But the most reliable test for one’s strategic ideas is history. Or in this case, history in the making. John Boyd’s ideas are evident in three modern day strategic actors and the success they’re currently enjoying is self-evident. Despite the loyalty of his acolytes, the best advocates for Boyd’s ideas are Russia, China, and the Islamic State. Each of these actors, probably without knowing it, are demonstrating Boydian strategic methods. Each of them is using an adroit mix of ambiguity, deception, distribution, and propaganda, all while demonstrating a keen awareness of the moral plane of war and warfare in a way that is serving their ends. To those of us aware of Boyd’s ideas, it comes as no surprise. Everyone else is trying to figure out if there is even a war.
Western militaries built on industrial-era ideas are even inventing the Human Domain to remind them that we are humans. Wherever you come down on whether or not war is a thing, at the very least there is strategic competition and the preparation thereof. In fact, there are three major strategic competitions occurring simultaneously, and each of them exhibit strong Boydian characteristics.
Those characteristics are these. The first is ambiguity. Boyd stressed the need to act in such a way that your opponent can never really be sure exactly what it is you’re doing. Ambiguity is leavened by a healthy dose of deception. Secondly, in each case dispersion is used to increase ambiguity and deception. Even Russia has spread military units out in its eastern territory to distract. This is a violation of the classic principle of mass that US doctrine adheres to so closely. Lastly, the actions taken by these actors are aimed at achieving a mental or moral effect. While the OODA loop is a jumping off point, the essence of Boyd’s ideas is an inversion of an idea originating with Clausewitz: While the Prussian focused on overcoming friction, Boyd focused on increasing the opponent’s friction and thus using it as a weapon.