Updated version of Boyd’s Aerial Attack Study

Thanks to Rob Pincus, I have found a cleaner copy of Colonel John Boyd’s Aerial Attack Study (AAS). It was recreated by Mr. Mark Hart from the declassified 1964 version. The recreation is much easier on the eyes than the reproductions of the original mimeographed edition that are generally available.

Prior to Colonel Boyd’s AAS, fighter combat was viewed by the majority of fighter pilots as an intuitive skill rather than one that could be codified. Some conceptual principles had been developed along with elementary tactics such as the Thach Weave, but Boyd was the one who wrote the definitive book. Only Major General Frederick “Boots” Blesse had preceded Colonel Boyd in writing a book, No Guts No Glory, about jet fighter combat. Major General Blesse’s book wasn’t the exhaustive treatise on the subject that the AAS was.

The most interesting aspect of Boyd’s AAS is that it is conceptually the exact opposite of how ‘the OODA Loop’ is popularly perceived. Boyd did not posit that we ‘think faster’ than the enemy. Rather, he showed that there were a set of decisions that were made in advance and then a choice of the appropriate decision made in the moment.

It’s well worth reading by everyone who is interested in our Art.

The updated version can be found HERE. Note: the link changed slightly and is now correct.

3 responses

  1. “he showed that there were a set of decisions that were made in advance and then a choice of the appropriate decision made in the moment.”

    Yes! This IMO, is the key to using the Boyd Action Cycle in the design and implementation of personal defensive skill development and training.

    An example of how we use this in the unarmed portion of our curriculum is:

    Observe – He intends to hurt me.
    Orient – There is an unarmed blow coming into my upper zone.
    Decide – There is no decision (unless it is to not act.) The stimulus (identified in orientation) results directly in a default response that we have pre-programmed via training.*
    Act – Action follows directly from orientation since no (or minimal) decision was required.

    The key is minimal time spent in orientation and even less in decision-making. In short hand I write this:

    Orient (-)
    Decide (—)

    Our objective (via training) is for the cycle to become: Observe, Orient (minimal), Act!

    * This is the “decision made in advance” you mentioned. The specific response is carefully selected during the curriculum development stage to be an acceptable response to any attack within that orientation. This is defined by:
    a) Minimizing potential injury to the defender.
    b) Leaving the defender in a better position for the next rotation of cycle (if the attack continues.)
    c) Disruption of the attackers cycle by pain, injury, positioning, and/or an inability to orient.

    The example above is for an unarmed attack/response, the concept is consistent however regardless of the level of force responding to, or with.

  2. Marcus Wynne

    Morning, Claude. As usual, excellent material as to be expected from The Tactical Professor. A few additional comments, if I may, on a drive by posting this early morn:

    One of the insights often buried (but not by you) is that Boyd is describing a perceptual process. In the most recent evolution of understanding and definition in human cognition (and thought up by people much smarter than me, by the way), it looks like this:

    The human cognition process (essentially the brain) is this:

    Sensory data from “outside” the organism (and also “inside” the organism” ——> is filtered through the sensory channels (seeing, feeling, hearing, tasting, proprioception etc) —> the brain either RECOGNIZES patterns or it LEARNS patterns (insight for training here) —-> the brain then makes up a NARRATIVE about the pattern it recognizes or learns and —> shunts it off to appropriate memory (short, long term, etc.) according to the SIGNAL value (essentially the emotional context in which the pattern was originally encoded, recognized, learned, whatever)

    In applying models of cognition to tactical training (in my humble opinion, based on my research, training and experience) I think the place of most value for OODA (or any kind of situational awareness or high stress decision making process) is in the pattern recognition stage. This is where most “classical training” focuses in teaching people patterns of response (recognizing pre-incident cues leading to appropriate positioning, etc). Some insights from research and experience in the field lead me to believe that in the DECISION making process, it’s not only recognition of past patterns that’s essential, but it’s the ability to create instantaneously on the fly NEW patterns that fit the emerging combative situation, by assembling the best parts of OLD patterns based on the emerging NARRATIVE of the combative situation.

    Or so our research and experiences tend to lead us. By the way, Claude, that early research product of my Team you reviewed about two years is ago is finally chugging towards the final peer review process. Academics and academic research is really time consuming, which is why I always bypassed it in favor of the real world classroom test. However, “anecdotal evidence” remains anecdotal as it’s still extremely difficult to replicate the chaos that the highest combat performers thrive in while creating elegant solutions. More on that as we chug along.

    Thanks as always for raising the bar in the field, Claude. It can be a thankless task, LOL.

    Cheers, m

  3. […] (hands and feet). John Boyd examined this relationship in great detail in the Aerial Attack Study. Updated version of Boyd’s Aerial Attack Study At a given range, the pilot of a fighter aircraft would execute previously determined decisions […]

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