Highlights from Science, Strategy and War by Frans Osinga

This network is the seat of scientific opinion; it is split into thousands of fragments, held by a multitude of individuals, each of whom endorses the others’ opinion at second hand, by relying on the consensual chains which link him to all the others through a sequence of overlapping neighborhoods.

The practice of science/engineering and the pursuit of technology permit us to continually rematch our mental/physical orientation with that of the changing world so that we can continue to thrive and grow in it.

Analysis means taking something apart to understand it; systems thinking means putting it into the context of the larger whole.

The goal, again, is to survive, and to survive on one’s own terms, or improve one’s capacity for independent action.

Orientation shapes the character of present observations-orientation-decision-action loops – while these present loops shape the character of future orientation.

Enmesh adversary in an amorphous, menacing, and unpredictable world of uncertainty, doubt, mistrust, confusion, disorder, fear, panic, chaos.

Boyd finds fault with the separation of inductive and deductive approaches.

Armed forces are like autopoietic systems, continually making efforts to maintain their distinctive character despite the turbulent environment.

War is like the non-linear clash of two Complex Adaptive Systems.

An armed force is by design a fairly robust system. It is designed to cause change within an opponent’s system and oppose the need to do so itself.

Because an error in response or a slower response will magnify in impact over time through the feedback loops, it is basically only necessary to create an initial advantage and prevent the opponent from compensating for it.

Fortunately, there is a way out. Remember, as previously shown, we can forge a new concept by applying the destructive deduction and creative induction mental operations.

It may be advantageous to possess a variety of responses that can be applied rapidly to gain sustenance, avoid danger and diminish an adversary’s capacity for independent action.

All revolve around maintaining cohesion among one’s own units, creating confusion and disrupting cohesion in the enemy camp.

The defense should have better intelligence, operate faster, be more mobile, move even more inconspicuously.

Diminish adversary’s capacity while improving our capacity to adapt as an organic whole, so that our adversary cannot cope while we can cope with events/efforts as they unfold.

This, combined with shattered cohesion, paralysis, and rapid collapse demonstrated by the existing adversary regime, makes it appear corrupt, incompetent, and unfit to govern.

Consequently, the name of the game becomes one of consciously shaping the opponent’s perception of the pattern of operations unfolding before him, while hiding the real picture.

He who is willing and able to take the initiative to exploit variety, rapidity, and harmony – as basis to create as well as adapt to the more indistinct – more irregular – quicker changes of rhythm and pattern, yet shape focus and direction of effort – survives and dominates.

Get inside adversary observation-orientation-decision-action loops (at all levels) by being more subtle, more indistinct, more irregular, and quicker – yet appear to be otherwise.

The Art of Success Appear to be an unsolvable cryptogram while operating in a directed way to penetrate adversary vulnerabilities and weaknesses in order to isolate him from his allies, pull him apart, and collapse his will to resist; yet Shape or influence events so that we not only magnify our spirit and strength but also influence potential adversaries as well as the uncommitted so that they are drawn toward our philosophy and are empathetic toward our success.

Orientation, seen as a result, represents images, views, or impressions of the world shaped by genetic heritage, cultural tradition, previous experiences, and unfolding circumstances.

Orientation is the Schwerpunkt. It shapes the way we interact with the environment – hence orientation shapes the way we observe, the way we decide, the way we act.

The pay-off is ‘a command and control system, whose secret lies in what’s unstated or not communicated to one another (in an explicit sense) – in order to exploit lower-level initiative yet realize higher-level intent, thereby diminish friction and compress time, hence gain both quickness and security.’

Leadership Implies the art of inspiring people to cooperate and enthusiastically take action toward the achievement of uncommon goals.

Survive, survive on own terms, or improve our capacity for independent action.

That is what strategy is about. It is: ‘a game in which we must be able to diminish an adversary’s ability to communicate or interact with his environment while sustaining or improving ours’

Morally our adversaries isolate themselves [!] when they visibly improve their well being to the detriment of others (allies, the uncommitted), by violating codes of conduct or behavior patterns that they profess to uphold or others expect them to uphold.

Here the expected pay-off is: vitality and growth, with the opportunity to shape and adapt to unfolding events thereby influence the ideas and actions of others.

Put another way, ‘one should preserve or build-up moral authority while compromising that of our adversaries in order to pump-up our resolve, drain away adversaries’ resolve, and attract them as well as others to our cause and way of life’.

