A Guest Post by Ferret
SHAH ALAM: USAF Col John Boyd’s Observation-Orientation-Decision-Action (OODA) loop anchors much of the principles and arguments found in the ‘Network-centric battlefield’ discourse.
In essence, Boyd’s loop deals with one’s ability to stay ahead of the adversary and thus dictate the tempo of engagement, thereby increasing one’s chances of winning the engagement.
Boyd was a fighter pilot and air tactics instructor who studied aerial engagements of the Korean War in which he had flown missions. The tactical insight gleaned brought him to the conclusion that each engagement can be boiled down to four basic components: observation of the enemy, orientation to the situation, deciding the next course of action and taking the action necessary to ensure victory. These components are fundamental to any engagement and applies, — according to its supporters — to all levels of warfare. He abstracted this down to what is now known as the OODA Loop.
The principles and thoughts behind the OODA Loop have found their strongest proponents among the US Marine Corps and several military thinkers (Lind, von Creveld) who have extended it into their discourse on what is called Fourth Generation War (4GW) or the “New War”, encouraged in part by US experience in the Afghan and Iraq wars.
Boyd did not explicitly discuss how the OODA Loop works, but rather intimates it via his discussions. The OODA Loop is not, as is frequently misconstrued, a simple linear loop: observe, then orientate, then decide, and then act. Rather, it is dynamic with many feedback loops, with each component affecting the other, and thus reminiscent of general systems theory: In his “Pattern of Conflict”, Boyd came up with such pithy axioms as “Diminish own friction (or entropy) and magnify adversary friction (or entropy).”
Network Centric warfare (NCW) is, using the US Navy’s thorough definition, “military operations that exploit state-of-the-art information and networking technology to integrate widely dispersed human decision makers, situational and targeting sensors, and forces and weapons into a highly adaptive, comprehensive system to achieve unprecedented mission effectiveness.” Needless to say, NCW applies to all operations whether on land, on and under the sea, in the air and in space.
Networking, by shortening the time required for target acquisition, dissemination of target information, discrimination between friend and foe, target selection, and so on, leverages the ‘OOD’ part of Boyd’s loop. It shortens the time needed for taking action. In other words it facilitates, to borrow a well-known military adage, one’s seizing the initiative and putting the enemy on the back foot.
The enemy is put on the defensive and is unable to gain an advantage; he is rendered reactive instead of being the active participant and is thus able to act only in response to our actions. All things being equal, the side with the ability to ‘get inside’ an enemy’s OODA loop or, as Boyd said it more expansively, “getting inside adversary observation-orientation-decision-action loops (at all levels) by being more subtle, more indistinct, more irregular, and quicker — yet appear to be otherwise” will emerge the victor.
Much of the discourse on networking has been on hardware and IT’s ability to act as a substitute for lack of numbers: computing power, connectivity, interoperability, integration, efficiency, unmanned and autonomous systems. This is to be expected since military requirements are much more demanding compared to civilian requirements in terms of equipment survivability, reliability, integrity, proof against enemy interference, etc.
The practical difficulties of producing such equipment and making them work seamlessly are quite considerable. For instance, one of the lessons learnt from the Libya air campaign is the need for greater integration of ISR assets among the Nato allies. Surprising as it sounds, Nato aircraft could not communicate with one another directly because of systems incompatability and occasionally information had to be relayed through a third party.
US and UK aircraft could communicate with each other but could not communicate with the rest of the international force which included aircraft from Arab nations and Sweden. In this instance it was perhaps fortunate for Nato and the international force that Libya’s air defence was derelict.
In contrast to hardware, very little time has been spent, as stated by an analyst, on the philosophy behind the employment of network-centric forces. There’s very little time spent on discussing the effects of counter measures such as enemy jamming or enemy attacks on airborne ISR and AEW assets whilst they are still on the ground.
A networked environment brings with it information overload and great demands on cognition and decision making ability of personnel, sometimes to the level of individual soldiers, seamen or airmen. With networks’ ability to pass information up, down and sideways rapidly, the impact upon established beliefs and practices such as the traditional view of command and control — soldiers’ or units’ autonomy, leadership (“follow me”), micromanagement of battles; force structure and principles of war will need to be discussed and understood more thoroughly. Only then can a real understanding of NCW emerge.
Further information on John Boyd, the OODA loop, and networked battles are freely available on the internet.
A good place to start is “Network-centric Warfare: where’s the beef?” available at http://www.iwar.org.uk/rma/resources/ncw/smith.htm
NCW and data linking video as envisioned by Rockwell Collins. Marketing! (Ed)
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