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Heavy breathing on the line: Boyd and the hare

[dots connected by Lynn C. Rees]



? 1 ?

? Raises question ?

? 2 ?

What did Lucius Aemilius Paullus know and when did he know it?

? 3 ?

Ask Colonel John Boyd, USAF (1927-1997)

? 4 ?

Namedrop John Boyd

What do most respondants think?

? 5 ?

Naive OODA Loop

? 6 ?

Uncritical Insight

John Boyd is a cheerleader jumping up and down on the sidelines chanting “faster! Faster!! FASTER!!!”.

? 7 ?

Uncritical Insight (cont.)

This reduces Boyd to:

  1. Go fast.
  2. Go faster.
  3. Go ludicrous speed.
  4. Profit!!!

? 8 ?

? – Raises Question  – ?

Is this man a cheerleader?

? 9 ?

? and ?

? and ?

? 10 ?



? 11 ?



? 12 ?

Key Asymmetry

When Boyd smiles, he’s 100 million light years away from being a cheerleader.

? 13 ?

Key Asymmetry (cont.)

If a Boyd particle barely brushed a cheerleader particle, it would annihilate it, leaving behind nothing but:

  1. a tremendous burst of energy
  2. plans for a better fighter plane than the F-35 at 1/1,000,000th the cost.

? 14 ?

Critical Insight

To understand Boyd, understand the battle of Leuctra (371 B.C.)

? 15 ?


? 16 ?


Boyd argued victory came by creating of a fatal disconnect between enemy and reality through:

  • mental isolation
  • moral isolation
  • physical isolation

? 17 ?

Message (cont.) 

All three are critical to the originality of Boyd’s thought:

Boyd was thinking outside the box.

? 18 ?

Message (cont.) 

This box:


? 19 ?

Message (cont.) 

More particularly, this box:


? 20 ?

Message (cont.)

Battle of Cannae (216 BC)

Hannibal Barça put 50,000 or so Roman legionaries inside the box.

? 21 ?

Message (cont.)

Few Romans ever thought outside that box again.

? 22 ?


The physical kill box of Cannae became the mental kill box that military thinkers of the nineteenth century and early twentieth century kept their brains in.

? 23 ?

Problem (cont.)

This is your brain:

Baron Antoine Henri de Jomini

? 24 ?

Problem (cont.)

This is your brain on Cannae:


? 25 ?


Schlieffen, Chief of the Great General Staff of the Second Reich from 1893-1906, was obsessed with Cannae.

He even wrote a book on it.

? 26 ?

Worse (cont.)

Schlieffen used an exhaustive checklist when planning future military operations.

? 27 ?

Worse (cont.)

  1. Does my plan destroy the enemy army like Buonoparte?

? 28 ?

Worse (cont.)

Satisfying those stringent requirements led to the Schlieffen-Moltke Plan:

Schlieffen Plan

? 29 ?

Worse (cont.)

Its results were mixed.

? 30 ?


Schlieffen’s plan failed because it only aimed at physical annihilation of Franco-British forces.

? 31 ?

Critique (cont.)

It’s moral and mental isolation (or annihilation) components were few or vestigial.

This absence dominated the Western Front for the next three years.

? 32 ?

First Cut

Boyd suggested that the German development of infiltration techniques in the later half of the war countered this.

Instead of the long bombardments château generals thought would physically annihilate the enemy trench line, barbed wire, and fortifications…

? 33 ?

First Cut (cont.)

The artillery barrage that accompanied German infiltration attack was sudden and unexpected…

…providing suppression as much through sudden mental or moral disorientation as through physical destruction.

? 34 ?

First Cut (cont.)

Instead of the physical impact of large ranks of infantrymen trudging across No Man’s Land…

Small teams of infiltrators dribbled across the lines in small groups, causing moral and mental derangement by attacking the enemy from the flank or rear in unexpected places at surprising times.

? 35-36 ?

Traditional Greek Order of Battle vs Leuctra’s Order of Battle


? 37 ?

Battle of Leuctra

Boyd referred back to Leuctra rather than Cannae as a guide:

Epaminondas‘ seemingly simpler act of stacking his left 50 deep and weakening his right was just as effective as Hannibal’s more technically complex but brittle double envelopment at Cannae.

? 38 ?

Battle of Leuctra (cont.)

Epaminondas created a fatal disconnect between Spartiate and reality through a balanced attack:

  • physical isolation (more husky Boeotians to beat on the Spartan right)
  • moral isolation (that’s against the rules!)
  • mental isolation (the best Boeotian troops were on the left, not, as was tradition, on the right)

? 39 ?

