Flying the OODA Loop into the Next Election – Part 1


USAF Major John Boyd
USAF Major John Boyd, Image: USAF

This is part one of a five-part series exploring the tactical planning the Republican party should be doing going into the next two elections.

This series will employ a tool called the OODA loop to analyze the competitive position of the Republican party. The tool is one methodology to manage an enemy engagement to achieve ultimate success.

Air Force Col. John Boyd developed the OODA loop to train pilots in arial combat. Col. Boyd became known as “40 second” Boyd. With use of the tool, he could get into firing position on any opponent in 40 seconds or less.

While developed for combat operations, the OODA loop has been adapted for use in numerous other fields such as business competition, and legal litigation. It can be applied to any competition – even an election. In this article the OODA loop will be used to assess the relative positions of Republicans and Democrats and explore ways to exploit weaknesses in the tactics being employed by the Democrats.

OODA stands for:

  • Observe – Understand the field of play and any changes that have occurred after current actions
  • Orient – Assess what our opponent is doing and how we can best affect the ongoing contest given environmental conditions and relative strengths and weaknesses
  • Decide – Pick an action among available alternatives
  • Act – Perform the action and then repeat the cycle

The “observe” stage of the loop calls for observations of the state of play. Even before the practitioner engages, he is to observe conditions in the field. Know the terrain before the battle as it were. For a political analysis, this will involve understanding the American people. What are their issues? What are they happy or unhappy about? Politicians too often fail to listen to the electorate in their planning. The key to this phase of the loop is to not make that mistake.

The “orient” stage of the loop calls for assessing what one’s opponent is doing and how they have reacted to changing conditions on the field. For our purposes we need to understand what the Democrats are doing – and just as importantly, have they made any adjustments due to the changing mood or priorities of the electorate. As we continue to cycle through the loop, we’ll also observe if the Democrats have made any tactical changes in response to Republican actions. Are they a quick, dynamic organization? Or have they picked a plan and are sticking to it? Are the Dems responsive, or are they “stuck on stupid.” If they are locked into their plan, and I believe they are, they are vulnerable to a dynamic opponent.

The “decide” stage of the loop calls for the practitioner to consider possible actions to counter whatever his opponent is doing. Based upon the mood of the electorate, relative strengths and weaknesses, and the actions the Democrats have taken, do the Dems have any vulnerabilities which can be exploited. Every opponent has vulnerabilities. As this series will show, the Democrats project a formidable image, but in fact have many tactical weaknesses. The Republicans need to identify actions to exploit those weaknesses.

In the “act” portion of the cycle, the practitioner simply executes those actions identified in the “decide” phase. But that is not the end of it. It’s called a loop for a reason. After acting, the practitioner goes back to the beginning and does it all over again. It’s really, take an action, see how conditions on the field change, how the opponent reacted, plan some more actions, and act again. The loop continues until the contest is over.

The goal is to cycle through the loop as fast as possible. If the practitioner is able to cycle through the loop faster than his opponents, he can get inside their reaction time. At that point, the opponent is at the aggressor’s mercy – constantly reacting to his initiative – and never achieving the initiative themselves. The opposition’s defeat become inevitable.

As applied to an election, the loop provides a framework to guide the analysis and planning needed to out maneuver the opposing party. The cycle tempo will be much slower than that of combat, but ensures the discipline to constantly monitor changing conditions and respond accordingly.

Part 2 of this series will take a deep dive into the “observe” stage of the loop.

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