“Getting defeated is acceptable, getting surprised isn’t”

—Napoleon Bonaparte


As one proceeds to include much desired ‘Anticipation’ in OODA loop, thereby making it an AOODA loop, it is pertinent to clarify that ‘Anticipation’ in itself is not being projected as a new concept. It is as old as the history of battle itself and is being practiced since Mahabharata era. Rather, as a matter of practice, operational preparation of most professional armies includes ‘Anticipation’ as the base for planning. Before operation commences, higher commanders prepare an “Appreciation” which is now called “Estimate” the world over. This, in turn, is conveyed down the chain as Intent & Order. This entire process is actually anticipating situation which is likely to develop as the operation commences. Thus, the proposed concept here only pertains to OODA loop as a theory of manoeuvre/dynamic warfare. Lt Gen. HS Panag, a former Army Comander approved the same when approached and stated that even in military operations, the improvised AOODA loop should rule the roost at lower level.


Concepts are important in scientific work as well as in practice. They direct our thinking and make us focus on some phenomenon at the expense of others, thus creating a form of “tunnel vision”. This is as true in study of “OODA Loop” as a theory of Manoeuvre Warfare. OODA loop refers to decision making cycle which  includes  steps  like  Observe, Orient, Decide and Act. OODA loop was developed by a US military strategist Colonel John Boyd during Korean War. Initially, it was an attempt by Boyd to explain why US fighter pilots were more successful than their adversary in Korean War. As per him, it was mainly because the US fighter pilots had larger field of vision, thus in turn better observation and quicker orientation. Taking it further, Boyd distilled the process, there by naming the steps involved and the importance of executing those steps faster than the opponent. In later work, Boyd developed the OODA loop into a more general model of winning and losing. It was intended to apply to various forms of combat and not only on one-on-one fighter plane engagement. Today it is a dominant model of decision making and is a part of doctrine for US Air force (1999), US Army (2003), and US Navy (1995).


To introduce AOODA model of decision making cycle by adding element of “Anticipation” in existing OODA loop.


As we study the loop we realise that Col Boyd starts the Loop with observation. Observation here includes acquiring awareness of the turn of events that has occurred in recent past and making note of the changes that has taken place from what existed before. Once all the changes have been observed and recorded, the loop moves to second step i.e. Orientation. At this stage relative relevance to the changes are studied and the manner in which the changes have affected our interest. This is the phase in which aspects that changed odds in our favour or against are mulled upon so that further course of action can be decided. Once first two steps are complete, leader/commander decides upon the best suited response to the situation and the loop finally finishes with acting on the decided course of action. As the first loop finishes, next one starts right after and it goes on and on till the side which does it faster eventually wins the contest. Here the crux of the theory lies in the speed with which the loop is executed there by forcing a mental immobilisation of opponent.

As we analyse the theory deeper, we realise that OODA starts the process with observation of changes with which we need to orient ourself. This in turn deducts that opponent has already acted; seized the initiative and we are reacting to the situation. This observation renders OODA loop a non proactive model which is reactive in nature by design. A different approach to the same flow of event can start with proper and thorough ANTICIPATION of all possible course of action opponent is likely to take along with well thought of solutions to all the anticipated moves. This one extra step in the process instantly places the leader or commander in much better position for quicker orientation and deliberate response. Anticipation carried out by a weather beaten and battle hardened commander should hold true to 70 – 80 percent of what eventually happens on ground. For being able to read an opponent’s mind is one of the most desired qualities of a commander. To quote Napoleon, “Getting defeated is acceptable, getting surprised isn’t”. Having consciously anticipated before opponent has acted on ground; the commander/leader will have following overpowering advantages

  • He will be better prepared with well deliberated solutions, thinking one step ahead and seizing initiative from the very beginning.
  • Time taken in orientation will reduce considerably. Completing OODA loop faster than opponent with better quality decisions being the primary aim of the process, Anticipation will decisively address both the requirement.
  • There will be exceptional improvement in Quality of decisions as it will be a well thought of and analysed decision and not a real time one as was in the OODA loop.

It is noteworthy that the tasks of a leader at all levels and in all organisations are primarily two. Firstly, to motivate, inspire and ensure effective training. Second is to, in time of need, arrive at most efficient course of action by employing his ability to read the situation, anticipate with his experience, and take most appropriate decision to extract maximum output with minimum efforts. In the complete decision making model, Anticipation & Decision are the two steps where thinking faculties of a commander are exercised to the maximum. These are the two functions which eventually ensure maximum dividends with minimum effort. Observation, orientation and Action –steps of the loop are only a matter of execution for a well trained team.

To conclude, in this picture of an apple, followers see seeds in apple;

where as a leader with vision will see apples in those seeds. Practice of AOODA loop in day to day functioning will develop this kind of leaders with perfect mix of microscopic and telescopic vision.

Lt Col Faiz Siddiqui is a serving officer and is presently posted in the Eastern Theatre.

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