Skip to comments.How a genius fighter pilot improved military strategy (Boyd)
Posted on 12/29/2002 3:46:59 PM PST by FreedomPoster
NONFICTION: Boyd: The Fighter Pilot Who Changed the Art of War. By Robert Coram. Little, Brown & Co. $27.95. 484 pages.
The verdict: Due credit for "one of the most important unknown men of his time."
John Boyd was the smartest man I ever knew; he was also an exemplary leader. If he had asked me to take an 80 percent pay cut to work on a project he could not discuss, I would have committed without question.
His brilliance was exceeded only by his intellectual selflessness. Over the 18 years that he included me in his telephonic ashram, there were periods during which he would spend hours walking me through concepts that I originally believed unfathomable. I learned that coupled with his genius was an ability to break down the most complex into the understandable.
"Boyd was one of the most important unknown men of his time," Robert Coram writes. "He did what so few men are privileged to do: He changed the world. But much of what he did, or the impact of what he did, was either highly classified or of primary concern to the military."
Until I read "Boyd," I thought I knew Boyd. But what I thought I knew were selected bits of confetti. Coram, a former reporter for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution who is best-known for such novels as "Dead South" and "Atlanta Heat," has blended these scraps into a magnificent biography.
Boyd, who died in 1997, was a U.S. Air Force fighter pilot who could not stop thinking about his work. As a captain, he converted fighter-pilot bar talk into the first manual on aerial combat to teach American pilots countermoves to every possible enemy maneuver. Boyd taught himself calculus and at age 33 started work on an engineering degree at Georgia Tech.
It was at Tech that Boyd began to develop his "energy-maneuverability theory," which ultimately changed the way aircraft are designed and enabled America for the first time to assess the combat capability of foreign aircraft.
Boyd was asked to look into the overweight design of the FX, the initial concept for the F-15 Eagle. He used energy-maneuverability to reduce its weight and cost and increase its performance. His follow-up project, the F-16, increased the U.S. Air Force's inventory with the ultimate air-combat fighter.
Boyd went to Vietnam to brief pilots on his energy-maneuverability concepts to more effectively evade surface-to-air missiles. One pilot told me, "I heard Boyd's brief, believed it, and lived. My wingman ignored it and died."
After retirement as a colonel, Boyd refused lucrative offers from industry and donated his time to the U.S. Department of Defense. His thinking evolved from analyzing airplanes and missiles to ferreting out the causes of success in conflict. This led to his seminal work, "Patterns of Conflict," an unpublished, two-day briefing that he gave for almost two decades throughout the military.
Based on Boyd's strategic theories, then-Defense Secretary Dick Cheney rejected the Army's initial Iraqi invasion plan in favor of a modification. Boyd's concepts also prompted the Marine Corps to alter its standard tactics. Its first application was in Desert Storm, during which the only complaint was that the Marines went too fast.
Boyd always told his acolytes, as Coram calls them, that each would have to decide whether they wanted to look back one day at the privileged positions they held or their contributions to their country --- "to do or to be." Putting country first, Boyd told them, would inevitably stall their career. Boyd was an example; his advocacy of doing the right thing instead of toeing the Air Force party line incurred the wrath of senior generals.
It was no surprise then that at Boyd's funeral --- which Coram captures with Kodachrome precision --- the Air Force was represented by a single officer while the Marine Corps attended en masse.
James P. Stevenson is the author of "The $5 Billion Misunderstanding: The Collapse of the Navy's Stealth Bomber Program." He lives in Maryland.
> ON THE WEB: To read the first chapter, go to ajc.com/living/books.
It's worthwhile to note that this month's Soldier of Fortune magazine also has a revealing article about Air Force generals acting to protect themselves and their sacred cows, rather than the front-line pilots.
This isn't just Air Force and F16 history, the events covered affected all services, the military history ranges from the Korean war to the Gulf war. It includes an introduction into J. Boyd's thinking on conflict. According to the book, some put J. Boyd's work into the same class as Sun Tzu and Clausewitz. Similar to those two, his ideas have entered the lexicon of business strategy, and probably (though more quietly) into that of politics.
It's well worth the time. There are a couple of web sites dedicated to Mr Boyds work.. but I didn't note them on the first pass through the book, so you'll have to wait for somebody more thorough to find them .. or lookup 'OODA Loops' on the web.
I was never in the military, but J. Boyds approach to the problems of being right but non-orthodox while working in a large organization struck home to this cubicle dweller.
Boyd and Military Strategy
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... The purpose of this paper is to explain how I adapted a process model developed
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Another book on the "must read before I die list."
I better live to 120, or else go to prison for a long long time.
Also - I must be wrong, but my recollection is that Marine ground forces weren't used in Desert Storm except as a bluff. Can somebody set me straight on this?
I remember reading a book by Adolph Galland in which he claimed that Woerner Moelders (sp?) A German pilot, developed most modern combat fighter tactics.
Such complete knowledge can lead to stalemate, like tic-tac-toe. But this is more a game of poker. The 'who' counts. So does the ability to pull off the counter-counter-move before the enemies counter-move. Thus he pushed for very small, very manueverable fighers - the F16.
It's a fascinating book.
Always loved dropping that one on 'em at the bar. Watered their eyes.