OODA Loops

Background – OODA loops are an abstract description of the flow involved in conflict cycles, as described by Col. John Boyd of the US Air Force. He developed the theory while flying fighter planes in dog fights, but later generalized it to apply to any form of conflict. OODA stands for Observe, Orient, Decide, Act.

  • Observe – collect information about what is happening around you
  • Orient – make sense of the information you have collected, fit it into a framework that accurately describes the situation
  • Decide – using the situational awareness developed by the first two steps, reach a decision on your next action
  • Act – execute the action plan developed above

This is a somewhat obvious and simple description of conflict cycles, but Boyd put an emphasis on the speed at which both opponents cycle through the steps. In classical aerial dog-fighting, the main goal was to get “inside” your opponents’ loop, meaning to anticipate his next turn and cut off the angle or turn inside him to get a clear shot at him. If you could observe and orient faster than your opponent, you would get more opportunities to shoot and eventually win the fight. The same cycle applies to a defensive position where the primary goal is evasion. If you can twist and turn faster than your opponent can OODA in reaction, you can deny him the opportunity to shoot at you and eventually turn the tables to take an offensive position.

Taken to more abstract levels, this theory can be applied to many different forms of conflict, including information warfare. Hackers can take advantage of target knowledge that includes anticipating how the target will react to certain stimulus and use that to their advantage. They can also use an estimated reaction speed to help make tactical decisions in their planning.

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