John Boyd may be the most remarkable unsung hero in all of American military history. Some remember him as the greatest U.S. fighter pilot ever -- the man who, in simulated air-to-air combat, defeated every challenger in less than forty seconds. Some recall him as the father of our country's most legendary fighter aircraft -- the F-15 and F-16. Still others think of Boyd as the most influential military theorist since Sun Tzu. They know only half the story. Boyd, more than any other person, saved fighter aviation from the predations of the Strategic Air Command. His manual of fighter tactics changed the way every air force in the world flies and fights. He discovered a physical theory that forever altered the way fighter planes were designed. Later in life, he developed a theory of military strategy that has been adopted throughout the world and even applied to business models for maximizing efficiency. And in one of the most startling and unknown stories of modern military history, the Air Force fighter pilot taught the U.S. Marine Corps how to fight war on the ground. His ideas led to America's swift and decisive victory in the Gulf War and foretold the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. On a personal level, Boyd rarely met a general he couldn't offend. He was loud, abrasive, and profane. A man of daring, ferocious passion and intractable stubbornness, he was that most American of heroes -- a rebel who cared not for his reputation or fortune but for his country. He was a true patriot, a man who made a career of challenging the shortsighted and self-serving Pentagon bureaucracy. America owes Boyd and his disciples -- the six men known as the "Acolytes" -- a great debt. Robert Coram finally brings to light the remarkable story of a man who polarized all who knew him, but who left a legacy that will influence the military -- and all of America -- for decades to come. ..

- Excerpt from Robert Coram in his book Boyd: The Fighter Pilot Who Changed the Art of War

John Boyd Compendium [1]

A Discourse on Winning and Losing


Destruction and Creation

Patterns of Conflict

The Strategic Game and ? and ?

Organic Design for Command and Control

The Essence of Winning and Losing


Earlier Works

Source Lists

Articles and Videos

  • John Boyd Presentation Q&A. The video covers a range of topics from his experiences on the FX/F-15 program, the importance of cross functional teams, and the Toyota Production System.

Chet Richards

Chuck Spinney


Frans Osinga

Boyd and Military Strategy [2]

One of the most able and successful brains I met in any army. Needless to say, he never rose in the war above the rank of colonel." - British Prime Minister David Lloyd George on Colonel Richard Meinhertzhagen (WW I)

Independent of any specific geographical conflict, what sorts of strategies deal best with the types of conflict that go under the names "fourth generation warfare," "low intensity conflict," or, as favored by the late American strategist, Col John R. Boyd, "highly irregular warfare"? For our potential adversaries have surely learned that to challenge our high technology fighters and tanks in a "fair fight" will only produce defeat, but they may also be learning from Somalia, Bosnia, Kosovo, and especially Iraq that there are other ways to achieve their goals.Boyd’s insights on what makes an effective competitor may help us understand our strengths as well as our vulnerabilities in this new environment and what we should do to achieve our national interests at acceptable cost.

8/02/07 — Shared Situational Understanding: A Summary of Fundamental Principles and Iconoclastic Observations, by Richard Maltz. In order to apply the concept of OODA "loops" to groups, rather than individuals, the notion of Orientation must be generalized. Boyd used the terms "common outlook" and "overall mind-time-space scheme" to describe the requisite expansion. In this paper, Maltz summarizes recent work on this problem.

7/01/07 — Boyd’s invitation "to be or to do?" as reconstructed by Robert Coram.

5/05/07 — Distributed Operations and Command: A Brief Historical History, by Eric M. Walters, MA, MSSI. Col. Walters (USMC) summarizes the history and theory of maneuver warfare and offers thoughts on its future. Excellent introduction to the subject (and refresher, if need be). PPT slideshow with notes. Also by Col. Walters: The Next War: Four Generations of Future Warriors (PPT slideshow with notes).

11/18/06 — Book Preview: Science, Strategy, and War – The Strategic Theory of John Boyd by Col Frans Osinga, Royal Netherlands Air Force.

What Lessons Can the Agile Community Learn from a Maverick Fighter Pilot? By Steve Adolph, University of British Columbia Vancouver, B.C. Canada

8/15/06 — US Air Force Academy to honor the late Col John R. Boyd.

8/12/06 — Boyd’s OODA Loop, by Chet Richards. Short PPT overview, with revised notes.

8/12/06 — Boyd’s OODA "Loop" From "The Essence of Winning and Losing," with commentary. Revised and expanded. [142KB PowerPoint presentation. Please play as a slide show, and there are a few notes.]

7/25/06 — The Cognetic Effect: Understanding the Power of Perception Manipulation in an Unrestrained Communication Environment, AU Quick Look 06-15, by Major Bruce John, USAF. Great strategists from Sun Tzu to Boyd have insisted on shaping the adversary’s orientation. As Johnson puts it: When perception manipulation undermines support for US policies, it is a direct threat to national security and should be addressed by US Grand Strategy.

1/31/06 — The Myth of Grand Strategy, Part one in a three part analysis of grand strategy in a 4GW Era. By Fabius Maximus

10/31/05 — Beyond Patterns of Conflict? by Chet Richards. Need a spiffy topic for your next dissertation?

