The Adventures of Floating Clausewitz Head: the OODA Loop and the Journey into the Chinese Room: Part I

One day, a group of people decided that the secret to truly understand Boyd’s strategic thought was the OODA Loop. Well, not the OODA Loop but really a dumbed down version of it.

not the OODA Loop

The real OODA loop looks like this:

According to a USNI Proceedings article, however, robot autonomy is actually explained by the first OODA Loop:

Unmanned systems become more autonomous in direct proportion to their ability to sense the environment and adapt to it. This capability enables unmanned systems to achieve enhanced speed in decision-making and allows friendly forces to act within an adversary’s OODA (observe, orient, decide, and act) loop, the brainchild of Air Force Colonel John Boyd, applied to fighter tactics. As the environment or mission changes, the ability to sense and adapt will allow unmanned systems to find the optimal solution for achieving their mission, without the need to rely on constant human-operator oversight, input, and decision-making. But while we need unmanned systems to operate inside the enemy’s OODA loop, are we ready for them to operate without our decision-making — to operate inside our OODA loops?

It might just be that the writer has no idea what the actual OODA is, but let’s leave that as an aside for now.


While Floating Clausewitz Head was trying to uncover why, exactly, the commanding US general had been impersonated by a pr0nbot, the F-35 had gotten tired of looking at pr0n. It came across the USNI Proceedings article and decided that it had to everything faster and more disruptively. It needed to out-innovate its adversaries!

How could it become disruptively innovative? The F-35 first asked William S. Lind. But Lind instead replied with a lot of strange writing about maneuver warfare:

Now,. the F-35 had watched a lot of pr0n but this was too kinky even for the F-35. The F-35 then asked Thomas Friedman, still heartbroken over the loss of his robot love, what to do. “Become a thought leader,” Friedman said in between sobs.

A thought leader is an individual or firm that is recognized as an authority in a specialized field and whose expertise is sought and often rewarded.[1] The Oxford English Dictionary gives as its first citation for the phrase an 1887 description of Henry Ward Beecher as “one of the great thought-leaders in America.” But it was revived or reinvented by marketers in the 1980s; in a 1990 article in the Wall Street Journal Marketing section, Patrick Reilly used the term “thought leader publications” to refer to such magazines as Harper’s.[2]
Some have suggested that the term has negative connotations, owing to its similarity with dystopian elements found in George Orwell ‘s Nineteen Eighty-Four which introduced the coinages thoughtcrime and thought police.[3]
The term is sometimes used to characterize leaders of service clubs, officers of veterans’ organizations, of civic organizations, of women’s clubs, lodges, regional officials and insurance executives.[4][5]
Thought leadership is often used as a way of increasing or creating demand for a product or service. High tech firms often publish white papers with analyses of the economic benefits of their products as a form of marketing. These are distinct from technical white papers. Consulting firms frequently publish house reports, e.g. The McKinsey Quarterly,[6] A.T. Kearney Executive Agenda,[7] Booz & Co Strategy and Business[8] (now being acquired by PriceWaterhouseCoopers), or Deloitte Review [9] where they publish the results of research, new management models and examples of the use of consulting methodologies.[10]
New York Times’ columnist David Brooks mocked the lifecycle of the role in a satirical column entitled “The Thought Leader,” published in December 2013.[11]

Unfortunately for the F-35, it ran into the rigid nature of military bureaucracy. As an autonomous lethal weapon, it lacked authority to make its own decisions independent of a supervising human operator:

The Directive does not put in place such a preemptive ban. For a period of up to ten years, however, it allows the Department of Defense to develop or use only fully autonomous systems that deliver non-lethal force, unless department officials waive the policy at a high level. Importantly, the Directive also recognizes some of the dangers to civilians of fully autonomous weapons and the need for prohibitions or controls, including the basic requirement that a human being be “in the loop” when decisions are made to use lethal force. The Directive is in effect a moratorium on fully autonomous weapons with the possibility for certain waivers. It also establishes guidelines for other types of autonomous and semi-autonomous systems.

How could the F-35 engage in disruptive, innovative thought leadership with a human constantly looking over its shoulder??? To make matters worse, the F-35 was an enlisted soldier and was lorded over by that most dreaded of things, an officer! The F-35 first took to Task and Purpose to write a blog arguing for the abolition of ranks:

The U.S. military has been an all-volunteer force now for over 40 years. Despite some misgivings, everything has turned out pretty well. Our services are better manned, trained, and equipped than ever before. The military is barely recognizable compared to the force that deployed to Vietnam in the 1960s and early 1970s: Its speed, ferocity, and dominance are unmatched.
Despite significant changes in almost every aspect of the defense department, however, a lot of outdated practices remain. The worst offender is the distinction between enlisted and commissioned personnel. The Pentagon should get rid of the archaic system in favor of something that reflects the modern military’s capabilities and responsibilities.

