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Boyd: The Fighter Pilot Who Changed the Art of War
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203 of 208 people found the following review helpful
Format: HardcoverVerified Purchase
In forty years of adult reading, thousands of books, hundreds of biographies, I have not in my lifetime found a better integration of subject, sources, and scholarship. This book will make anyone laugh, cry, and think. There is a deep spirit in this book, and knowing a little about all of this, I was quite simply stunned by the labor of love this book represents. The author's skill and devotion to "getting it right" is breathtakingly evident across the book. His sources, both those close to the subject and those more distant, have been exhaustively interviewed and the quality of this book is a direct reflection of some of the most serious "homework" I have ever been privileged to read.
On the theory of war, on the original contributions of John Boyd, the book renders a huge service to all military professionals by dramatically expanding what can be known and understood about the Energy-Maneuverability Theory and the nuances of the OODA Loop (Observe-Orient-Decide-Act--for the real Tigers, Observe-od-Act--a faster loop). Two things stuck out, apart from the heroic manner in which Boyd pursued the intellectual side of combat aviation: first, Boyd consistently had his priorities right: people first, ideas second, hardware last--this is the opposite of the existing Pentagon priorities; and second, truth matters--the book has some extraordinary examples of how both the Air Force and the Army falsified numbers, with disastrous results, while also selecting numbers (e.g. choosing to list an aircraft's weight without fuel or missiles, rather than fully loaded, a distortion that will kill aviators later when the aircraft fails under stress).
On the practical side, the insights into Pentagon (and specifically Air Force) careerism and corruption, as well as contractor corruption and cheating of the government, are detailed and disturbing. There have been other books on this topic, but in the context of Boyd's heroic endeavors as an individual, this book can be regarded as an excellent case study of the pathology of bureaucracy--the Air Force regarding the Navy, for example, as a greater threat to its survival than the Russians. Especially troubling--but clearly truthful and vital to an understanding of why the taxpayer is being cheated by the government bureaucracy, were all the details on the mediocrity and mendacity of Wright-Patterson laboratories and organizations nominally responsible for designing the best possible aircraft. The same thing happens in other bureaucracies (e.g. the Navy architects refusing to endorse the landing craft ideas of Andrew Higgins, who ultimately helped win World War II), but in this instance, the author excels at documenting the horrible--really really horrible--manner in which the Pentagon's obsession with building monstrous systems that increase budgets has in fact resulted in fewer less capable aircraft. The book is a case study in corrupt and ill-considered (mindless) gold-plating and mission betrayal.
As a tiny but extremely interesting sidenote, the book provides helpful insights into the failure of the $2.5 billion "McNamara Line," a whiz-kid lay-down of sensors in Viet-Nam that Boyd finally ended up terminating.
On a personal level, the author treats Boyd's family life, and his neglect of his family, in objective but considerate terms; the author is also quite effective in identifying and addressing those instances in Boyd's professional life when his fighter-pilot embellishments might be construed by lesser mortals to be falsehoods. There are three sets of heroes in this book, apart from the subject: the ranking officers, including a number of generals, who protected Boyd against the corrupt careerists--there *are* good officers at the top; the enlisted and officer personnel that carried on in the face of poor leadership, mediocre aircraft, and daunting external challenges; and finally, the "Acolytes," the six specific individuals (Tom Christie, Pierre Sprey, Ray Leopold, Chuck Spinney, Jim Burton, and Mike Wyly), each of whom endured what they call "the pain" to nurture John Boyd and his ideas. I found the author's dissection and articulation of the personal relationships and sacrifices to be quite good and a most important part of the larger story.
Finally, a few tributes en passant. The author does a great job of showing how Boyd ultimately was adopted by the U.S. Marine Corps rather than the U.S. Air Force, and how his ideas have spawned the 4th Generation and Asymmetric Warfare theories, for which the Pentagon does not yet have an adequate appreciation. The mentions in passing of two of my own personal heroes, Mr. Bill Lind and Col G. I. Wilson of the U.S. Marine Corps, and the due regard to the roles played by Dr. Grant Hammond of the Air War College and Mr. James Fallows of the Atlantic Monthly, add grace and completion to the story.
This book is moving--if you care about America, the military, and keeping our children safe into the future, it *will* move you to tears of both laughter and pain.
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71 of 75 people found the following review helpful
on September 1, 2004
Format: Paperback
This book surpassed my expectations, I have a few quibbles with it, but nothing to lower it from a fully deserved 5 stars.

