Sunday, November 18, 2012

Training - Fastest through “The Loop” Wins


There was a puzzle contained in the tally of air-combat stats during the Korean War that a young Air Force pilot by the name of John Boyd was curious about. Even though the MIG-15 and the F-86 were very similar (though the MIG-15 could turn faster, the F-86 flew faster), the F-86 won 90% of the dogfights. Why?? As he dug into the airframes he noticed one striking difference – the MIG had manual flight controls but the F-86 had hydraulic assisted flight controls. Over the course of the dogfight, the MIG pilot became fatigued much quicker because of his physical input into controlling his aircraft. A fatigued pilot is a dead pilot. The F-86 pilot could simply perform more maneuvers in the same amount of time because the hydraulics greatly reduced the fatigue factor. The MIG pilot was forced to react to the F-86 rather than controlling the engagement allowing F-86 pilots to win 90% of their engagements.

The “mechanics” of the F-86 allowed the pilot to take advantages of a design flaw of the MIG by applying a warriors mindset much more quickly. A warrior – even in the heat of battle – will remain conscious of what is occurring around them. They will continually “dial” this into their “situation” – location, round-count, location of fire, deployment of his comrades, weapons being employed. A warrior will then choose method of battle to fit this new or changed or changing situation. This may be conscious or simply a reaction based on years of combat and training. Finally – a warrior acts, decisively, furiously, with all appropriate force. After his attack (or counter attack) . . . . he will repeat this process again – he will see what’s happening around him, he will what he had to respond, he will pick an appropriate response and he will do it. And he will do this again, and again, and again until he wins the engagement or is carried from the battlefield.

He will Observe his surroundings and the battle. He will Orient these results with his current situation. He will Decide on his next move. And, he will Act.

John Boyd took the spirit of the warrior, the observations of a fighter pilot and the stubbornness of a man possessed of a passion to be the absolute best at his craft and created a battlefield philosophy that has come to be known by its acronym – the O.D.D.A. Loop.

Fine, fine – how the heck does a “warrior’s” response in combat apply to little old me walking down the street with a couple prospective bad guys tagging along a half block behind me?? Let’s spend a bit of time on each element first, that add them to your survival skills.

Observe: Fighter pilots in particular – though virtually any pilot – develop a “swivel neck” very early in their careers. If you don’t see a threat – you die. Simple really. In the early days of dogfight-craft, pilots had open cockpits and silk scarves around their neck to stave off massive chafing from turning their head constantly to scan for threats. Heck even in my days in Vietnam I knew pilots hat had a fondness for something soft around their neck to reduce their wear and tear. The other thing that has stuck around – the “open” cockpit. Obviously today’s pilots aren’t exposed to the force of a Mach-two wind, yet the canopy on virtually all top-end fighters are “bubble” canopies. They provide a maximum viewing area to insure the pilot has the best chance to catch an on-coming threat.

You need to develop a “swivel neck” as well. Put the phone down (get an ear piece instead), keep your eyes up, scan the area around you. Look who is around the cars in the parking lot, or standing in the doorway, or coming toward you down the sidewalk, or sitting in a car on your street . . . . I’m not asking you to be a paranoid freak (well . . . maybe a “little” paranoid), but I am asking you to be observant of your surroundings. Pay attention.

Orient: Orientation is a little simpler for a fighter pilot. A scan of the boards will tell him where he is, what his weapons load is, how much fuel he has and the location of a suspect aircraft or a missile threat or a good guy that needs help. . . . Because if his/her current mission, the focus is much narrower than it is for you walking down the street.

Through your observations you notice what you think is a developing threat. It is time to “orient” yourself. Where are your “exits”, are their friendly areas nearby that you could move towards? Do you have a companion along that you need to share your concerns with? Where are your weapons – knife, flashlight, pepper spray, gun, spare ammunition? What are you wearing – can you run easily or will you need to shuck your shoes if need be? Do you have your kids along? Have you gamed such a situation with them so they know how to react? Will they obey your commands?

Such thoughts are why I use the phrase “you have all the time in the world now” to plan or hit the range or prepare is some other way for this exact instant. Use it.

Decide: For a pilot on a combat mission, the decision to engage and kill an enemy aircraft or enemy tanks or enemy missile platforms or enemy troops can be much easier than you deciding to engage the two suspected bad guys tagging along a half of block behind.

The pilot who overthinks his decision is a dead pilot. If you get stuck in the Observe/Orient cycle and fail to move on you, too could well end up in a Ziploc.

Decide on a specific course of action at that specific instant. Decide to move into a building, between a pair of cars, towards a group of people – make a decision.

Act: MOVE!!!!!!! Act out your decision!

And then . . . . immediately enter “the Loop” again. Perhaps you determine there is nothing to worry about – the threat you saw was simply two buds bar hoppin’. Or perhaps your fears are confirmed and their steps continue to follow yours.

If that is the case, you can move much more quickly to the “Decide” step because much has already been confirmed by their reaction to your first action. This is “getting inside the loop” – you are forcing them to react to you rather than being at their mercy. Act first – make them respond to you – stay focused – remain “aware” of your surroundings.

And, if need be – engage them directly. If you cannot escape to safety, lying to yourself that surely this is not happening will insure you have a very bad day. Engagement is always the option of last resort for you are not a combat pilot on a mission deep in enemy territory. Yet, you HAVE become a warrior. You are well conditioned, you are skilled in the use of your defensive weapons (everything from a tactical pen to a flashlight or the weapon on your hip or in your purse). If your very life – or the life of your spouse or child or friend – in is in mortal danger you are “weapons free”. Act with violence, with overwhelming force, with deadly accuracy.

The fastest through “the loop” wins . . . .

. . . it’s that simple . . . .

It’s better to be quick than to be dead.

Training matters – work on your skills each and every day, without fail.

Oh, if I haven’t said it enough . . . .



  1. And the OODA loop comes into play every day if you aren't in condition white... And hopefully most people aren't! It's also where practice comes in, dry fire, dry draws, etc.

  2. Yep, good points. If people think about just their every day drive, they will see the OODA loop in play for virtually the entire trip. As for dry draws, dry fire etc - again a great place to fine tune and correct things. The OODA loop can tighten the learning curve quite a bit.

    As for condition white - the number of folks I see driving and chatting on the phone here in Iowa amazes me every day. That more folks aren't involved is fender-benders is simply a miracle! Let alone walking down the street oblivious to everything and everyone around them.

    Something about "don't be a sheeple" comes to mind! :)