Key Take Away

Epamimondas won a more efficient victory than Hannibal:

He mauled the Spartans just as effectively as Hannibal mauled the Romans …

Without the enormous luck and complexity involved in pulling off a double envelopment.

? 40 ?

And that’s why the NSA records (meta)data on all Americans.

14 Responses to “Heavy breathing on the line: Boyd and the hare”

  1. larrydunbar Says:

    So, you are saying it’s about the Indo-Pacific Pivot. I think there is much truth in your argument. But then, I have to wonder if the NSA will be able to build it 50 deep on the Right, and still have the rest of the forces pivot. 

  2. Grurray Says:

    Actually after reading this exceptional series it seems to me the NSA’s programs are the phalanx.



  3. Lynn Wheeler Says:

    First time I sponsored Boyd’s briefing at IBM, it was just “Patterns of Conflict” … but he was in the process of developing “Organic Design of Command and Control” … the next time, he wanted to do both briefings in a single day.

    reference to growing “Success of Failure” culture

    congress put the agency on probation for five years, wasn’t allowed to manage its own projects, however it may have just been further increase in gov. privatization

    Booz Allen, the World’s Most Profitable Spy Organization (and in the middle of the recent controversy)
    Spies Like Us

    from above:

    Private contractors like Booz Allen now reportedly garner 70 percent of the annual $80 billion intelligence budget and supply more than half of the available manpower.

    … snip …

    the above also implies that the $$/person avgs nearly 50% higher for private contractors.

    Iran/contra affair showed what you could do if you saved all email and could go back later … the only problem was that it was gov. email system, there was no expectation of privacy, and no violation of Bill of Rights. Recent post referencing Iran/contra and PROFS email system
    in same thread, how many racks are petabyte, exabyte, and zettabyte

    For long time, it was assumed that agencies were listening to everything (long before there was any expectation of being able to save everything); emacs has had a function that added random words from a list of words that were purported to trigger further examination.

    Recent post about thread between IBM, BAH and private equity companies

    “Elements of Military Art and Science Or, Course Of Instruction In Strategy, Fortification, Tactics Of Battles” (free kindle book from 1846) has Napoleon and many of his generals started as officer in their teens … and was still decades younger than opposition headed by generals in their 60s-80s; however loc5130-31:

    Wellington, who led the English in these campaigns, was of the same age as Napoleon, and had been educated at the same time with him in the military schools of France.

    … snip …

  4. Lynn Wheeler Says:

    There Are Three Kinds Of Genius That Corporate America Can’t Handle

    In organic design for command & control … Boyd would use the example of US entry to WW2 and needing to deploy large numbers with no experience. To leverage the few skilled resources, a rigid, top-down command and control infrastructure. Boyd would comment in ODCC briefing that US corporate culture was starting to be contaminated with former WW2 officers that learned organization from rigid, top-down command and control (only those at the top knew what they were doing and those at the bottom didn’t know anything).

  5. Grurray Says:

    Too bad you never gave a briefing to Booz & the NSA
    From the Bloomberg article:
    “Senior intelligence officials also say contractors are a pipeline to innovation in the private sector. The contemporary version of Q’s laboratory—that storied incubator for James Bond’s spy toys—is Silicon Valley, where startups are developing technology that can discern patterns and connections in oceans of raw data, among other feats of computer science.”
    A company with no competition and executive/bureaucrats passing back and forth through a revolving door  with the main agency it does business with is an undemocratic, quasi-government organization. It’s not going to be good at innovating anything except toys and finding novelty up their own arseholes.


    “Anyone who knows anything about the real world of intelligence and espionage knows that James Bond is a joke who wouldn’t survive his first day on the job”
    And that goes for Q also? One thing I do know is not to trust bureaucrats to have their cake and eat it to.
    errorists learned long ago not to trust electronic communications
     tactic known to organized crime from way back
    That’s the whole basis for the XGW framework right? The enemy evolves against a superior force by devolving and decentralizing. These meta-surveillance programs to be effective assume they haven’t learned anything over the past twenty years. Most rational people know they did.


    Is the government really that stupid? If not, who is really the target of the NSA programs?  

  6. Lexington Green Says:

    “Is the government really that stupid? If not, who is really the target of the NSA programs?”

    Domestic political opponents, maybe?  

