Talk:John Boyd (military strategist)

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In a letter to the editor of Inside the Pentagon, former Commandant of the Marine Corps General Charles C. Krulak is quoted as saying "The Iraqi army collapsed morally and intellectually under the onslaught of American and Coalition forces. John Boyd was an architect of that victory as surely as if he'd commanded a fighter wing or a maneuver division in the desert."[citation needed]

Don't know how to do a citation, but both "needs citations" above are in "" and "Mind of War."

==The OODA Loop==

I do not have access to these sources, and neither source is viewable on Google Books. I think, however, it should be noted that a Wikipedian has pointed towards citations for these "Citation needed" tags, and with someone else's help we might resolve them...or at least postpone deletion indefinitely waiting resolution. TeamZissou (talk) 15:14, 30 April 2010 (UTC)


A paragraph of the Incest article leads the reader to this John Boyd Article..

Sometimes the word "incestuous" is also used metaphorically to describe other inappropriately close relationships, for example between an authority figure and a subordinate, or between people in the same profession or creative field. The term "incest group" is also common in high school, and denotes a group of friends that only date others within their group. Institutions such as churches, colleges, and sometimes whole nations can be described as incestuous when inappropriately close relationships, corrupt conflicts of interest and secret collusions occur inside the institution and especially within the institution's top echelons such as in cases John Boyd exposed in the Pentagon.

Please verify. 15:20, 25 February 2006 (UTC)

  • That's a very astute and likely accurate observation. The Incest article currently does not have the link; nor does it include any obvious content on metaphorical use of the term. Given the typical scope of wiki article, probably best left here on the discussion page. —Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk) 22:30, 6 October 2009 (UTC)


The article reads too much like an advertisement for Boyd, accepting his claims uncritically. For instance, that stuff about Gödel's Incompleteness Theorem has very little to do with what the theorem actually states. It is rather doubtful that Boyd understood any of it. Leibniz 11:31, 27 July 2006 (UTC)

Actually it has a lot to do with what the theorem states. The essence of the theorem is that a static logical system cannot fully capture all truth. If Boyd didn't understand it then I would have to say Chaitin didn't either because both of them concluded the same thing that a static logical system would not work according to Godel's theorem and would require the addition of new axioms in the light of new information. —Preceding unsigned comment added by (talkcontribs) 04:49, 14 August 2006 (UTC)
  • No. A "static logical system", as you put it, is a set of axioms in some formal language, e.g. the Peano axioms, stuff like that. That has nothing to do with what some Colonel knows or does not know about what the enemy is up to. Chaitin's pop-logic salesmanship is lamentable if it promotes such confusions. Leibniz 13:19, 29 October 2006 (UTC)
  • No offense, but that Colonel did have a Master's degree in engineering. Please don't judge the work unless you've read it - Boyd's work (which is available online in many sources) adapted concepts from multiple disciplines to achieve new conclusions and techniques for command and control theory.
Now the language may need to be toned down in terms of advertising. But the guy wrote the Air Force Air to Air tactics manual, ran the air force's "Top Gun" equivalent school for years; developed energy maneuverability theory (which is now industry standard for fighter design); consulted on the F15 program, developed the F16 and consequent F18 program; not to mention lots of later esoteric work that was fully embraced by the USMC and many foreign militaries. He made several legitimate contributions to military science over several decades. Arguing semantics of a sound bite from his work hardly seems relevant unless you can authoritatively compare and contrast his work in detail using verifiable sources. The remarks about Boyd's adaptation of or inspiration from Gödel's Incompleteness Theorem is verifiable in several references. This is encyclopedic content; not a debate on validity of academic theory. —Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk) 22:00, 6 October 2009 (UTC)
In my opinion it might be helpful to rewrite this section to say that metamathematics and quantum physics inspired Boyd's theory. Fighter pilots are not electrons, so laws describing electrons don't apply to fighter pilots. Fighter pilots are not strings of mathematical symbols, so laws describing strings of mathematical symbols don't apply to fighter pilots. On the other hand a creative mind can find some useful simile between these vastly different phenomena.--Tkadlubo (talk) 12:14, 21 February 2011 (UTC)
In the article as it stands, I don't see an assertion that his use of Gödel's Incompleteness Theorem, Heisenberg's Uncertainty Principle, or the Second Law of Thermodynamics were valid. Indeed, ask any physicist, and you will be told that they were not, strictly speaking. However, this doesn't mean that his conclusions are wrong. If a critique of his recommendations on military strategy is to be attempted, I suspect that it would properly be based not on weaknesses in the OODA idea itself, but instead in the fact that while the blitzkrieg is all very well when one is on the offensive, a peaceful nation as opposed to an aggressor will not always have the luxury of that choice (and guerilla warfare as an option raises another issue). It's probably better, not worse, for the objectivity of the article that it didn't go there. Quadibloc (talk) 20:47, 20 February 2014 (UTC)