10/18/05 — Are There Five Rings or a Loop in Fourth Generation Warfare? A Study on the Application of Warden’s or Boyd’s Theories in 4GW, Juerg Studer, Major, Swiss Air Force.

9/01/05 — Disoriented Again – Why Do They Get it Wrong? by Dr. Don MacCuish. An in-your-face look at why this moral warfare stuff is important. Prepared for the Maine Strategy Conference.

5/04/05 — Thoughts on Strategy, catalyzed by the 16th Strategy Conference at the Army War College, by Chet Richards. PowerPoint with notes.

1/17/05 — Boyd’s O-O-D-A Loop and the Infantry Company Commander, CPT Aaron Bazin. Republished with permission from the January-February 2005 InfantryMagazine.

8/24/2004 — Thinking About Deception, by Fred Feer. Deception-along with surprise, menace, and ambiguity-forms one of the cornerstones of Boyd’s strategy. Feer, long an aficionado of such matters, offers another take. Readers may enjoy comparing Feer’s analysis with Boyd’s definition: An impression of events as they are not.

5/01/2004 — A Boyd Sampler, By Chet Richards, 2004

7/9/04 — Interpersonal Communications and Officer Survival: How Understanding The Boyd Cycle and Non-Verbal Communication Can Save a Law Enforcement Officer’s Life!Lt Fred T. Leland Jr., Walpole (MA) Police Dept.

5/21/04 — Positive and Negative Leadership Models, ENS Steven Mason, USN. Innovative application of Boyd’s organizational climate to leadership at all levels.

10/19/03 — Marine General: Leading From Iraqi Battlefield, Informed Key Decisions by Elaine Grossman, Inside the Pentagon. Leading from the front worked as well in Iraq as it did for Rommel.

10/2/03 — Marine General: Iraq War Pause ‘Could Not Have Come At Worse Time’ by Elaine M. Grossman, Inside The Pentagon. Raises serious questions about how deeply senior DoD leaders understand maneuver warfare.

7/31/2004 — Deconstructing Conflict: Motivations, Objectives and Strategies, By Michael A. Breeden. A new synthesis of conflict in the tradition of Boyd’s snowmobiles.

Interested readers can find excerpts from Boyd’s Discourse on Winning and Losing in HTML format, as well as presentations by several of his colleagues, at "Theory of Maneuver Conflict" on The next section presents the elements of the Discourse in their original format.

Commentaries on the Spring 2003 campaign in Iraq by Bill Lind, one of the creators of maneuver warfare and co-author of the original paper on fourth generation warfare.

Warfighting, Brought to You By John Boyd… by Maj Jeffrey L. Cowan, USAF. A most readable introduction to Boyd and his work. Originally published in the US Naval Institute Proceedings.

Tribute To John R. Boyd (link missing), by Harry Hillaker. The designer of the F-16 pays his respects to the father of the F-16. From the July 1997 edition of Code One, the Lockheed Martin Aeronautics Company magazine for the fighter community.

A Discourse on Winning and Losing [3]

This is the title Boyd gave to his collection of briefings on competitive strategy (widely known as the "Green Book," with apologies to Wittgenstein). Defense and the National Interest is pleased to present these as a resource for research and implementation. Except as noted, they are Adobe Acrobat (.pdf) images of the actual charts used in his legendary 8-hour briefing sessions. You are welcome to download these for your personal use, but in accordance with Boyd’s express wishes, these versions are not authorized for commercial reprint. Please note that they are copyrighted by the Estate of John R. Boyd.

Introduction The Abstract and Conceptual Spiral (July/August 1992). An overview of the rest of the Discourse and introducing his "Pattern for Vitality and Growth".

Patterns of Conflict (December 1986) Boyd’s monumental look at what makes any organization competitive. Encompassing 2,500 years of the history of conflict, this briefing introduces his famous "OODA loop" concept.

Organic Design for Command and Control (May 1987) Perhaps the most approachable of Boyd’s briefings and as applicable to business (or to the PTA) as to war. (399 KB) Also available in HTML on filed under

Strategic Game of ? and ? (June 1987) The heart of competitive strategy. A noted psychiatrist recently observed that the goal of Boyd’s strategy is to inflict severe psychological trauma on the opposing commander prior to any actual engagement. This briefing tells how to do it.

[Presentations of Patterns, Strategic Game, and Organic Design are available by Dr. Chet Richards, a colleague of the late Col John Boyd. Arrangements may be made through Tarkenton & Addams, Inc. – please contact Jeannine Addams, (404) 231-1132,]

Destruction and Creation (September 1976) Boyd’s original paper on strategy, linking such diverse sources as Gödel’s Incompleteness Theorem and the Second Law of Thermodynamics to the practice of strategy. (with links to Chuck Spinney’s commentary "Evolutionary Epistemology". [5]

The Essence of Winning and Losing (January 1996) Boyd’s "Last Briefing" A 5-chart summary of the Discourse, including the final version of the "OODA loop."