John Boyd was apparently an arrogant, stubborn, and brilliant man. I'm not sure I would want to work for him or with him, and I certainly would not want to be one of his children, but America needs more like him.

Boyd struck me as a real life version of The Fountainhead's Howard Roark. I found his example to be inspirational. The explanation of his "To be or to do" speech is worth reading the entire book, and in his life he personified the message of this speech.

Strictly speaking Colonel Boyd wanted "to do" something for America and the Air Force, and chose to make sacrifices, endured much abuse, and repeatedly jeopardized his career with that goal in mind. He purposely chose "to do" something, rather than "to be" somebody, which he defined as one who gives up his integrity to get ahead in the system. This insight is one that applies not only to the military but to any organization. It is the fundamental choice that everyone has to make, and hearing of his successes against the system has encouraged me to follow his example, if only in some small measure.

Everyone in business, the government, or the military should read this book.
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130 of 144 people found the following review helpful
on January 3, 2003
Format: Hardcover
When I returned from Vietnam in 1969 to Luke AFB, AZ my Commander was Lt Col Doral Connor who had roomed with John Boyd during a tour in Korea, I believe. He told how his roommate would sit in his room working for hours on mathematical calculations involving air-to-air engagements. Col Connor was a tactical weapons controller, as was I, and had a good understanding of what Boyd was trying to accomplish. My next involvement with Boyd's work on Energy Maneuverability (EM) was when I attended the Air National Guard (ANG) Fighter Weapons School (FWS) at Tucson, AZ, and also when Steve Hepburn and I served as the principal radar weapons controllers for the F-15 Operational Test & Evaluation. It was during that period that I was sent TDY to Nellis AFB to become certified as an Aggressor Controller with the 64th. Based upon this background, and after reading Bob Coram's book, "Boyd" I can say the first half of the book is both very accurate and extremely well done. And If I had never gone to Air Force Project Checkmate in 1978 where I worked for 8 years I could give Coram's work nothing but a rave review. Unfortunately, that's not the case. Things are not always what they seem, and this book clearly overlooks several important points when it comes to the Reformists, including Boyd. Anyone going back and reading the material released by the Reformist at the time would see that they were against the whole concept of complex technology. The same technology that permitted striking results during Desert Storm and numerous other lesser engagements. Boyd's single focus on air-to-air overlooked the importance of accuracy during air-to-ground. For example, those hard points on the F-16 and the avionics added weight, which Boyd and the Reformists fought. And if the Reformists would of had their way there still would never have been an F-15E Strike Eagle. And that's not to mention the extensive criticism at the time of the M-1 Abrahms tank. They claimed it would never operate in the desert...which it did with exemplary results. Coram also was led astray on several other points. An example, one of many, is why a TAC General insisted on painting the back of all traffic signs Creech Brown. Did you ever wonder what kind of reflection one gets off of silver aluminum at night when you're trying to tone-down a base's signature? I also take issue with whoever told Coram that Checkmate (it's not Check Mate) quickly devolved into little more than a stage play. I would be interested to know his source of what we did since none of his sources ever served in Checkmate. Especially in light of a substantial body of very original work on the European Central Region as well as Southwest Asia. Exactly where does Coram think those briefings came from, if not extensive analysis. For example, Checkmate was award recognition by the Air Force Association for the idea of the Rapid Deployment Joint Task Force (RDJTF) which was the fore-runner to CENTCOM. Checkmate, under the leadership of Col Joe Redden (later Lt Gen), was also the location of the 31 Joint Initiatives. As close as Coram comes to a Checkmate source is that he lists Barry Watt's, "Foundations of U.S. Air Doctrine", and Barry was the Red Team Chief. Finally it is unforgiveable to not have one word about Moody Suter in the book who was the father of Red Flag and the Warrior Prep Center in Germany and worked closely with a number of these folks. Moody and I occasionally went to the Fort Myer gatherings and to leave out his contributions which were equal, if not more, important to the Air Power in the 1970s & 1980s is unbelievable. Especially since there were similarities between Suter and Boyd. Moody used to say when her retired as an O-6 that it was the zenith of a mediocre career.
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59 of 65 people found the following review helpful
Format: Hardcover
Robert Corum has done a masterly job in writing and telling a true to life story of what the United States culturally says it admires in people-intelligence, hard work and truth! The story of John Boyd should be read by as many people as possible, beginning with those aspiring to be leaders in both the military and civilian sectors. Boyd: The Fighter Pilot Who Changed The Art of War will begin a national renaissance in truth telling and seeking responsibility to stem the tide against our great nation becoming a 4th Century Rome.
