The OODA Loop, Origins and Application


AmmoLand Gun News

New Jersey –-( Regular readers will know that I most often write about the politics of the Second Amendment and Gun Control. While that is what I am most well known for, I am not “one dimensional” by any stretch. I am a true “Student of the Gun” [hat tip Paul Markel] as it were, or, in even broader terms, a student of the art of combat, with or without a firearm.

I have worn out copies of “The Art of War ” by Sun Tzu. My personal library includes most of the most common tomes on the subject, including Von Clausewitz and his work on the philosophy of warfare entitled “On War ” as well as both “On Combat ” and “On Killing” by noted expert Lt Col Dave Grossman.

“On Combat ” and “On Killing ” focus on both the psychological, as well as the physiological aspects of what takes place within a persons mind, as well as their body, when faced with the decision and consequences of using lethal force to kill another human being.

Fewer things are more true than the now cliche’ phrase “Knowledge is Power“. You can have the latest High Speed, Low Drag gear available, you can drop 3000 grand on the newest AR platform or Wilson Combat Handgun, you can develop the skills necessary to draw and shoot a single target in less than a second, as well as shoot the wings off a fly at 300 yards.

But none of that will do you a lick of good in a fight unless you know, understand and apply the tactical aspects that can gain you the upper hand.

So I figured I would take an opportunity to address one of the key components of tilting the odds in your favor by writing about the ” OODA Loop” and its application to surviving a fight.

OODA Loop stands for Observe, Orient, Decide, Act.

The OODA Loop stands for Observe, Orient, Decide, Act. Its a method of describing how to engage in a decision making process, evaluating your opponents situation and actions and getting “inside their decision making cycle” , forcing them to accelerate their own decision making cycle as they scramble to keep up, there by creating conditions where they are much more likely to make a serious mistake, creating an opening for you to take advantage of.

USAF Lt Col John Forty Second Boyd
USAF Lt Col John “Forty Second” Boyd

The OODA Loop was first developed and codified by USAF Lt Col John Boyd the” father “of the F-16 Fighting Falcon. Boyd literally “wrote the book” on fighter tactics when he developed the manual for the USAF Weapons School.

He was known as “Forty Second Boyd” for his famous wager that, starting from a position of disadvantage, he could defeat any opposing pilot in air combat in forty seconds or less. Though many scoffed at the idea, no one was ever able to meet the challenge.

Boyd theorized that all intelligent organisms and organizations undergo a continuous cycle of interaction with their environment. Boyd breaks this cycle down to four interrelated and overlapping processes through which one cycles continuously:

  • Observation: the collection of data by means of the senses
  • Orientation: the analysis and synthesis of data to form one’s current mental perspective
  • Decision: the determination of a course of action based on one’s current mental perspective
  • Action: the physical playing-out of decisions

Of course, while this is taking place, the situation may be changing. It is sometimes necessary to cancel a planned action in order to meet the changes. Boyd emphasized this decision cycle is the central mechanism enabling adaptation and is therefore critical to survival.

Tactics codified in the OODA Loop are equally applicable to any number of armed or unarmed combat scenarios ( much like “The Art of War” applies equally to warfare as it does to business ) or even just life in general; readers engage in the use of the OODA Loop every single day on their drive to work, without ever realizing it or that it has a formal name.

Think about it…
You Observe the traffic and road conditions you find yourself in, you Orient yourself accordingly, as a situation develops and you analyze its meaning and potential effects, you make a Decision on how to best address it, then you Act by applying steering, brake or throttle inputs accordingly.

The EXACT same processes take place when confronted, either in ones home or on the street by an assailant. When discussing surviving such an encounter, it is crucial to apply the OODA Loop methodology and make observations, decisions and take action faster than your opponent, forcing them at an ever increasing tempo, to scramble to keep up within their own decision making cycle instead of having time to think their response through, greatly increasing the likely-hood they will make a mistake that can exploited to win the engagement.

Put another way, Action is ALWAYS faster than RE Action.

The point is, you should always be doing SOMETHING that your opponent is forced to react to instead of waiting to react yourself. Do something unexpected, position yourself in a place your opponent doesn’t expect you to be, do something unorthodox that short circuits his decision making cycle. If you are forced to react, react in a way that is unanticipated by your adversary so you can regain the advantage.

If you can accelerate your progression through the OODA Loop at a pace faster than your enemy can keep up, you vastly increase the odds of surviving the encounter.

And remember, there is no such thing as a “fair fight”.

About Dan Roberts: Dan Roberts is a grassroots supporter of gun rights that has chosen AmmoLand Shooting Sports News as the perfect outlet for his frank, ‘Jersey Attitude’ filled articles on Guns and Gun Owner Rights.As a resident of the oppressive state of New Jersey he is well placed to be able to discuss the abuses of government against our inalienable rights to keep and bear arms as he writes from deep behind NJ’s Anti-Gun iron curtain. Read more from Dan Roberts or email him at [email protected] You can also find him on Facebook:

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7 years ago

If all instructors taught the OODA Loop and all students practiced it in every day life there would be fewer attacks (of any type) and very few gun fights. The ones that did occur would end decidedly in favor of the “good” guy.

7 years ago

In the figure at the beginning, what the heck is “Orientate”?

F Riehl, Editor in Chief
Reply to  Chuck

orientate [awr-ee-uh n-teyt, -en-, ohr-] : verb (used with object), verb (used without object), orientated, orientating. 1. to orient.