New Conception for Air-to-Air Combat (August 1976) Although predating and so not included in the Discourse, this briefing is an important way station on the road to the OODA loop. Here is where Boyd concluded that there was something missing in his own energy-maneuverability concept and ended with the observation that "He who can handle the quickest rate of change survives." This proved to be the observation that led Boyd from air-to-air combat towards a more general theory of competition. (1,292 KB .pdf)

Aerial Attack Study, by Capt John R. Boyd, USAF, revised 11 August 1964, declassified. Before the OODA loop-even before energy-maneuverability – there was aerial attack. Probably not very useful to the average business or military strategist, but it could be considered as the first step on the path to Patterns of Conflict. Precedes the Discourse by some 20 years.

Shock-based Operations: New Wine in Old Bottles, Lt Col John N. T. Shanahan, May 2001. Doctrine in the 21st Century must deal with opponents who change rapidly to adapt to our technological superiority. The best way to deal with these "complex adaptive systems" is with a doctrine that produces shock and paralysis, not one that tries to bludgeon them into submission.

Bulging Muscles Won’t Win The Next War, By David Hackworth. Gustavus Adolphus was a master of using a small, highly trained and motivated, agile force-a lá Boyd-to defeat his fearsomely-armed, but ponderous, imperial adversary. Now, at the dawn of the 21st Century, we have become the muscle-bound imperials. Reprinted from Soldiers for the Truth.

East vs. West-The Strategic Challenge of the 21st Century. How operating inside an opponent’s OODA loop can help achieve the ancient goal of "formlessness." Originally presented at the Air War College in 1995.

Because Boyd was not well known to the public (or even the military) at large, many people are unfamiliar with his career and the origins of his strategy. For those who are interested in learning more, Defense and the National Interest presents a collection of biographies and synopses of his career.

Genghis John, by Chuck Spinney, originally published in the Naval Institute Proceedings. This is the most approachable introduction and overview, written for a general audience.

"From Air Force Fighter Pilot to Marine Corps Warfighting: Colonel John Boyd, His Theories on War, and their Unexpected Legacy," thesis by Major Jeffrey L. Cowan, U.S. Air Force, for the Master of Military Studies degree, USMC Command & Staff College. A new professional biography that traces Boyd’s career and development of his strategic concepts. Written from the viewpoint of a USAF fighter pilot, but with a solid background in doctrines and practices of land warfare.

"The Essential Boyd," Dr. Grant Hammond, Director of the Center for Strategy and Technology, Air War College. An in-depth study of the evolution of Boyd’s strategic ideas by one of the Air Force’s leading civilian strategists. Goes into considerable detail on the origins and implications of Boyd’s concept of using time as a weapon. On [4].

Best-selling author Robert Coram‘s biography of Col Boyd. Published in November 2002 by Little, Brown & Company, New York. Available at Amazon.

The Strategic Importance of Boyd and the OODA Loop, an excerpt from the recent book, Modern Strategy, by the distinguished British strategist and author, Colin Gray.

John Boyd on C-SPAN

Boyd: The Fighter Pilot Who Changed the Art of War (C-SPAN, December 12, 2002). Mr. Coram talked about his book Boyd: The Fighter Pilot Who Changed the Art of War, published by Little, Brown and Company. The late Colonel John Boyd, United States Air Force, began his career as a supremely proficient fighter pilot in the Korean War, after which he went on to develop the concept of energy maneuvering that has been the basis for fighter tactics and designs for 30 years. He proceeded militantly to advocate simpler fighter designs and attracted a group of like-minded civilian and uniformed reformers. After his retirement, he developed strategic concepts based on the velocity of attack. On the personal front, Boyd, the product of a dysfunctional family, generated another, and his abrasive personality led him to have a turbulent career. Film clips were also shown.

U.S. Military Reform After Oper. Desert Storm (C-SPAN, May 5, 1991). The committee heard testimony in one of a continuing series of hearings on U.S. defense policy following the end of the Cold War and the Persian Gulf war. Specifically, the committee sought to analyze plans for reform of the U.S. military in light of its performance in the Persian Gulf war. Plans for reform in the early 1980's called for a less bureaucratic military system with technologically advanced weapons systems to outmaneuver rather than overwhelm enemies in combat. Reform movements concentrated on improving three aspects of military preparedness: people, strategy and tactics, and military hardware. Col. Boyd said the results of the Persian Gulfwar indicate that the U.S. military has taken long strides toward getting the right people using efficient hardware with strategic effectiveness. Discussion continued on the use of both old and new weapons systems in the Persian Gulf war.

— —

[1] Due to technical difficulties with the Defense and National Interest’s website, I have decided to create a mirror of the Defense and National Interest's John R Boyd Compendium. Posting here for posterity. Originally posted on, a website which has experienced technical difficulties. Originally Published on December 6, 2007. Taken from Web Archive.

[2] Due to technical difficulties with the Defense and National Interest’s website, I have decided to create a mirror of this post. Posting here for posterity. Originally posted on, a website which has experienced technical difficulties. Originally Published on November 25, 2007. Taken from Web Archive.

[3] These are included in [1], above.

[4] Changed from original link, chetrichards[dot]com, which is no longer active.

[5] Changed from original links, chetrichards[dot]com and chetrichards[dot]com, which are no longer active.