Episode 7: Beyond the OODA Loop: John Boyd’s Theory of Victory

Air Commodore Professor Frans Osinga discusses the military strategist, John Boyd, and the impact of the Observe, Orient, Decide, Act (OODA) Loop.

We are joined by Professor Frans Osinga, originally a fighter pilot, who is an Air Commodore in the Royal Netherlands Air Force and Professor of Military Operational Sciences at the Netherlands Defence Academy, as well as Professor of War Studies at Leiden University. Osinga has written the authoritative biography of John Boyd, Science, Strategy and War: The Strategic Theory of John Boyd, which has sold 15,000 copies since its publication in 2007.

Professor Osinga explains how Boyd took a view of war as a battle between two complex systems in which one side seeks to isolate the other and deny their ability to react. At a tactical level, this gives rise to the OODA loop – for which Boyd is most known – that allowed pilots to think about how to get into the decision-making loop of a hostile pilot with whom one was engaged in a dogfight.

The OODA Loop is an analytical tool of identifying a decision-making cycle – starting with observation, moving on to orientation, then to decision, then to action, to return to observation of what has been achieved by action and what now has to be done. It has also been used as an approach in many other domains on how to outsmart an adversary, by manipulating the opponent’s organisational cohesion, the state, the trust between the state and its population, and the cohesion between units prior to actually starting the kinetic parts of war.

Further Reading

Frans Osinga, Science, Strategy and War: the Strategic Thought of John Boyd, Routledge, 2007.

Frans Osinga, ‘Getting. A Discourse on Winning and Losing: A Primer on Boyd’s ‘Theory of Intellectual Evolution’, Contemporary Security Policy, 34(3), 2013.

Martin van Crefeld, Command in War, Harvard University Press, 1987.


Paul O’Neill

Director, Military Sciences

Military Sciences

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Beatrice Heuser

Senior Associate Fellow

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