  7. Lynn Wheeler Says:

    missing the point … the optimization for the majority of the operation isn’t intelligence, it is quarterly profits (common refrain is never leave any money on the table; in one of the referenced posts, I gave example of giving brief to BAH … and their observation was that they couldn’t figure out how to profit from it).

    at one point we were doing some work for company that was handling electronic tax payments for FMS (over 90% of tax collections) and involved in some protocol stuff. FMS was able to request that agency protocol validation group review some stuff. They blessed it … but I showed how I could compromise it. They said it wasn’t fair what I did. We had meeting scheduled with most of that organization to explain other approaches … but the head recently got promoted to DDI and meeting was first day for the new head. He had no idea what we were doing there … and said he never wanted to see us again (really made my wife mad and said we would never go back).

  8. Grurray Says:

    I don’t know Lynn, I tend to side more with Lex. 
    I’ve seen byzantine boondoggles and this seems to be on a whole other level. 

  9. Lynn C. Rees Says:

    The tactically minded focus on quarterly profits. The strategically-minded focus on the opportunities created by the tactically-minded’s focus on quarterly profits.

  10. T. Greer Says:

    I am still working on that essay. “An Alternate Economic History of the U.S., 1960-2010: How Business Tactics Destroyed Business Strategy (and The American Middle Class)”



  11. Lynn Wheeler Says:

    may like this (h/t steele on google+) Big Lie: America Doesn’t Have #1 Richest Middle-Class in the World…We’re Ranked 27th! http://www.alternet.org/economy/americas-middle-class-27th-richest

    Is there one cause of the middle-class collapse that rises above all others?

    Yes. The International Labor organization produced a remarkable study (Global Wage Report 2012-13) that sorts out the causes of why wages have remained stagnant while elite incomes have soared. The report compares key causal explanations like declining bargaining power of unions, porous social safety nets, globalization, new technologies and financialization.

    … snip …

    note: boyd’s ODCC scenario for rigid top-down (& only the people at the very top know what they are doing) has also been used to explain explosion in the ratio of avg top-executive compensation to avg. worker compensation to 400:1 (after having been 20:1 for a long time and 10:1 in much of the rest of the world).

  12. Lynn Wheeler Says:

    Individual privacy hasn’t been high priority for for-profit companies (including beltway bandits, financial industry and/or private equity companies … which are part of financial industry. We were tangentially involved in the cal. state data breach notification legislation. We had been brought in to help wordsmith the cal. digital signature legislation and many of the participants were heavily involved in privacy; they had done extensive public privacy surveys. The number one issue for public was identity theft … primarily the form involving account fraud and fraudulent financial transaction as a result of data breaches. Normally companies take security measure as self-protection; in the data breaches, the companies weren’t at risk, it was the public (and therefor there was little or nothing being done). There was some hope that the publicity from the notification would motivate companies to take security measures. Lots of other states have passed similar legislation since then … and numerous federal bills introduced (about evenly divided between similar requires and those effectively eliminating requirement for notification)

    The group was then in the process of passing an opt-in personal information sharing bill (requires record showing individual agreed to the sharing), when an (federal pre-emption) “opt-out” provision was added to GLBA (now better known for repeal of Glass-Steagall and allowing too-big-to-fail, but major part at the time was to protect banking industry from competition) … opt-out allows sharing unless there is record of person requesting that their information not be shared.

    A few years later, I was at an annual, national privacy conference in Wash DC … which had panel session with the FTC commissioners. Somebody in the audience got up and asked if the FTC was going to do anything about “opt-out” and personal information sharing. He said he was involved in call center deployment and said that none of the financial industry 1-800 “opt-out” operations had provisions for recording details of an (privacy information sharing) “opt-out” call (and therefor there would never be a record of individual requesting “opt-out” sharing of their information). That would naturally just transfer over from the financial industry to the intelligence industry.

  13. Justin Boland Says:

    1. Thanks all for an informative conversation, as a young mammal, I appreciate the density of detail here.
    2. I would very, very much like to read this in the next 2-5 years: “An Alternate Economic History of the U.S., 1960-2010: How Business Tactics Destroyed Business Strategy (and The American Middle Class)”

  14. Lynn Wheeler Says:

    the whistleblower in the “Success of Failure” case was treated very badly. The scenario is for-profit operations have discovered that a series of failures is a lot more revenue than an immediate success (sort of natural evolution of the beltway bandits “leave no money on the table” paradigm). The congressional investigation put the agency on probation for five years (but did little for the whistleblower) and not able to manage its own projects. However, that may have been just a ploy … further privatizing the gov. (solution to the problem of for-profit companies in projects is to have more for-profit involvement … of course, some quarters claim that there is guaranteed 5% kickback to congress on appropriated funds to for-profit companies … which doesn’t happen if it is straight gov. agency)

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