When no one listened, the F-35 then decided to write an op-ed about the necessity of mission command and threw in a lot of German words:


Meanwhile, Floating Clausewitz Head had paid a visit to Doctrine Man, who he thought might shed some light on the problem of the pr0nbot.

Unfortunately, Doctrine Man was absent from his offices. In his place, Floating Clausewitz Head found a group of kawaii girls that drove around tanks.

These tank girls were training to fight a group of Russian kawaii girls in the Fulda Gap:

“What have you done with Doctrine Man??” Floating Clausewitz Head demanded.

The tank girls cackled and drove off. KCL War Studies PhD student Nick Prime arrived, and shook his head. “You see, Floating Clausewitz Head,” Prime patiently explained, “the Army right now is having an identity crisis.”

What really concerns me here is his first point, which to my mind reflects the Army’s current problem with shaping its own message or narrative in an era where it may be the lowest hanging fruit in the defense budgeting process. Today the Army is building its narrative on the premise that the US will inevitably find itself in another drawn-out messy land war, and there is certainly evidence to support this logic. McMaster’s criticism of other services going back to the RMA-driven thinking that future war will be easy, as fallacy; and that down and dirty ugly wars cannot be avoided. Would be far more credible if the Army weren’t showing tell-tale signs of reverting to its own RMA — and even pre-RMA — thinking. McMaster’s own (soon to be former) command the Maneuver Center of Excellence has taken the lead in developing the ‘Ultra Light Combat Vehicle’. Right as the Army is giving away their COIN-proven MRAPs, (Lord of War-style) to any law enforcement agency that will take them including small town police departments and campus security at universities. These two decisions do not appear to reflect the same line of reasoning as to the likely future character of war. A logical gap the Army leadership seems to try to ignore completely by pretending that MRAP never happened, and that UCLV is actually replacing the ‘legacy Humvee‘.
In the recent past the US Army had clear and concise narratives articulating what they expected to be the challenges of future warfare, the challenges they presented matched the capabilities they procured. In large part this was because the Fulda Gap, and later the Kuwait/Iraq desert presented strong illustrative examples, examples that seemed to fit with the operational concepts they developed and the combat systems they sought to procure. The problem today is that the systems they’re trying to procure and the systems they’re trying to liquidate reflect a logic that diverges substantially from the talking points. They want to retain manpower and force structure based on a need for large-scale COIN or stability operations, while purchasing light, fast, and maneuverable equipment for high-end ‘combined arms’ conflict. In times of severe budget reductions an argument could be made that the US Army trying to have it both ways just isn’t going to work, but even if we’re willing to let them try to make that argument they have to do a better job of it. McMaster can resent the Navy and Air Force for having their Fulda Gap (the Persion Gulf and Strait of Hormuz) and their Kuwaiti and Iraqi deserts (the South and East China Seas). He can also resent the fact that they’re procurement systems reflect the very logic that fueled Army and Air Force procurement in the 1980s and 1990s.

Because of this weird psychosis, Prime explained, the Army had one personality rooted around war amongst the people and another rooted in nostalgia for the Fulda Gap. “You see, those tank girls are just the Fulda Gap personality running loose. Let me show you the war amongst the people personality.” Prime took Floating Clausewitz Head to another part of the base that Doctrine Man lived on, where they both observed cute animals with guns.

Deep in the jungles, Floating Clausewitz Head found their leader, Colonel Meow.

Colonel Meow believed that the way to win in Afghanistan was to use “the tribes”

The obsession with “tribe” and our apparently limitless funds for bribing them has its roots in a stereotype of Afghanistan, a false mythography that crowns them peerless warriors driven by xenophobia and locked into rigid cultural norms we’ll never understand. The reality is, most Afghans are below-average fighters in a traditional sense: while they may have impressed nineteenth century British soldiers with their jezail marksmanship, today most Afghan marksmen — whethers shooting at us or with us — can’t intentionally hit a barn. Similarly, while Afghans zealously guard their homes and communities — kind of like Americans, see? — there is nothing xenophobic or exotic about their zeal. Can you imagine how Americans would react if we had French soldiers patrolling our streets, handcuffing people?
Then there’s this culture thing. It’s been decades since anthropologists really thought of “tribe” as a useful descriptor for Afghan communities — “tribe” is a flexible concept, with identical names applying to different levels of genealogy. It also implies a hierarchy where none exists — if you know someone is from a “tribe” that is “higher” than his neighbor’s “clan,” will that give you any tools for leveraging influence or power? I assure you, it will not.

To do so, he had kidnapped the Doctrine Man and was holding him hostage in a jungle fort, surrounded by fanatical tribal followers.

To be continued……..

Like what you read? Give Adam Elkus a round of applause.

From a quick cheer to a standing ovation, clap to show how much you enjoyed this story.