OODA Loop makes its mark on Maxwell

  • Published
  • By Kimberly Wright
  • Air University Public Affairs
When is a loop more than a loop? When it's the OODA Loop.

The OODA Loop that's less than a loop is a named driveway that runs behind the B-52 on display near the Judge Advocate General School and the Air Force Research Institute. The driveway was named in honor of Col. John Boyd's OODA Loop, an acronym for an air combat strategy developed by Colonel Boyd that has larger applicability in military strategy and competitive private-sector strategic thinking.

A fighter pilot, military strategist and Pentagon consultant, Colonel Boyd came up with the OODA Loop concept by observing air combat in Korea. The OODA Loop is a decision cycle, in which OODA stands for Observe, Orient, Decide and Act. Retired Col. Ted Hailes, Chair for Force Transformation at the Spaatz Center, Center for Strategy and Technology, said the OODA Loop "is designed to give you a disciplined way to think about events you are facing."

All tactical decisions are based on observations of an evolving situation. In his discussion, "Organic Design for Command and Control," Colonel Boyd noted, "The second O, orientation - as the repository of our genetic heritage, cultural tradition, and previous experiences - is the most important part of the OODA loop since it shapes the way we observe, the way we decide, the way we act." The decision part of the loop marks the determination of a course of action, while action encompasses the physical playing-out of decisions.

The OODA Loop approach favors agility in dealing with human opponents in any endeavor. A key factor in a successful OODA Loop is the "element of time," Mr. Hailes said, or having a quicker decision-making process than the opponent. The OODA Loop can encompass months, days, hours or minutes, depending on the situation, be it an air skirmish or a competitive business environment. Through a quicker reaction time, you can get "inside (the competitor's) OODA Loop ... so he always ends up being behind," he said. And because the situation is ever-changing, the OODA Loop is a repeating cycle of assessing, acting and reassessing. In addition, the changing situation may sometimes make it necessary to correct a course of action in the midst of the OODA Loop.

Unlike its namesake, the OODA Loop at Maxwell is not quite a loop, nor is it unending, as it starts and stops at Twining Street. How it got the whimsical moniker remains a bit of a mystery, mostly because OODA Loop is technically considered a driveway by base civil engineering and thus, they have no record of when it was named. Likewise, Bruce J. Cathey, program coordinator at Air University Headquarters Historical Office, said that office has no official record of who was responsible for the name or when it was named. "It's a piece of intellectual humor," Mr. Hailes noted.

This "piece of intellectual humor" is noteworthy enough to make the social media rounds via Twitter and a blog posting. Nick Dubaz of Columbus, Ga., noted that he encountered the sign while doing research at Air University and, with a link to the photo of the sign, Tweeted, "This made my day."