One-speed-fits-all is not a recipe for strategic success
Battles need to be won, and OODA can win them. Best recent example is actually Rommel vs Cunningham. Best recent counter-example is Rommel vs Auchinleck, shortly thereafter; Rommel was a one-trick OODA ponny, really. Best totally modern example is RTS competitive multiplayer (e.g. Starcraft). I would actually put the South Koreans higher than the North, or any authoritarian force, in any engagement consisting of _multiple_ actions.
You want to know what I think, ML Cavanaugh? Well... Remember YOU asked for it!
OODA Loop was NEVER About “Grand Strategy” Formulation
ML Cavanaugh is engaging in a transparent strawman argument unbecoming his impressive credentials. Cavanaugh entirely misrepresents the OODA Loop and the position of its advocates (at least the ones I’ve studied) as somehow believing that the OODA Loop, itself, constitutes a Grand Theory for formulating and executing Strategy.
Cavanaugh implies that Boyd and his acolytes believe that OODA explains the essence of ALL Strategy without ever citing a single example of Boyd or any of his devotees ever stating such a ludicrous proposition. Indeed, those he cites clearly state that OODA is limited to tactical circumstances. Whoever told Cavanaugh that OODA is a methodology for the Strategic-level of war likely knows less about Boyd than Cavanaugh demonstrates. This supposition is difficult to research, because Cavanaugh never provides a source behind his strawman assertion.
Cavanaugh says that, “context matters,” while he lifted OODA entirely out of its appropriate context. He distilled “everything Boyd” down to using OODA speed to induce chaos. But OODA is only a small (albeit important) piece of Boyd’s entire body of thought, and Boyd does not rely on OODA speed alone to fold the enemy inside himself.
Cavanaugh ignores Boyd’s important integration of Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle, Gödel's Second Incompleteness Theorem, and the Second Law of Thermodynamics on how we perceive and interact with both the external and internal environment and how we may induce chaos. He never digs into Analysis and Synthesis as it relates to the generation of options for adaptation. And these are only a few of the many points that Boyd covers in his body of work.
Cavanaugh attempts to squeeze the Genie back in the bottle by implying Boyd’s OODA was really just limited to aerial dogfighting (with a few grudging applications beyond that) -- a passe blood sport from a bygone era that will NEVER occur again (an assertion that sounds like a reprise of the Vietnam-era Pentagon Systems Analysts who decided Jet Fighters no longer needed Machine Guns). But Boyd expanded his study of warfare far beyond the skies and demonstrated that his theoretical constructs were actually rather timeless and widely applicable. Indeed, the United States Marine Corps’ insightful Capstone Doctrinal manuals are based largely upon the foundation laid by Genghis John. These manuals have remained essentially unchanged since they were published in the 1990s (Compared with U.S. Army Capstone Doctrine, which changes more frequently than an infant’s diapers). This point explains why more Marines attended Boyd’s funeral than Airmen.
He proclaims that Boyd left “nearly nothing written down,” which indicates why Cavanaugh may have such a limited and esoteric grasp of a deeper, richer body of thought. Boyd produced -- but never published -- a wide range of written products worthy of study (which I can only postulate Cavanaugh has never read). One supposes that Boyd’s cardinal sin (at least as far as Cavanaugh is concerned) was that he never published. Boyd never felt ready to publish because he was always refining his thoughts and understanding of an incredibly complex subject. Boyd never felt that he’d “arrived” at a perfect distillation of his message he felt ready to publish, but Boyd left PLENTY for us to read and study -- and one doesn’t need a basket of chicken bones to understand it.
He may not be aware that Dr. Grant T. Hammond compiled, edited, and published through Air University Press a 400-page work by Boyd, “A Discourse on Winning and Losing.” I can only assume he is not aware of this publication because the OODA Loop appears as a mere Appendix in this work. If he IS aware of it, then I doubt he’s studied it at any great length. And if the fact that someone else had to finish Boyd’s work is a reason to discount it, then we need to stop quoting Clausewitz, too.
If that is still insufficient for Cavanaugh, Dr. Hammond -- who had a personal relationship with Boyd, had read Boyd’s 327-page “Green Book, and sat in on lectures by Boyd -- published a well-sourced, extensive, and authoritative biography on Boyd AND his Works: “The Mind of War.” And if reading Boyd’s works seem like a confusing, “mystical” process of interpretation -- “…like soothsayers reading bones…,” then I invite Cavanaugh to listen to some of Boyd’s recorded lectures which remain available on YouTube, which I found most illuminating.
I will not lay claim to being an “expert” on Boyd… for as Boyd said: “An ‘Expert’ is someone who’s ‘learned’ everything there is to know about a subject and can’t [refuses to] learn anything new.” I first learned of Boyd as a new Lieutenant at Armor Officer Basic Course over 30 years ago while reading Bill Lind’s “Maneuver Warfare Handbook.” I have studied Boyd off and on ever since, and apparently have enough of a cogent understanding of John Boyd to comment with a degree of authority.
I say all this because Cavanaugh’s fallacious screed demonstrates that he REALLY has “misunderstood” Boyd entirely…and it is not (as Cavanaugh intimates) ‘Boyd’s fault.’
Though reductive, I think it’s somewhat fair to say that OODA is generally set in a linear algebra mindset, an expression that can be portrayed as a regression – as you hint at in the first section about sums. Boolean algebra, I’d suggest, is a better mindset for strategic thinking. Think Ragin-esque fuzzy sets where you examine presence and absence of prime implicants. (truth in advertising, I’m a super fan of QCA)