The person I would prefer to see comment on Boyd's biography would be John Perry Barlow. While not obvious, Barlow wrote an opinion piece in the Communications of the ACM. Barlow was critical of the USAF style synoptic view of WWII management. (talk) 18:47, 6 November 2011 (UTC)

I may not have the best heading on this talk page. Some articles on members have a template for ranks, and date of rank. I highly recommend this template for Mr John Boyd. Wfoj2 (talk) 00:30, 27 March 2012 (UTC)

It could equally be said that this article contains a number of thinly-veiled attempts to discredit Boyd: the constant references to him scoring no kills, for example, is an extremely simplistic criticism which doesn’t need stating more than once. Equally, we don’t need a debate on whether or not his computer time was paid for. Wikipedia exists to provide encyclopaedia grade information and is not a platform for low-ball arguments. Flanker235 (talk) 02:52, 19 August 2018 (UTC)


My recollection from reading a biography on Boyd was that he served in Vietnam, but not as a pilot like he was in the Korean War. In fact he intentionally got himself sent to Vietnam and ran a small base if not mistaken, just so he could be recognized for that service. —Preceding unsigned comment added by Whidbey (talkcontribs) 08:50, 9 October 2006 (UTC)

No source material supplied for that recollection. --Born2flie (talk) 03:57, 17 December 2007 (UTC)
The Time as a base commander in Vietnam is in the Coram Biography referenced at the bottom of the article. Not to mention available in Air Force Service records. —Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk) 22:05, 6 October 2009 (UTC)

Confused Theories[edit]

The article similarly confuses Heisenberg's uncertainty principle with chaos theory. Uncertainty in the common venacular says that observation affects the outcome, which as far as I can tell has nothing to do with Boyd. Chaos says that small pertubations in a complex system can cause large changes in outcome, especially if the system involves feedback loops. Air combat is certainly a feedback loop between the combatants, and so at least Chaos Theory may be relevant to this topic.

I don't know enough Boyd history to know whether Boyd was confused about Heisenberg and Chaos, or if it is just the writers of this article who are confused. In either case it should be fixed, either by deleting the Heisenberg reference entirely, or by explaining some confusion in Boyd's writings about Heisenberg. Crispincowan 21:19, 12 December 2006 (UTC)

I've removed the confusion of chaos with Heisenberg and entropy. Chaos theory became widely known much more recently than the other stuff, so it looks like anachronistic additions to Boyd's pseudoscience. Leibniz 22:38, 12 December 2006 (UTC)
In my book Science Stragtegy and War, the strategic Theory of John Boyd, I have carefully tried to trace Boyd's study of scientific literature. He read quite a number of primary and secondary studies of a wide variety of subjects. This included Godel, Heisenberg, Wiener, Popper, Kuhn, Chaitin, and later authors on chaos and complexity theory, but also studies on evolution, organizational learning and neurophysiology. He fully grasped the essence of the concepts he found in such works and was convinced of the wider implications, and that those ideas also had relevance for the study of strategy. He may have simplified and perhaps not always appropriately employed those concept in his communication with a largely non-scientifically oriented audience, but I believe that Hawkins, Greene or Dawkins were guilty of that too sometimes. (Frans Osinga) —Preceding unsigned comment added by (talkcontribs) Revision as of 19:39, 4 May 2007

Read and study more, assume less[edit]

To all who made comments about Boyd's lack of knowledge about Heisenburg and Goedel's theory, read his essay entitled Destruction & Creation first, and then disagree with his use of these theories if you still think it wrong.Stanleywinthrop 19:46, 10 August 2007 (UTC)

Seconded. Read any of his material and understand it, and then try again. Boyd was a genius on the order of Sun Tzu, both as an engineer and a military strategist. Not to mention the best damn fighter pilot that ever lived. —Preceding unsigned comment added by (talkcontribs) 07:47, 17 August 2007 (UTC)
Boyd may have been all that but he was proven wrong in one thing; that F-4's cannot compete, much less survive against MiG-17's, 19's and 21's in dogfights! His re-education was courtesy of instructors from TOPGUN. Read the book "A Scream Of Eagles". WikiphyteMk1 (talk) 15:35, 21 December 2007 (UTC)