In reality, as Corum points out in page after page, the culture does not hold those like Boyd as the epitome of honor and selfless service. Instead, he retired a colonel (despite an incredible contribution to Air Force Fighter aviation and the theories of the art of war) and his family in poverty. But Boyd's greatest achievement of riches came not in the form of tangibles known greedily as money and property, but in the intangibles he achieved, a devoted following-the "Acolytes"-from talented men who are the true defenders of the Constitution; and who in the pursuit of truth, attempt to force the military establishment to provide our servicemen the leaders, doctrine and equipment they need to do their mission. Boyd set the heroic example for others to emulate as they desire to call themselves professionals against the tide of dishonesty; against those who are the worse when they say they speak of truth, yet practice something mendacious in promoting themselves.
In light of the great popularity that the defense establishment now holds in the eyes of a novice and ignorant public, this book is a warning, maybe belatedly late one at that, given the timing of the war with Iraq. Corum's story of Boyd subtly warns that the current defense establishment, tied to the behemoth Industrial-military-congressional complex, is a corrupt institution. It is not corrupt in terms of South American politicians or the Chicago crime family's hold on politicians-the taking of money behind the scenes-but in that it subtly says one thing, yet practices something very different. While its leadership manuals, colorful posters and fancy power point presentations tout words of character, moral courage, autonomy and trust, in reality the military culture punishes those who live by what is written and desired. And in the end, as Corum highlights, it is about money-more money for more advanced weapons systems. The real wars that the Services want talented people for are fought inside the Beltway, not on the battlefield.
Corum presents Boyd's struggles-both with himself and the culture he sought to perfect-in page after page of this wonderful book. Boyd's competitive drive achieved much, as we are now seeing as people write of the exploits of the "Mad Colonel." Boyd was an officer, who despite his luminosity in flying, his winning of top science and engineering awards for his "Energy-Maneuverability Theory," was passed over for general because he did not possess the right social skills-or as Corum put it, "He [Boyd] had not yet acquired subtlety and bureaucratic skills"-but more critical, refused to play the game when it contrasted with what was right. This is a horrible precedent for an organization, particularly a military one, to set for its younger generations of leaders-tell the truth at your own peril-that must constantly give accurate reports in the face of a type of warfare that demands accurate situational reports.
Robert Corum has done our nation a great service in telling the story of not only Colonel John Boyd, but those around him who devoted their lives in doing what is right. Hopefully this book will infect many others who as Boyd did when he said, "...one day you will take a fork in the road, and you're going to have to make a decision about which direction you want to go. If you go that way you can be somebody. You will have to make compromises and you will have to turn your back on your friends. But you will be a member of the club and you will get promoted and get good assignments. Or you can go that way and you can do something -something for your country and for your Air Force and for yourself." Most importantly Boyd would close, "If you decide to do something, you may not get promoted and you may not get good assignments and you certainly will not be a favorite of your superiors. But you won't have to compromise yourself." "To be somebody or to do something. In life there is often a roll call. That's when you have to make a decision. To be or to do? Which way will you go?"
As Corum points out, unfortunately, too many have picked the former, and unfortunately for our country, has gave us a military that spends more than the next 21 opponents, "the 21 Power standard," and when it does fight, only wins indecisively.
Donald E. Vandergriff is the editor of Spirit, Blood and Treasure: The American Cost of Battle in the 21st Century, and the author of Path to Victory: America's Army and the Revolution in Human Affairs.
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25 of 26 people found the following review helpful
on May 24, 2005
Format: Paperback
First, let me say that this is truly a biography of John Boyd, so don't expect it to reveal absolutely every detail about his E-M or OODA loop theories, not to mention the further refinements that have followed. At the same time, I think that you definitely get an interesting insight into the absolutely profound effect that someone can have by sheer force of personality and determination, even when to an outside observer they may appear to have led an relatively unremarkable life. John Boyd never led armies into battle or devised grand campaigns. But it would be hard to point to a single person more responsible for developing the tactical and strategic theories of war that have brought about America's fin-de-siecle military dominance.

