay and some worshipers didn’t like delving into his less-than-ideal family life. No, Boyd wasn’t a drinker or a womanizer, he was simply on a mission to change the military milieu into something capable of winning wars and it made him neglectful of his family. I do believe having Obama as his Commander-in-Chief would have sent the Colonel barreling into the Funny Farm.

After seeing what these two Marines did, I have hope that the OODA Loop is alive and well in the lower echelons, those way-down-in-the-military-food-chain where brain matter hasn’t ossified into hyperawareness of the Main Chance.

France and Belgium and the Netherlands ought to get together long enough to give these two Americans several medals a piece.

Semper Fi, y’all. Think of it as an early present for November 10th.

18 thoughts on “Maintain Situational Awareness

  1. It will be interesting indeed to see if either or all of those governments come to the party in recognition of a fine and heroic act that prevented loss of life on a massive scale. I hope that wounded Marine survives.

    Americans saving European lives again! Surely there is a much needed to be learned lesson in that?

  2. Thankfully you can count upon the Marines to be there at the right place at the right time doing the right thing. Now how about the rest of us?

  3. A recent “Afterburner” monologue by Bill Whittle also credits Boyd with being instrumental in founding of the “Fighter Mafia” that was responsible for the A-10, F-15, F-16 and later the F-18. The light weight fighters were designed using the Energy-Maneuverability theory developed by Boyd who flew the F-86 in Korea, a nimble beauty. The 40-year-old F-16 just shot down the new, trillion-dollar F-35 in simulated combat, but the Pentagon says not to worry: the F-35 is so advanced it’ll never need to be in a dogfight. The Warthog is the premier close air support platform and can withstand tremendous damage (one of the reasons it has two engines) and the F-15’s historical kill ratio is 104 to zero. Boyd is an amazing not only for his brilliant insights, but also for his sticktoitiveness in fighting the military bureaucracy in getting his ideas implemented.

    Reuters identifies one of the U.S. service members as “Alek Skarlatos, a 22-year-old member of the U.S. National Guard from Oregon.”

    • “never need to be in a dogfight” was the justification for not mounting machine guns on the F-4. The amazing new passive IR guided air-to-air missiles were believed to make dogfighting obsolete, or at least make machine guns on fighters obsolete.

      Of course it didn’t work out that way. The first IR guided missiles were crap.

  4. Hollande referred to the event as a ‘tragedy’. A Moslem terrorist was brought down. Is that the tragedy? Two Americans brought him down although one was seriously wounded. Is that a tragedy, or a triumph? That Americans brought him down. Perhaps for the likes of Hollande, THAT is the tragedy!

  5. Its time for the EU member states to reconsider their draconian gun control laws, had the (unarmed) Marines not been there the death toll would have been huge, as it is, they were able to work as a team to subdue a deadly enemy. The passengers had no defense at all. All it takes is for one terr to get lucky and hundreds of people get killed and injured with no means of shooting back.

    The rational behind gun control is that the police are able to protect citizens under all/any circumstances, but this is obviously coming apart at the seams in France.

    In Israel these events happen regularly, it is the way of Islam, but citizens start shooting back, and damage is thus limited.

    • And another thing. In Israel the railway stations are monitored pretty much like the airlines, with everyone frisked for firearms and luggage going through the imaging. It might be a bother but so far no attacks once past the monitors.

  6. Interesting that you read the story in a British newspaper and not an American one.

  7. The passengers were locked in by the staff who only thought about saving their own lives!

    The cause is not Radical Islam, it’s the Political Correctness of the Western elites and media which have allowed this abomination to flourish. We ought to be attacking them first, voting them out of office, boycotting the media until it tells the truth and boycotting all commercial organisations which do business with SA, Iran and Turkey.

    We need a Bourgeois Revolution!

    • Exactly. Islam is the same as it has always been. The problem originates with the political left in the West who are *enabling* the Islamists.

  8. Yes, they deserve several medals from several countries. The only problem is that the last I heard it literally takes and act of Congress for US military to receive foreign honors. I would hope that is no longer true.

      • The Mayor of Arras has given medals to all the Americans and a Brit. Cities in France also give lovely medals too.

        I have one city medal given to me by the last living member of General De Gaul’s war time staff, back in 2000, for helping bring American Revolutionary War re-enactors to his city for a festival and celebration.

  9. John Boyd was probably the most significant man to pass through the pentagon in the last generation. His dogged commitment, backed by real data and proven by empirical results, made the F-16 and A-10 possible. The brass couldn’t stand him, which was why he never got the stars he deserved. But he prevailed. John Boyd should be on Mount Rushmore.

    • No disrespect to John Boyd, but the swept wing of the F-86 Sabre was a late design modification, following the capture and evaluation of the German Messerschmitt 262 jet fighter.

      Ironically, the Sabre’s most effective (and arguably superior) opponent in Korea was the MiG-15, based on another German design, the Focke Wulf Ta 280 (the engines were copied from the British Rolls-Royce Nene, a present to Stalin when we were still allies).

      The US pilots were, fortunately, better trained than their Chinese and Russian opponents.

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