Sorry pal, Boyd never claimed that the F-4 was superior to the Migs (although the F-4 did acheive a positive kill ratio against those aircraft by the end of the vietnam war.) In face the E-M theory that Boyd invented proved that the MIGs were superior aircraft in terms of manuverability.Stanleywinthrop (talk) 17:48, 22 July 2008 (UTC)

Just to second on that – the F4 comment doesn't make sense. But to clarify – The F4 was well known to all as unable to turn in a dog fight, and initially lacked guns – having a distinct disadvantage given 1960's era AAM's. Boyd's F4 and MIG EM profiles for the Air Force show that. The F4 can compete against MIGs using decades old Dick Bong P38 tactics – use superior speed and altitude and stay out of a turning fight you can't win. Given appropriate tactics Navy, Marine, and Air Force crews were all successful engaging F4's against a variety of Vietnam era MIGs, even ones flown by Soviet Pilots. —Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk) 22:25, 6 October 2009 (UTC)

Problems with Notes[edit]

There are a couple citations that are problematic. Specifically, one that states, "Conversation with Franklin C. Spinney, 1998", and another which says, "the writer witnessed one such incident in 1983." Neither of these seem to meet the intent of WP:RS and WP:VERIFY. I have not removed those parts of the article as I am not familiar with the source material for the subject of the article. I'm hoping by commenting here, that someone knowledgeable about the subject matter and actively participating in editing this article will address the issue appropriately. --Born2flie (talk) 04:03, 17 December 2007 (UTC)

I recognize those references – They are the primary References used in Coram's Biography or possibly Hammond's Book. And should be re refrenced as such should anybody have the time to look up the refrences and get page numbers. Also Frans Osinga's book should be referenced in the sections on Boyd's technical work ; Corman wrote the biography and Hammond's work is much less rigorous in technical detail.
Honestly the whole article is incomplete, and covers a very esoteric and hard to explain subject – so expect lots of confusion and debate on the details. The only guys I've seen that get it are ranking officer instructors at war colleges, aka "Professional Practitioners of Violence." (Their words, not mine). —Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk) 22:15, 6 October 2009 (UTC)
User:Born2flie is right – these are unverifiable statements, and don't belong in this article until they are. I'm removing them. If you replace them, the onus is on you to cite sources that support them. Yappy2bhere (talk) 02:39, 29 August 2010 (UTC)

Link broken[edit]

Unfortunately, Chet Richards's website has been abandoned. I have fixed the general link to Boyd's briefings & monographs by changing the url to Air Power Australia, an online magazine that mirrored this material before the Richards website ceased to exist. Alas, the Oz site does not seem to have picked up the Cowan thesis upon which so much of this article is based. I'll look further for it. Absent that, equivalent references must be found in the two existing Boyd biographies (probably where Cowan got his material anyhow!). Eschatologicalguy (talk) 21:51, 7 January 2010 (UTC)

Strategist or thinker?[edit]

First, well done everyone for such a good article on a richly-deserved subject. But the article calls him a strategist – was he not a military thinker at all levels? He certainly did a lot to influence the tactics of air combat and ground attack, as well as trying to reform military procurement. In my book that makes him an all-round military thinker, not just a strategist. --Wally Tharg (talk) 19:41, 23 September 2012 (UTC)


This article still reads like John Boyd wrote it himself - and he was a notorious self-promoter. Boyd flew less than a full tour in Korea, reportedly never even fired his guns, and definitely never got a kill. He then avoided Vietnam, almost uniquely among Vietnam-era American pilots. Boyd never flew a contemporary fighter jet in combat: his short tour in Korea was in P-80 Shooting Stars, the first jet fighter the USAF had, not even in the later F-86 Saber. He never flew planes like the F-100, F-105, or F-4 against planes like MiG-21s or even MiG-19s: the plane he flew in combat was more alike to WWII fighters than even the Century series, let alone the Teen series..

After Vietnam the US Navy and US Air Force independently concluded they needed large twin-engine fighters mounting large radars for beyond visual range combat, based on their combat data. Boyd and his group insisted that instead the USN and USAF should be developing larger numbers of light, cheap planes, with limited avionics, exclusively intended for air to air combat. The F-5 Freedom Fighter is probably the closest thing to what Boyd recommended that ever entered service. The LWF program did lead to the F-16 and F/A-18 by way of YF-17, but neither plane became what Boyd was pushing for. Both are mult-role planes for air-to-air and air-to-ground missions. Both carry radar and complex avionics suites. Contrary to the article here, Boyd actually disagreed so strongly with what eventuated from the LWF program that he advocated the F-20 Tigershark over the F-16 - yet even he had made a concession in that the F-20 mounted radar, something he was originally opposed to. Even the A-10, simple as it is, was given complex avionics and high tech weapons like the AGM-65 Maverick.