This book will give the casual enthusiast (ok, an oxymoron) a great background in the sorts of transformations that have taken place in American warfighting doctrine. In particular, if you are interested in seeing a sliver (and a quite fascinating one at that) of what happened to transform a wrong-headed Vietnam-era military mindset into the mind-bogglingly dominant fighting force of the late-80s to present, this is a great background read. A good portion of Boyd's time at the Pentagon spanned this tranformative era, and he played no small role in actually making that transformation happen.

I've got to say that this biography really serves to remind us that it still takes individual persons with the intellect, will and determination to *make* change happen in order to make history. No matter how big the institution, revolutionary ideas still come from critical individuals.

Even if you are more interested in the theories, strategies and tactics than in the details of an individual's life, I'd say that this book gives an excellent entree into what happened to the US military during its transformative years, and gives you one story, one limited window, on how it took a generation of officers who came up through all of the mistakes of the past to push for change. Not to mention that it's a great story to boot.
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29 of 31 people found the following review helpful
on January 3, 2003
Format: Hardcover
"Boyd" is the kind of biography that ought to be written more often. Wonderful stories and a great message unfold as Robert Coram's readable and well-written book builds a convincing case: that Americans owe a lot to a man few of them have ever heard of -- John Boyd.
At one level, "Boyd" is a splendid yarn. So much so that one could make perhaps six movies from its stories. Call them, based on real-life characters in the book, "The Ron Catton Story", "The Jim Burton Story", "Hiding the Plane", and so on.
It's also a fascinating study of man versus organization. Boyd often dealt with a military version of "Dilbert" cartoons - petty and self-destructive activities carried on stodgy bureaucracies. Against this, he was masterful. He could make water run uphill, and it is a delight to read how he did it. Sometimes he worked with sympathizers in high places (including at least two Secretaries of Defense) and sometimes he just focused a group of like-minded people deep in the bureaucracy on a goal. Boyd used bluster and reason, idealism and guile, courage and fear. He persuaded fighter pilots around the world to change their tactics. He forced the Air Force to build planes that pilots and soldiers needed rather than those that contractors and Congressmen wanted. He quite literally rewrote the book on how the Marine Corps fights. He transformed the Gulf War strategy. And he did it all with a selfless and often hilarious personal style, mostly as an obscure, retired Air Force colonel, working a few days a week as a civilian at the Pentagon. He sought neither riches nor recognition.
He was, in sum, a consummate partiot -- and an effective one.
I think the book has two messages, one that Coram intends and one that he may not be aware of. He shows us, through Boyd, how to make bureaucracies perform unnatural acts. Like taking care of the people at the bottom of the organization charts, defeating truly bad ideas even when they are backed by the strong-arm tactics of the well-connected, operating at a rapid tempo, and successfully innovating.

