Data: Osinga, Frans P.B. Science, Strategy and War. (New York: Routledge, 2007)

Author: Frans Osinga is a Royal Netherlands Air Force Officer and F-16 pilot. He attended SAASS and completed the work while service as the Netherlands MoD Senior Research Fellow at the Clingendael Institute of International Relations in The Hague.

In Science, Strategy and War, Frans P.B. Osinga provides an analysis of the strategic thought development of John Boyd. Osinga explores Boyd’s professional background, the strategic and defense-political context of the US in the period during which Boyd developed his ideas, Boyd’s study of military theory and history, and Boyd’s involvement in the scientific developments and the scientific Zeitgeist during which Boyd developed his ideas on military strategy. Osinga then explores Boyd’s work (A Discourse, Organic Design for Command and Control, The Strategic Game of ? and ?, The Essence of Winning and Losing) through the contextual lends of Boyd’s background. Osinga concludes by arguing that Boyd’s work contains many more arguments and insights concerning successful strategic behavior beyond the OODA loop.

Central Proposition:

· OODA Loop – observation, orientation, decision, and action. War can be construed of as a collision of organizations going through their respective OODA loops, or decision cycles. War depends on the ability to out-pace and out-think the opponent. (1) Tends to focus on pace, but isn’t quality more important than speed at the organizational level?

· “Boyd’s OODA loop concept, as well as his entire work are more comprehensive, deeper and richer than the popular notion of ‘rapid OODA looping’ his work is generally equated with.” (7)

Other Major Propositions:

· Boyd’s work shows richness in ideas and freshness in approach. Boyd covers tactical and operation level war fighting. He addresses a vision of the proper organizational culture of the armed forces. Organizations must be agile and adaptive to survive and prosper. (7)

· Value of Boyd’s work lies in great measure in the way he constructs his argument, in the sources that he uses and in the argument he develops concerning the nature of strategic thinking. He aimed to create a way of thinking, a thought process. (7)


·· “Military theory is the aggregate of theories, doctrines, and beliefs belonging to a particular individual, community or period. It refers to the concepts, hypotheses, or principles developed by soldiers and civilians to solve military problems.” (9)

· “Strategy thus provides the conceptual link between action and effect and between instrument and objective. It is an idea. Strategy is a plan of action designed in order to achieve some end; a purpose together with a system of measures for its accomplishment.” (9)

·· “Strategic theory development does not follow a clear cumulative growth path in which new theories built upon former ones, Kuhnian approach improving the older ones or expanding their range of application. The reader, then, is left with an expanding number of partial theories, each of which has a limited range of applicability, be it bound by geography (continental, maritime, urban, jungle) dimension (air, land, sea), weapons technology and combat method (nuclear, terrorism, counter-insurgency, guerrilla), etc.” (14) eighteen

· The paradoxical nature of strategy and strategic theory reinforces the problematic nature of strategic theory… once such a generalization has been formulated and has become known to the persons whose behavior it attempts to predict, those persons may react in ways different from their past behavior, the observation of which justified the generalization… Precisely because a strategy worked once, it will likely be emulated or at least learned from , and subsequently strategists must devise new constructs and hypothesis that provide a plausible expectation for success… in matters of war, even if an underlying pattern is discovered and some level of predictability established, the paradoxical nature of strategy guarantees that the pattern will be altered.” (14)

· The seeds of a theory and the fertile soil

· Second Law of Thermodynamics – in a closed system the transfer of heat (energy) goes in one direction, from a high temperature to a low temperature… this change is non-reversible. (23)

· · “Goedel’s Proof, The Heisenberg Principle and the Second Law of Thermodynamics… posit… that we cannot determine the character and nature of a system within itself and efforts to do so will only generate confusion and disorder.’” (27)

- Used these two scientific theories to discount the notion that strategy is a form of science. However did adopt Fuller's Mental/Moral/Physical spheres

· “When it comes to [Boyd’s] views on combat, he found inspiration in authors who are united in their focus on the mutual process of adaptation, on perception, on the mental and moral impact of one’s moves, feints and threats, and on achieving destabilizing effects throughout the enemy system instead of the more traditional focus on attritting the enemy in a prolonged head-to-head battle.” (29) Sun Tzu and Jervis

· · “Boyd’s work can be easily understood as stranding in a direct theoretical line with that of Liddell Hart.” (35)

· “Sun Tzu… must be considered the true conceptual, albeit ancient, father of Boyd’s work.” (35)

Science: Boyd’s foundation

· “Popper named his theory an ‘evolutionary epistemology.’ [He] claimed that growth of our knowledge is the result of a process closely resembling what Darwin called ‘natural selection,’ that is the natural selection of hypotheses: our knowledge consists, at every moment, of those hypotheses which have shown their (comparative) fitness by surviving in their struggle for existence; a competitive struggle which eliminates those hypothesis which are unfit.” (58) But this is contrary to Kuhnian strategic revolutions Boyd seemed to support.

