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Boyd: The Fighter Pilot Who Changed the Art of War Paperback – May 10, 2004
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From Publishers Weekly
John Boyd (1927-1997) was a brilliant and blazingly eccentric person. He was a crackerjack jet fighter pilot, a visionary scholar and an innovative military strategist. Among other things, Boyd wrote the first manual on jet aerial combat, was primarily responsible for designing the F-15 and the F-16 jet fighters, was a leading voice in the post-Vietnam War military reform movement and shaped the smashingly successful U.S. military strategy in the Persian Gulf War. His writings and theories on military strategy remain influential today, particularly his concept of the "OODA (Observation, Orientation, Decision, Action) Loop," which all the military services-and many business strategists-use to this day. Boyd also was a brash, combative, iconoclastic man, not above insulting his superiors at the Pentagon (both military and civilian); he made enemies (and fiercely loyal acolytes) everywhere he went. His strange, mercurial personality did not mesh with a military career, making his 24 years in the Air Force (1951-1975) difficult professionally and causing serious emotional problems for Boyd's wife and children. Coram's worthy biography is deeply researched and detailed, down to describing the fine technical points of some of Boyd's theories. A Boyd advocate (he "contributed as much to fighter aviation as any man in the history of the Air Force," Coram notes), Coram does not shy away from Boyd's often self-defeating abrasiveness and the neglect and mistreatment of his long-suffering wife and children, and keeps the story of a unique life moving smoothly and engagingly.
Copyright 2002 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
The late Colonel John Boyd, United States Air Force, began his career as a supremely proficient fighter pilot in the Korean War, after which he went on to develop the concept of energy maneuvering that has been the basis for fighter tactics and designs for 30 years. He proceeded militantly to advocate simpler fighter designs and attracted a group of like-minded civilian and uniformed reformers, known as the Acolytes, who were mostly as unorthodox as he. After his retirement, he developed strategic concepts based on the velocity of attack, which, while they may not be as original as Coram claims, reminded the armed forces of velocity of attack at a time when they direly needed reminding. On the personal front, Boyd, the product of a dysfunctional family, generated another, which doesn't make pretty reading. The sheer mass of information Coram pumps out requires some military knowledge, if only not to be taken in by all of Coram's claims about Boyd, and such knowledgeable readers will most appreciate this study of an American military reformer. Roland Green
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
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Top Customer Reviews
On the theory of war, on the original contributions of John Boyd, the book renders a huge service to all military professionals by dramatically expanding what can be known and understood about the Energy-Maneuverability Theory and the nuances of the OODA Loop (Observe-Orient-Decide-Act--for the real Tigers, Observe-od-Act--a faster loop). Two things stuck out, apart from the heroic manner in which Boyd pursued the intellectual side of combat aviation: first, Boyd consistently had his priorities right: people first, ideas second, hardware last--this is the opposite of the existing Pentagon priorities; and second, truth matters--the book has some extraordinary examples of how both the Air Force and the Army falsified numbers, with disastrous results, while also selecting numbers (e.g. choosing to list an aircraft's weight without fuel or missiles, rather than fully loaded, a distortion that will kill aviators later when the aircraft fails under stress).
On the practical side, the insights into Pentagon (and specifically Air Force) careerism and corruption, as well as contractor corruption and cheating of the government, are detailed and disturbing. There have been other books on this topic, but in the context of Boyd's heroic endeavors as an individual, this book can be regarded as an excellent case study of the pathology of bureaucracy--the Air Force regarding the Navy, for example, as a greater threat to its survival than the Russians. Especially troubling--but clearly truthful and vital to an understanding of why the taxpayer is being cheated by the government bureaucracy, were all the details on the mediocrity and mendacity of Wright-Patterson laboratories and organizations nominally responsible for designing the best possible aircraft. The same thing happens in other bureaucracies (e.g. the Navy architects refusing to endorse the landing craft ideas of Andrew Higgins, who ultimately helped win World War II), but in this instance, the author excels at documenting the horrible--really really horrible--manner in which the Pentagon's obsession with building monstrous systems that increase budgets has in fact resulted in fewer less capable aircraft. The book is a case study in corrupt and ill-considered (mindless) gold-plating and mission betrayal.
As a tiny but extremely interesting sidenote, the book provides helpful insights into the failure of the $2.5 billion "McNamara Line," a whiz-kid lay-down of sensors in Viet-Nam that Boyd finally ended up terminating.
On a personal level, the author treats Boyd's family life, and his neglect of his family, in objective but considerate terms; the author is also quite effective in identifying and addressing those instances in Boyd's professional life when his fighter-pilot embellishments might be construed by lesser mortals to be falsehoods. There are three sets of heroes in this book, apart from the subject: the ranking officers, including a number of generals, who protected Boyd against the corrupt careerists--there *are* good officers at the top; the enlisted and officer personnel that carried on in the face of poor leadership, mediocre aircraft, and daunting external challenges; and finally, the "Acolytes," the six specific individuals (Tom Christie, Pierre Sprey, Ray Leopold, Chuck Spinney, Jim Burton, and Mike Wyly), each of whom endured what they call "the pain" to nurture John Boyd and his ideas. I found the author's dissection and articulation of the personal relationships and sacrifices to be quite good and a most important part of the larger story.
Finally, a few tributes en passant. The author does a great job of showing how Boyd ultimately was adopted by the U.S. Marine Corps rather than the U.S. Air Force, and how his ideas have spawned the 4th Generation and Asymmetric Warfare theories, for which the Pentagon does not yet have an adequate appreciation. The mentions in passing of two of my own personal heroes, Mr. Bill Lind and Col G. I. Wilson of the U.S. Marine Corps, and the due regard to the roles played by Dr. Grant Hammond of the Air War College and Mr. James Fallows of the Atlantic Monthly, add grace and completion to the story.
This book is moving--if you care about America, the military, and keeping our children safe into the future, it *will* move you to tears of both laughter and pain.
I did take the time and effort to actually read some of COL Boyd's work. I think that I will need to reread work COL Boyd's several times before I can effectively comment on it. Mostly, I wish that the Book had been more balanced. My criticism reflects on the author, not COL Boyd.
As to whether or not COL Boyd ranks with Sun Tzu or not, History will decide not some retired E-6 or even a 4 star
I started my AF career as a gunner in the B-29 in Korea. The MIG 15 was by far the best in the sky until the F-86s came on scene and roughed up the MIGs. Although the P-51 held its ground it could not keep up with the jet age fighters. I went on to spend over 20 years as a Flight Engineer, transitioning from prop aircraft (C-124) to jets (C-141) with over 15,000 hours in all types. I was able to understand most of the aeronautical engineering concepts Col. Boyd advocated and they all made sense to me.
Robert Stackhouse , MSGT, USAF Flight Engineer Retired (1974)