The book's other message comes from the last twenty years of Boyd's life, and from his study of "winning and losing". Although it may seem far-fetched at first, this study has much to offer to skeptics of war, even pacifists. Boyd believed, with Sun Tzu, that the greatest military commander was the one who could get the other side to lay down its arms without a fight. In his day-long briefings that spanned thousands of years of military history, Boyd rubbed his audiences' noses in the stupidity and waste of military engagements like the World War I "Battles of the Somme" that sent thousands to needless deaths. He hammered home example after example of smart military commanders who succeeded while minimizing or even eliminating casualties. If he wanted to disparage a strategy, Boyd often referred to it sarcastically as "bombing Schweinfurt" - a reference to the World War II "carpet bombing" campaigns that he despised. Boyd was no Gandhi, to be sure. He was one of the toughest warriors the Air Force ever produced, as the book makes plain. But his relentless focus on prevailing in a world of uncertainty, "attracting the uncommited" and especially, "isolating adversaries" led him more and more toward rapidity, precision and nuturing deeply shared values.
Mental agility outwits brute force every time, Boyd emphasized. More than that: operating at the "moral" level of belief and principled persuasion can be the key to ultimate success. Boyd argued not for the "ridge lines" of the traditional field commander, but for the "high moral ground" of the genuine leader. He argued for the power of integrity and honor -- the MILITARY power.
If a shooting war did come, Boyd wanted to win, but he wanted to do so swiftly, with minimal casualties and damage. There are probably thousands of American (and British and Kuwati and, yes, Iraqi) soldiers alive today who would have been killed in the Gulf War, had Boyd not decisively influenced its strategy.
Perhaps some may feel that an approach like Boyd's makes war more possible because it strives for fewer deaths and less destruction. But Boyd anticipated this. He allowed his studies to be freely and widely disseminated. So anyone contemplating a war using Boyd's principles must calculate that these very same ideas could be in the hands of the adversary.
Coram's book offers us a lot to think about these days.
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125 of 148 people found the following review helpful
on September 21, 2003
Format: Hardcover
I don't remember the last time I was this disappointed in a book. I have 2500+ hours of jet time in the USAF, and about 200 hours of combat time. This book starts out strong, but it has some huge holes in out. Boyd was, obviously, a genius. However, the book makes it sound like he was never wrong about anything. Coram goes out of his way to defend every single idea Boyd ever had, to the point of absurdity. First, he excoriates the Grumman F-14 and the General Dynamics F-111 as awful fighters--"engineering mistakes". This is patently absurd. The F-14 was designed as an interceptor--lugging large missiles (the Phoenix) and a large radar great distances from the carrier battle group to shoot down non-manuevering Soviet bombers and their cruise missiles before they could target the carrier. It was never meant to be a dogfighter. Taking the F-111 to task for not being able to dogfight is even more ridiculous--it was designed from the outset as a bomber, period. Saying that the F-111 is worthless because it can't dogfight is like saying the B-17 of WWII was worthless because it couldn't hold its own against the Messerschmitts.
Then there is the continuing diatribe against the B-1, with some utterly false accusations, such as its inability to fly over mountain ranges with a full bomb load. Hmm, it seemed to do fine over the extremely high mountains of Afghanistan. Then it says it can't reach altitudes flown by commercial airliners. That is true, but that is also true of every other combat loaded aircraft in the inventory. The stuff about the wind turbulence in the aft bay preventing "carpet bombing" is nonsense--the B-1 routinely dropped full loads of Mk-82s over Kosovo and Serbia during Operation Allied Force. He also trots out the tired "fact" that the B-1 didn't participate in Dersert Storm--again, true, but only due to the fact that it wasn't fully qualified for conventional munitions. Of course, the decision (pre-Operation Enduring Freedom) to retire 30 B-1s is seen as "proof" of Boyd's rightness. Coram conveniently leaves out the B-1s outstanding contributions during operations of Afghanistan. More recently, the B-1 performed magnificently over the skies of Iraq, going downtown Baghdad on a routine basis.
Then there are the contradictions. Coram gives Boyd credit for the F-15 and F-16 on the cover flap and at the end, but in the middle of the book we learn that those airplanes are not what Boyd wanted--he wanted light, day fighters armed with little in the way of radars or missiles. The excellent manueverability of both aircraft are due to Boyd--the reason they are the excellent fighters they are today has nothing to do with him. The F-15 is supreme because of its excellent radar and missiles. Between the F-15 and the F-16, neither has ever scored a guns kill in combat, and most of the missile kills have been with the AIM-7 Sparrow or the AIM-120 AMRAAM, with only a few AIM-9 Sidewinder kills. Boyd was brilliant in many ways, but he didn't foresee the technological revolution that would finally make radar and missiles come to the forefront. If the USAF had listened to Boyd, and not "gold-plated" the F-15, the Gulf War victory (for which he is given credit) would have turned out very differently.
Of course, there is also the attack on the USAF for not thinking originally about air power. This is again, ridiculous. The fury of the air assault on Iraq in Desert Storm, largely due to some very creative thinking on the part of Col John Warden and his staff at Checkmate, was the reason for the 100-hour ground war.
Of course, if there actually had been "meticulous research" by Coram as claimed in another review, we would have found these things out. Instead, it seems that the "research" mainly consisted of believing everything Boyd or his allies ever said, and not bothering to find out if perhaps there was a dissenting viewpoint. All in all, a huge disappointment of a book. If you know little about airpower, you may enjoy it. If you have a clue about airpower, forget it.
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19 of 20 people found the following review helpful
on November 30, 2002
Format: HardcoverVerified Purchase
I bought this book to find out more about OODA Loops from a business point of view. What I found was a very interesting, tragic, yet successful character in Colonel John Boyd. Besides being a colorful character, he developed military tactics and strategies that profoundly effected the Air Force and the Marines directly. He started by defining what was required for a successful fighter jet. Then he had to fight the bureaucracy and bomber-pilot generals. Along the way he developed an overall military strategy.
What was very interesting to me was the illustration of the in-fighting that goes on in the Air Force (and all services) over the development of new aircraft (weapons). The discussion of the development of the F-15 and the B-1 bomber were most illuminating. Boyd was instrumental in the development of the F-16 fighter jet.
Although this book is not devoted to OODA Loops, the author does cover it in more detail than I understood when I bought it. The author provides the complete text of one of Boyd's important papers in the back of the book. This was great.
I highly recommend this book if you are interested in military strategy, OODA Loops, Colonel John Boyd, defense procurement, and fighter jets... but because of the heavy swearing by the characters don't loan it to your wife. The story was exciting and easy to read.
John Dunbar
Sugar Land, TX
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18 of 19 people found the following review helpful
on February 25, 2006
Format: Paperback
Robert Coram's "Boyd - The Fighter Pilot Who Changed the Art of War," is a great read about Colonel John Boyd (U.S.A.F), the man many consider the greatest military strategist since Sun Tzu. Coram paints the picture of a larger-than-life man who had a "damn the torpedoes" attitude toward everything bureaucratic and wrong about the military. His inability to temper opinions in front of higher ranking officers and the military establishment in general undoubtedly severely limited his career. At the same time the breadth of his contribution toward military thinking and the defense of the United States is astounding.