Boyd's ideas on aircraft design were wrong. Sophisticated avionics are now at the heart of a plane's performance, whereas Boyd considered them useless: unnecessary weight and drag, expensive, and unreliable. He thought a plane should rely on the eyeball for detection and heat-seeking missiles and cannon for killing enemy aircraft. Radar guided missiles like the AMRAAM or Russian AA-71 "Adder" are now the primary weaponry of modern fighter planes, followed by heat-seekers like the Sidewinder, and cannon as last resort, not the primary armament. Moreover, credit is given here for things he had no responsibility for. The F-4 Phantom II omitted cannon on the basis that missiles were the wave of the future, while the F-106 Delta Dart, F-105 Thunderchief, F-104 Starfighter, and F-100 Super Saber all had cannon prior to that; the F-101 Voodoo and F-102 Delta Dagger both omitted cannon since they were intended to destroy bombers at long range using radar guided missiles, not engage in combat with fighters. Vietnam experience proved that the Phantom's lack of cannon was a liability, and the USAF F-4E reintroduced cannon. The F-14 and F-15 also had cannon. The re-adoption of cannon had absolutely nothing to do with Boyd.

The best that can be said for Boyd's ideas about aircraft is that "lighter" and "cheaper" aircraft than the F-14 and F-15 were adopted. But these were not as light (25,000lb loaded) nor as cheap as Boyd envisioned, and carry avionics suites with capabilities like laser guidance for bombs, radar guided missiles, night vision, infra-red sensors, terrain following radar, et cetera. Even modern heat-seekers are best fired when the target is being tracked by radar. His belief in the primacy of maneuverability was foolish even before he ever articulated it. The average armchair wing commander is familiar with the fact that the Japanese Zero had superb maneuverability, but was trounced by less agile planes like the F6F Hellcat that had the power to engage and disengage at will. The power that designs like the F-14 and particularly F-15 have allows them to dictate the terms of engagement.

Whatever Boyd's merits, this article entirely glosses over his shortcomings. — Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk) 08:54, 30 November 2012 (UTC)

Here's your chance. FWiW FWiW (talk) 18:54, 30 November 2012 (UTC).
You said it FWiW. And you,, have you actually read any of the books on Boyd? Provide some citations for the things you claim. (talk) 07:37, 13 October 2013 (UTC)
The two Boyd biographies both report that Boyd exclusively flew the F-86 in Korea. His brief time there was also towards the end of that conflict, after the P-80 had been replaced by F-86. Thus, your statement above that Boyd flew the P-80 in Korea would seem to be incorrect. PhaseAcer (talk) 19:08, 9 January 2017 (UTC)
Additionally, the meaning of "neutrality" with respect with Wikipedia articles is that the article truthfully reports what the REFERENCES say. If the references are highly positive on a point or person, as is the case with Boyd, then "neutral" writing is to report that without trying to insert unsubstantiated negative bias. To insert negative bias where the references do not report it is highly non-neutral. The only negative point any references make about Boyd is that he did not suffer incompetence even when displayed by general officers, and as a result he was sometimes personally abrasive. The references are in close to 100% agreement on his professional brilliance. PhaseAcer (talk) 19:21, 9 January 2017 (UTC)

Serial Computer Crook?[edit]

In a recent newsgroup discussion, someone referred to a man named Boyd unofficially using computer time to design the F-16, and someone from the company that made the F-15 (presumably McDonnell Douglas) trying to have him put away for life.

After looking up the matter, and finding this web page, I presumed the poster had the story garbled and was really referring to the computer time used to prove the Energy-Maneuverability Theory. Presumably on the 7090 they had at Elgin AFB at the time.

However, after I noted this in the relevant discussion, someone else joined in, and said that he was present at a lecture by the person who helped Boyd get access to computer resources for designing the F16, long after the E-M Theory work had already taken place.

This makes me wonder if, just possibly, Wikipedia has the garbled story. Not that lightning can't strike twice. Quadibloc (talk) 20:55, 20 February 2014 (UTC)

Family/Personal Life[edit]

Robert Coram, author of, "Boyd," stated in an interview about his book that,

  • CORAM: "...the only dark side to Boyd that I could find other than some personality quirks was his family, and frankly I cut out several hundred pages after the book was finished because the real situation is far more bleak than is portrayed in the book. It`s just beyond description."
  • LAMB: "In what way?"
  • CORAM: "In ways that were so bad I didn`t want to put them in the book because it would be disconcerting from what his life was all about."
  • LAMB: "Are you talking about the family part of this?"
  • CORAM: "Yes. Yes."

