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"Shock and Awe" and Col. John Boyd

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  • "Shock and Awe" and Col. John Boyd

    Several years ago, I was browsing in a book store and saw a book that made my head snap right to it. It was Boyd: The Fighter Pilot Who Changed the Art of War by Robert Coram. Generally, fighter pilots are dumb brutes and not deep thinkers, so I bought it.

    When I finally got around to reading it, I realized "Here was a man to rival von Clausewitz and Sun Tzu." Seriously. I gave it to my wife (also a military professional) and she just shook her head in wonder. It has since been passed around to several close friends.

    Boyd - After his AF career, he became a near hermit with only a few close friends dubbed the "acolytes." He created a briefing that became famous in the Pentagon and in other military think tanks called Patterns of Conflict. Ever hear of the OODA loop? Boyd created the concept.

    Part of Boyd's warfighting methodology is to move so fast, so unpredictably, that you get inside the enemy's decision-making loop. By the time he reacts, you have already moved on and are now working a different angle, for lack of a better term.

    I have seen Boyd's name mentioned in passing in several posts, but I am such an admirer, I wanted to mention him in a more dedicated way. As an initial background, the wiki entry on John Boyd is a very basic overview of this larger than life character.

    On to "shock and awe", a term much overused and derided. One of the men who received Boyd's Patterns of Conflict brief was none other than Dick Cheney. We saw elements of Boyd thought in the GW1 maneuvering. The 2003 invasion of Iraq, a resounding success (the military invasion, not the post-war Iraq) was almost pure Boyd. Shock and Awe is a Boyd principle describing the reaction of the enemy, not that the public would be shocked and/or awed. Somehow, it became an illegitimate part of the news lexicon rather than remain where it belonged, part of Boyd's legacy.

    There is an alcove devoted to Boyd at the Marine Amphibious Warfare School, which changed its curriculum to more closely follow Boyd's theorems. The Army strategists followed suit. Since when do Marines appreciate the Air Force? Unthinkable.

    There is not space enough here to describe this man's life work. I highly recommend Robert Coram's book as almost a must read for anyone interested in one of the deepest military thinkers of this century. He is almost unknown to this day because he was an abrasive man, and made powerful enemies in the Pentagon, traditionalists whose ears were closed. Suffice it to say, the USAF warplanes (F-15, F-16, A-10) now flying in the U.S. are Boyd's (or his acolytes) children, and much of the conventional ground war strategems also springs from his great mind.

    Col Boyd died in 1997. :(

  • #2
    I'm going to move this to the STAFF COLLEGE reading list.