· “Polanyi asserts that the individual changes, ‘adapts’, the concepts in the light of experiences and reinterprets the language used.” (59)

· “While Popper looked at scientific progress within a paradigm, Kuhn thus looked at scientific progress as a succession of paradigms.” (63)

· “The shift [with chaos theory] can be described as a movement away from a scientific world view entirely based on what are often and variously labeled Cartesian, Newtonian, linear, analytical, objectivistic, reductionist, deterministic or mechanical concepts, towards a focus on change, diversity, evolution, unpredictability, complexity, uncertainty, non-equilibrium and non-linearity.” (65)

·Completing the shift

· “The emergent theory characterized each species up the evolutionary chain as better adept at processing greater stores of information in shorter spans.” (86)

· “The point of chaos theory is that the fate of the system is determined by small factors, which become magnified over time. It is the fact that these factors are too many and too small to know that causes the system to be unpredictable.” (90)

· “Change is the result of perturbation beyond a boundary.” (91)

· “[Complexity theory] points to fundamental limits in our ability to understand, control and manage the world, and the need for us to accept unpredictability and change.” (96)

· “A schema has several functions: a description of an observed system, a prediction of events, or a prescription for behavior of the complex adaptive system itself.” (98)

· “classical Darwinist theory asserts, it is the capacity to learn, to propagate successful traits and schemata, and to recombine in novel relationships, that leads to the emergence of adaptation and evolution.” (103)

·· “Deconstructionism acknowledges that the observer of social events and artifacts cannot possibly be objective, because he himself is entangled in a history, with particular prejudices, language with specific meanings, ritual and symbols etc, that color his perception.” (110)

·· “Strategic theory development is like the scientific enterprise, which is like the way organisms develop, modify, or discard schemata.” (122)

· Boyd’s metaphors – organic metaphor, armed forces as open systems. (124)

Core Arguments

· “Boyd departs form the rapid OODA loop idea in recognition of the fact that other factors come into play at the higher levels of war… [Boyd turns] his military theory into a general theory of strategy, or rather, a general theory of organizational survival.” (128)

· “The uncertainty values represent the inability to determine the character or nature (consistency) of a system within itself.” (137)

· “We can expect unexplained and disturbing ambiguities, uncertainties, anomalies, or apparent inconsistencies to emerge more and more often.” (138)

· Art of Success – shape or influence events so that we not only magnify our spirit and strength but also influence potential adversaries as well as the uncommitted so that they are drawn toward our philosophy and are empathetic toward our success. (187)

Exploration and refinement

· “Only open systems can adapt adequately to change, so an organism needs to maintain interaction with its environment if it is to survive… In military organization this is the remit of the command and control system.” (189) or allow/ensure environmental inputs to flow upstream to commanders???

· “Orientation… is the most important part of the OODA loop since it shapes the way we observe, the way we decide, the way we act.” (197)

· Strategy is “a mental tapestry of changing intentions for harmonizing and focusing our efforts, as a basis for realizing some aim or purpose in an unfolding and often unforeseen world of many bewildering events and many contending interests.” (217)

·· “Without OODA loops embracing all the above and without the ability to get inside other OODA loops, we will find it impossible to comprehend, shape, adapt to, and in turn be shaped by an unfolding, evolving reality that is uncertain, everchanging, unpredictable.” (230) Thesis?

· · “Boyd’s work givens a novel interpretation of military history and strategic theory. Moreover, it deals with organizational culture and leadership and offers a new conceptualization of tactics, grand tactics, strategy and grand strategy, showing how systemic interaction and isolation is the name of the game of strategic behavior.” (233)

Completing the loop

·· “The major overarching theme throughout Boyd’s work: the capability to evolve, to adapt, to learn, and deny such capability to the enemy.” (237) Sun Tzu

· “Boyd searched not for one particular optimum, but instead acknowledged the contingent nature of war, and focused on the universal processes and features that characterize war, strategy, and the game of winning and losing.” (240 – 241)

· “[Boyd] introduced into strategic theory the concept of open complex adaptive systems struggling to survive in a contested, dynamic, non-linear world pregnant with uncertainty, constantly attempting to improve and update its schemata and repertoire of actions and its position in the ecology of the organization.” (241)

· “Boyd as the first postmodern strategist.” (242)

· “Postmodern war revolves around the importance of knowledge, situational awareness, exploiting information superiority and adopting network structures because of the inherent flexibility of such arrangements.” (243)

· “Often the most important contribution a scientist can make is to discover a new way of seeing old theories or facts. A change of vision can usher in a whole climate of thinking in which many exciting and testable theories are born, and unimagined facts laid bare.” (257)

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