I haven't been able to find too much about the specifics of his family life, however. — Preceding unsigned comment added by Silavite (talkcontribs) 23:50, 8 June 2015 (UTC)

Revolt of the Majors[edit]

Reference 10, "Revolt of the Majors," seems suspect regarding Boyd. I was discussing it with someone else and they said,

"""This thesis is just odd. I got intrigued and read about half so far. When the author discusses history of air-air warfare and how fighter design evolved out of Vietnam – to include the emergence of TOPGUN and RED FLAG – it seems well researched and written. But then he throws in these comments about Boyd and the whole writing style changes – very snarky.

I have done significant research my self in the related subjects and was close to some of this from Navy side. Given that it’s focus is Air Force, found some things I hadn’t seen explained before. But he’s written 450+ pages with an apparent agenda to downplay – and not nicely – anything John Boyd did.

And he is just flat wrong and misleading in places. One example. He notes that Boyd briefed the TOPGUN group shortly after their beginning and got in a disagreement over the F-4 and MIG 17, Boyd claiming an F-4 could never beat a 17. Supposedly the TOPGUN CO Mugs McKuen disagreed. This is disingenuous. Mugs was up at VX-4 working Have Donut/Drill and then in VF-161 on Midway (readyroom next to mine) getting two MIG kills before coming back to be TOPGUN CO in mid-72. Did they meet, have an argument I’m guessing yes. Navy vs AF and Mugs was everything you think about attitude wise as a fighter pilot. For F-4 vs MIG-17 in energy maneuverability terms/technical analysis Boyd was right. No US fighter could turn with the 17. From pure performance numbers Phantom was in clear disadvantage. The F-4 and F-8 had to go vertical. That was one reason the EM curves were so valuable- it showed where tactics had to be adjusted because of mismatch in pure performance.

Every “insert” related to Boyd seems intended to be negative and is unbalanced. So far it is a detractor and glancing at his closing that’s where he goes. Just odd.

OBTW as an example he links Boyd’s group – noting Chet Richard’s Defense and the National Interest as anti-military. Huh?""" 2602:304:68AD:7AE0:2D8A:BC9:B1C1:2F9B (talk) 01:22, 23 June 2015 (UTC)

Michel definitely has an ax to grind against all of the Fighter Mafia, the defense reformers (which he labels Critics), and all of their ideas. E-M, OODA loop, maneuver warfare, corruption in the Pentagon, radar-guided missiles (which Michel acknowledges as failures in Vietnam), BVR combat, cost-effectiveness in airplanes, the importance of CAS, the uselessness of interdiction bombing... Michel argues against all of it. There isn't anything he likes from the reformers/"Critics".
The Wikipedia article states: Boyd was invited to Top Gun to brief the instructors on his "Energy Maneuverability" charts. Boyd's briefing did not go well. When Boyd insisted that it was impossible for the F-4 to win a dogfight against a MiG-17, the Top Gun instructors disagreed, two of them having shot down MiG-17s in combat. Commander Ron Mugs McKeown later said "Never trust anyone who would rather kick your ass with a slide rule than with a jet."
The Wikipedia article cites Michel's book as the source. here's what Michel's book says:
While energy maneuverability was by now a common buzzword in the air-to-air community, Boyd's briefing did not go well. Boyd, who had not flown for over five years, insisted it was impossible for an F-4 to win a dogfight with the highly maneuverable MiG-17. The Top Gun instructors disagreed (at least two had shot down MiG-17s in dogfights), but Boyd was adamant in saying it was impossible. The Top Gun instructors left the briefing unimpressed by Boyd and his plethora of charts and graphs, and the unit's commander, Commander Ron "Mugs" McKeown, said later: "never trust anyone who would rather kick your ass with a slide rule than with a jet."
Looking through Michel's footnote, it seems that Michel is bending the facts to fit his story. Pages 185-186 of Robert K. Wilcox's book Scream of Eagles (search it with Google Books) talks about a screaming match between Boyd and Holmes. It seemed that they both agreed that the F-4 was an inferior dogfighter but Holmes argued that the human element could overcome it. The book also notes that Boyd's E-M studies "had become classic" and were works that "Holmes was incorporating into the syllabus". "unimpressed by Boyd" does not seem like the correct characterization. The book does not talk about slide rules, suggesting that the annecdote is Michel's. Glennchan (talk) 22:19, 17 December 2017 (UTC)
I'm going to go ahead and remove Michel's less substantiated claims.