The central theme is one of interaction/isolation while the key ideas are the moral-mental-physical means towards realizing this interaction/isolation.

In this sense the practice of science/engineering and the pursuit of technology permit us to continually rematch our mental/physical orientation with that changing world so that we can continue to thrive and grow in it.

Furthermore, novelty is produced continuously, if somewhat erratically or haphazardly. Now, in order to thrive and grow in such a world we must match our thinking and doing, hence our orientation, with that emerging novelty.

Uncertainty associated with the unconfinement, undecidability, incompleteness theorems of mathematics and logic. Numerical imprecision associated with using the rational and irrational numbers in the calculation and measurement processes. Quantum uncertainty associated with Planck’s Constant and Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle. Entropy increase associated with the Second Law of Thermodynamics. Irregular and erratic behavior associated with far from equilibrium open non-linear processes or systems with feedback Incomprehensibility associated with the inability to completely screen, filter, or otherwise consider the spaghetti-like influences from a plethora of ever-changing, erratic, or unknown outside events. Mutations associated with environmental pressure, replication errors, or unknown influences in molecular and evolutionary biology. Ambiguity associated with natural languages as they are used and interact with one another. Novelty generated by the thinking and actions of unique individuals and their many-sided interactions with each other.

The hidden message for his audience is that, if organizations want to survive in a highly dynamic environment, in peace-time as much as in war, they need to embrace uncertainty and novelty.

To that end we must effectively and efficiently orient ourselves; that is, we must quickly and accurately develop mental images, or schema, to help comprehend and cope with the vast array of threatening and non-threatening events we face.

Significantly, whereas the D and A of the OODA loop generally are seen to stand for Decision and Action, in this model Boyd offers his own view on the meaning of both words by tying Decision to Hypothesis and Action to Test.

The OODA loop is much less a model of decision-making than a model of individual and organizational learning and adaptation in which the element of orientation – made up of genetics, experience, culture – plays the dominant role in the game of hypothesis and test, of analysis and synthesis, of destruction and creation.

Boyd instead argues that the aim is to create and perpetuate a highly fluid and menacing state of affairs for the enemy, and to disrupt or incapacitate his ability to adapt to such an environment.

Moreover, Boyd emphasizes the capability to validate the schemata before and during operations and the capability to devise and incorporate new ones, if one is to survive in a rapidly changing environment.

At the strategic level adaptation is more indirect and takes longer time intervals. It revolves around adjusting doctrines and force structures and disorienting the opponent’s orientation patterns, or mental images. At the grand-strategic level it revolves around shaping the political and societal environment, including an attractive ideology, and selecting a form of warfare.

Boyd advocates an agile cellular organization – networked through ideology, experience, trust, aim and orientation pattern – that thrives in uncertainty and fosters innovation, creativity and initiative.

Higher command levels must restrain themselves in their desire to know all that is going on at lower levels and to interfere. Higher commands must shape the ‘decision space’ of subordinate commanders. They must trust and coach. They must encourage cooperation and consultation among lower levels. They must accept bad news and be open for suggestions, lower-level initiatives and critique.

In an abstract sense, Boyd regards these schools of thought as alternative modes of behavior, and the theories as orientation patterns. He regards strategic theories and strategic concepts, like doctrines, as part of the repertoire of a strategist’s orientation pattern, integrating them in the cognitive dimension and in the discovery of fundamental similarities when he strips the theories to their bare essentials and expresses them in systems-theoretical/neo-Darwinist terms.

His very starting premise is that the world is fundamentally uncertain, truth is an arena of combat, knowledge is a weapon, as is the capability to evolve one’s knowledge base.

In the ‘Information domain’ the force must have the ‘capability to collect, share, access, and protect information’, as well as ‘the capability to collaborate in the information domain, which enables a force to improve its information position through processes of correlation, fusion, and analysis’.

Also the reasons for fighting cannot be understood within the nation-state framework: ‘more fundamental is the clash over different conceptions of community and how these conceptions should be reflected in political arrangements and organizations’.

The distinction between combatant and non-combatant is irrelevant. Deliberately ignoring and destroying this distinction is an explicit part of strategy in these conflicts.

Thus, academically they open the possibility of being engaged in a war, employing non-military methods to achieve their aim, while the West would not recognize that it was engaged in one.

Regarding war not as a military but as a political struggle, they focus on the political will of western politicians and polities; exploit their impatience and casualty-sensitivity.

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