John Boyd is arguably the best fighter pilot in American history. In the 1950s he earned the nickname "Forty Second Boyd" at Nellis air force base where as instructor he defeated all comers in simulated air to air combat in forty seconds or less. His abilities as a fighter pilot gave him unique insight into the full potential and glaring weaknesses of the fighter jets he flew.

Boyd made an unheard of transition, from fighter jock to scientist and engineer. During this transition Boyd published an article called the "Aerial Attack Study" that quantified air to air combat in terms never put on paper before - this represented a first step in changing fighter combat from a pure "gut feel" practice to a science that could be learned. He went on to totally revolutionize the field with the development of "Energy-Maneuverability Theory."

"The E-M Theory, at its simplest, is a method to determine the specific energy rate of an aircraft. This is what every fighter pilot wants to know. If I am at 30,000 feet and 450 knots and pull six Gs, how fast am I gaining or losing energy? Can my adversary gain or lose energy faster than I can? In an equation, specific energy rate is denoted by "Ps" (pronounced "p sub s"). The state of any aircraft in any flight regime can be defined with Boyd's simple equation: Ps = [(T-D)/W]V, or thrust minus drag over weight, multiplied by velocity. This is the core of E-M." p.147-148.

From this simple equation Boyd was able to determine the performance metrics of both U.S. aircraft in use and Soviet MIGs, and their relative strengths and weaknesses.

To a civilian, reading "Boyd" is an eye opener into the ways the United States military approaches defending our country. Movies like "Top Gun" might give the impression that skilled fighter pilots have been a celebrated and highly valued part of America's defense. Surprisingly, in the halls of the Pentagon nothing was further from the truth. The various military services, and the Air Force in particular followed a philosophy of interdiction that led to a "bigger, faster, farther" mindset when it came to aircraft and weapon system design.

Boyd, with the help of his "acolytes," six men who with Boyd became known as "the Reformers," was able to beat back the "bluesuiter" careerists at the Pentagon to radically influence multiple new plane programs. This included the F-15, the F-16, and the A10 "Warthog." The F-16, known as the "light fighter" was a plane that no one in the Pentagon wanted and one that Boyd effectively shoved down their throat (with good reason). Based on E-M theory a lighter fighter has far more ability to lose and then regain energy, making it a far more maneuverable, and deadly weapon. This was in direct opposition to the Air Force's theory of "push button, let missals do the rest" warfare.

