Revista de Marina
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The last legacy: Colonel John Boyd and warfighting doctrine

The last legacy: Colonel John Boyd and warfighting doctrine

  • Friederich von der Weth Petinelli

By Friederich von der Weth Petinelli

  • Received at: 23/08/2022
  • Published at: 28/02/2023. Visto 476 veces.
  • Abstract (spanish):

    El coronel John Boyd fue el estratega militar que más influyó en el desarrollo de la publicación doctrinal del US Marine Corps, denominada “MCPD-1 Warfighting”. En ella puso de manifiesto el componente crítico para el éxito de las operaciones militares: el ciclo OODA. Su contribución no solamente fue teórica sino también práctica, participando en las reformas educacionales llevadas a cabo en la ex Escuela de Guerra Anfibia, transformando el USMC en una cultura de “maniobristas”.

  • Keywords (spanish): Ciclo OODA.
  • Abstract:

    Colonel John Boyd was the military thinker who most influenced the development of Marine Corps Doctrinal Publication 1 (MCPD-1) Warfighting by revealing the critical component for the success of military operations: the OODA loop. His contribution was not only theoretical but also practical, participating in the educational reforms carried out in the former Amphibious Warfare School, transforming the USMC into a “maneuverists” culture.

  • Keywords: OODA loop.

Maneuver warfare draws on multiple theories and experiences. However, the theoretical and face-to-face contribution of USAF Colonel John Boyd are indisputable. Identifying the Observation, Orientation, Decision, and Action loop (OODA) provides the unidentified component of conducting successful maneuver warfare. In addition, his participation in the professional military education process generated a thinking revolution inside the USMC. Consequently, Col. John Boyd was the thinker who most directly influenced the elaboration of the actual MCDP-1 Warfighting.

According to the USMC, maneuver warfare is the philosophy of “fighting smart.”1 However, when two similar forces are confronted, there must be a differential factor to achieve victory. According to Willian Lind, John Boyd gave the answer.2 Col. Boyd realized that the OODA loop was the critical pattern for conducting successful maneuver warfare.3 In the context of war, two opposite wills will try to perform multiple OODA loops to cause the other to submit. The one that performs an aneuvtive offensive action first will obtain an advantage, the initiative. If the process continues at a tempo that does not allow the enemy to regain the initiative, his defeat and loss of cohesion will start.4 The USMC took the concept and defined it as the especially important aspect of maneuver warfare:5 “We generate a faster operating tempo than the enemy to gain temporal advantage.”6 The loop was the necessary ingredient to give context to theories extracted from classic thinkers. Col. Boyd identified the differential and time dynamic factor, oriented to defeat enemy decision-making process. Without this contribution, the MCDP-1 Warfighting would be a compilation of principles based on Sun Tzu and Clausewitz, like most of the military doctrines around the world. The influence of John Boyd arrived at a moment when the USMC was in an internal revolution. The debate between “attricionist” and “maneuverists” was there. “Maneuverists” knew about Col Boyd, and they brought him close to the development process.7

As it was previously stated, maneuver warfare means fighting smart. As chair of tactics at the Amphibious Warfare School (AWS), USMC Coronel Michael Wyly was worried about the teaching strategy at the time of his tenure.8 Lessons were primarily based, as Coram described, “of linear attacks, of seizing and holding a beachhead, of attrition warfare.”9 This was not precisely the smart way to do war. Col. Wyly invited John Boyd to be part of the AWS education reform. During wargames, he observed COAs developed by students in amphibious exercises. Most of them were centralized in seizing beachheads. He made them see the importance of focusing their effort towards fighting the enemy, not the terrain.10 Boyd was already reinforcing what we know today as the Ship to Objective Movement (STOM). Avoid concentration of forces and focus on attacking the enemy through multiple vectors at such a speed that he cannot recapture the initiative. Using the OODA loop domain. Cols. Boyd and Wyly changed how to approach the study of warfare. Instead of procedures and manuals full of principles, a professional reading list was developed. Students became interested in military case studies and started developing COAs oriented towards bypassing enemy surfaces to execute multiple, comparative, faster actions over adversary gaps.11 Maneuver warfare requires critical thinking and military study to support judgment. With the former method of memorizing concepts and procedures, a real change in the doctrine would not be possible. The education reform in which Col. Boyd participated was the turning point to adopt a service-wide “manueverist” mind set. Nevertheless, an influence is not enough; something solid must remain, something that endures in time.

In 1987 General Gray became the 29th Commandant of the Marine Corps. He knew Col. Boyd well and, expressed the necessity to articulate the warfighting doctrine, instructing the creation of a new maneuver philosophy with the help of John Boyd.12 After his approval, the publication was called “FMFM-1 Warfighting”. Col. Boyd had not just influenced the USMC Warfighting doctrine but has been one of its creators.

Although various theoretical influences are identified in the development of the combat doctrine of the USMC, it was Col. John Boyd who influenced its development. By identifying the OODA loop, he could detect the pattern of dynamism required to defeat the enemy. Multiple and comparatively faster actions that interfere with enemy decision-making, seeking his collapse. Col. John Boyd’s influence on the USMC is not only limited to theory but educational practices as well. Critical thinking and military study seek to generate leaders with innovative solutions to the military problems of the future. Avoiding dogmas and checklists, while focusing on winning by using the path of least resistance: the smart way.


  1. Coram, Robert. Boyd: the fighter pilot who changed the art of war. Hachette Book Group), 2010, iBook.
  2. Lind, William S. Maneuver Warfare Handbook. Westview Special Studies in Military Affairs. Boulder: Westview, 1985.
  3. U.S. Marine Corps. MCDP- 1 Warfighting. Washington,2018.

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