A Vision So Noble


When Sun-tzu Met Clausewitz

When Sun-tzu Met Clausewitz A modified and expanded version of my 'long essay' for Strategic Dimensions of Contemporary Warfare, when I worked toward a degree in War Studies at King's College London. My tutor kindly commented: 'A superb essay. You have read both widely and deeply. You have thought through the theory and its implications thoroughly and taken a stand in a debate amongst the leading academic strategists of the day which I, for one, find compelling. A great pleasure to read.'He suggested I publish it. So I did. It's an e-book, available from Amazon's US store - from other Amazon stores - and from many other booksellers and subscription services.

But take note! I later combined this essay with the dissertation that came out of it. That version is available in paperback and digital editions under the title A Vision So Noble. I think you'll get better value buying that version. Blue skies! -- Daniel Ford

Opening up the Triad

When we began our study of Strategic Dimensions of Contemporary Warfare, I agonized over the linear nature of Carl von Clausewitz's model, stepping so neatly from Strategy to Planning to Tactics. Europe's greatest military thinker (1780-1831) seemed to leave no possibility that tactics--the outcome of that planning--might in turn influence the military's strategy. Instead, it was a one-way trip to the Battle of Austerlitz. Perhaps that worked for Napoleon, when the strategist and the field commander were one and the same person, but it hardly seems appropriate in a day when the former commandant of the US Marines can write in all seriousness of the `strategic corporal'. Two hundred years on, the actions of a two-stripe noncom can reinforce or undo the intentions of the Secretary of Defense.

In my first essay for the unit, I tried to make Clausewitz's triad circular, by applying a Hegelian dialectic in which the final term in each triad begins another, similar, and more elegant round. Thus, Strategy is the thesis, Planning the antithesis, and Tactics the synthesis, which should become the new thesis and be met in turn by a new antithesis. In the end, however, I punted the effort into the future, hoping that the late John Boyd (1927-1997) and his OODA Loop might provide a way to break out of the closed Clausewitzian triad. So it has proved.

A fighter pilot during the Korean conflict, and afterward an instructor at the US Air Force Fighter Weapons School, Boyd wondered why the F-86 `Sabre' had managed to compile a 10:1 victory ratio over the MiG-15 in Korea, despite the fact that the Russian fighter was by most measures the superior plane. It could fly higher and farther, turn tighter, and climb and accelerate faster than its American opponent. Boyd concluded that the F-86's hydraulic controls, which allowed a pilot to transition more quickly from one manoeuvre to another, also enabled him to neutralize and overcome what should have been the MiG's technical superiority. This conclusion led Boyd in turn to a theory of energy as the crucial factor in aerial combat, a finding that is now the basis of fighter pilot training throughout the world. It also guided the development of the follow-on McDonnell-Douglas F-15 `Eagle' and especially the small, lightweight, and comparatively inexpensive General Dynamics F-16 `Fighting Falcon', now flown by 25 air forces.

The American pilot also benefited from the F-86's bubble canopy, which gave him greater situational awareness than his adversary. Not only was his aircraft faster to react, but he was better able to see what the other pilot was doing-an advantage that eventually led Boyd to realize that all combat involves a cycle of Observation, Orientation, Decision, and Action.

Question? Comment? Newsletter? Send me an email. Blue skies! -- Dan Ford

A Vision So Noble

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