And that, as they say, is where Boyd's career gets truly interesting. After making internal enemies throughout the Pentagon (mostly through his hard charging, disrespectful attitude toward incompetence and careerism, and of course direct opposition to status quo thinking) Boyd retired as a full Colonel in 1975. From there he spent the next 15 plus years working as a consultant to the military virtually for free (Pentagon rules forced him to get paid something, so he accepted one day of pay every two weeks). During this period of his life Boyd became a true scholar. As Coram describes it Boyd, interested in how he initially discovered E-M delved into works from all disciplines, eventually publishing a work entitled "Destruction and Creation."

Boyd continued to have massive, though unofficial influence at the Pentagon. Through mentoring and support of his "acolytes," and through a briefing entitled "Patterns of Conflict" that he delivered hundreds of times, Boyd began shaping the thinking on how the United States should fight wars. A favorite of few generals, Boyd's thinking found traction with those open to new ways of fighting, including back-channel relations with multiple high level people such as the Secretary of Defense.

Through the "Patterns" briefing, Boyd's developments, including the OODA Loop found their supporters. Ironically, it was the Marines, not the Air Force that primarily adopted Boyd's thinking. One of the Acolytes, Mike Wyly had fought in Vietnam and recognized the error of "straight up the middle" attrition warfare practiced by the U.S. Military. Wyly was in a position to influence Marine combat training using Boyd theories (though he experienced the same resistance that eventually ended his Marine Corps career).

Boyd's most impressive accomplishment is the performance of the Marine Corps in the Gulf war. U.S. strategy in that war, with the support of Secretary of Defense Dick Cheney and General Colin Powell was unquestionably influenced by Boyd and his work:

"What is still not generally known to the public is just how well the Marines performed in the Gulf.... Three days before war officially began, Myatt's (General Mike Myatt) men raided deep behind Iraqi lines. They bypassed strong points, forgot their flanks, and penetrated so deeply and caused such confusion that the Iraqi Army rushed in reinforcements against what they anticipated would be the main thrust of the American invasion. Then they began surrendering by the thousands. Nowhere can be found a better example of Boyd's ideas on "folding the enemy in on himself" than in the fact that some fifteen Iraqi divisions surrendered to two visions of Marines." p.424-425

Today, a wide school of thought in both military and business strategy is based on Boyd's work. Web sites such as [...] and [...] showcase Boyd's ideas, as well as hundreds of articles and books. "Boyd," is a great read about someone who is clearly an American hero.
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20 of 22 people found the following review helpful
on November 24, 2002
Format: Hardcover
Mr. Coram's book deserves a look for several reasons. The first is that it is well written and researched. Unlike a number of policy-oriented biographies, this one does not require massive amounts of caffeine to read. The pages turn almost of their own will, as Coram tells the story of Boyd's exploits in combat and the halls of Pentagon.
The second reason to select Mr. Coram's book is Colonel Boyd himself. Few thinkers have influenced American military strategy -- indeed decisional science for all disciplines -- as Colonel Boyd has. "OODA" remains the theory for which he is best known, though it was not his biggest theory in lifetime. OODA stands for "observe, orient, decide, act". Colonel Boyd originally developed this theory for describing how fighter pilots' minds work in the heat of combat, and why American fighter pilots seemed to beat their adversaries (their planes were more maneuverable and they had more training, among other reasons). However, Colonel Boyd's theory grew to encompass much more than than single-pilot combat. It has become a general framework for looking at decisionmaking in any competitive environment -- from combat to corporate America. The competitor who has the shortest OODA loop -- who can act the fastest -- wins. This theory was quite revolutionary for its time, because it threatened the entire bureaucratic system of the U.S. military and its relevance to warfighting.
The third reason for reading this book is its relevance to our current war on terrorism. As a small terrorist network, Al Qaeda has a small OODA loop in comparison to the White House and Pentagon. It is able to exploit vulnerabilties faster than the U.S. bureaucracy can react to them. Al Qaeda can even develop capabilities faster than the Pentagon can identify them and develop counter-measures. The net result is a war of OODA loops, where America remains vulnerable because its adversaries can adapt/innovate faster than we can. If Boyd were alive today, he would point this out to the leaders in the Pentagon as the single largest American vulnerability. This is perhaps the most compelling reason to read this book. Colonel Boyd's theories provide a useful framework for understanding the relationship between organizations and action, and illuminate precisely why American defense organizations have been unable to act decisively against terrorism.
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