Skip to comments.Little-known pilot shaped U.S. strategy in Iraq -Good Read
Posted on 03/23/2003 1:53:14 PM PST by ODDITHER
Little-known pilot shaped U.S. strategy in Iraq
By JACK KELLY
March 21, 2003
The man who is perhaps most responsible for the U.S. military strategy in Iraq never wore a general's stars, and, during his lifetime, was despised by most who did.
Accolades from the brass, like medals awarded fallen soldiers, have arrived posthumously for John Boyd.
"John Boyd is one of the principal military geniuses of the 20th century, and hardly anyone knows his name," said John Thompson, a former Canadian army officer who is managing director of the MacKenzie Institute, a Toronto-based think tank which studies global conflict.
The ruse the United States pulled in launching the war against Iraq with a cruise missile attack on Saddam Hussein and his high command could have come straight from Boyd's playbook, said retired Gen. Michael Dugan, who was chief of staff of the Air Force during the buildup to the 1991 Persian Gulf War.
The CIA planted a false rumor with a British television network that Iraqi Deputy Prime Minister Tarik Aziz had defected, hoping Aziz would go on Iraqi television to deny it. He did. The CIA tracked him back to a bunker, and the Navy and the Air Force destroyed it with cruise missiles and bombs.
"The ability to find out where this bunker was and the ability to react in minutes certainly was consistent with John Boyd's thinking," Dugan said. "John Boyd was a thinker ahead of his time. Without giving him a lot of credit, the U.S. military is following his ideas."
Lt. Col. Rich Liebert, who teaches tactics at the Army Command and Staff College at Fort Leavenworth, Kan., agreed.
"The constant references to, and the delay of the 'shock and awe' bombing campaign, is the kind of psychological warfare that Boyd recommended to paralyze the enemy," as well, he said.
Nevertheless, a serving Army officer, a military reformer who admires Boyd, thinks that while many generals and admirals now pay lip service to Boyd's ideas, most still do not put them into practice.
Boyd joined the Air Force in 1951. He served in Korea, but his reputation as one of the greatest fighter pilots in history was earned at Nellis Air Force Base in Nevada, where he taught air-to-air combat at the Fighter Weapons School.
Boyd attributed his success to thinking faster than his opponents did. Before anybody can do anything, he has to see what's going on, figure out what it means, decide what to do about it, and then do what he decided to do, Boyd noted. He coined the acronym "OODA loop" to describe the process. It stands for: Observation. Orientation. Decision. Action. If you can go through the OODA loop faster than your enemy, you'll live and he'll die.
From the Civil War through Vietnam, U.S. military strategy has been based on what strategists call the "firepower-attrition" model. Basically, you get more and bigger guns than your enemy, then blast away until you win. It works if you can get more and bigger guns, but the results are usually bloody.
Boyd didn't discount firepower. But he said deception and speed were more important. Confuse your enemy about your intentions, and then press him so hard that he doesn't have time to think. If you get far enough inside your enemy's OODA loop, he'll get confused and demoralized. And if he gets demoralized enough, he may surrender without fighting.
Two people impressed by his theories were Vice President Dick Cheney, then a congressman from Wyoming, and Gen. Alfred Gray, commandant of the Marine Corps from 1987 to 1991.
Cheney was secretary of defense during the first Gulf war, and he has credited Boyd's influence as a major reason he changed the battle plan for the liberation of Kuwait from a frontal assault, which could have led to many American casualties, to the "left hook" that proved so successful.
As vice president, Cheney exerts considerable influence on strategy in Iraq as one of President Bush's inner circle of war advisers. But the most significant convert may have been Gray, who first heard Boyd's briefings as a colonel. Later, as commander of the Second Marine Division, and later still as commandant of the Marine Corps, Gray was in a position to implement Boyd's ideas about "maneuver warfare."
Their first combat test came in Grenada in 1983. They passed.
As the Marines showed success after success with their maneuver-warfare doctrine, elements of Boyd's thinking began percolating into the Army.
The service that has been most resistant to Boyd's ideas, ironically, is the Air Force. When Boyd died in 1997, only two Air Force officers attended his funeral. Dozens of Marines showed up.
(Distributed by Scripps Howard News Service, http://www.shns.com.)
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