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Disrupting the OODA Loop

 Yesterday we talked about the OODA loop and its relevance to police work. Most tactical instructors focus on shortening the student's OODA loop through training and mental preparation. This, however, is only one piece of the puzzle. A supplement to this is slowing down, breaking or getting inside your adversary's OODA Loop.

The developer of the OODA Loop, Colonel John Boyd, maintained that getting inside your opponent's OODA loop and disrupting it was as important as speeding up your own. His nickname was "40 second Boyd", because he stated that he could get inside any other fighter pilot's OODA loop and be on their tail within 40 seconds.  According to Air Force legend, he had a wager on his ability to do this and never paid out on it.

Drawing on the direct example of aerial combat would be that of a high-speed chase. Getting inside the OODA loop without directly overtaking the suspect is to cause the suspect to drive faster than they can safely maneuver the vehicle so their reaction time loses its tempo.

In most cases, when an officer is responding to a call, the suspect is already in the Decision phase of the OODA loop. His mind is made up and he thinks he knows what he will do when he sees a uniformed officer. Breaking the loop at this point can take different forms depending upon the situation. For example, an overwhelming display of superior force may make a barricaded subject surrender, rather than fight by bringing him back to the Observe phase of the loop.

When it comes to a full-out physical struggle, it may be as simple as getting in closer to the suspect or getting them to the ground immediately and disrupting the Orient phase of the loop. Boxing referee Mills Lane once famously said, “Every plan goes out the window when the first punch has landed.”

The most famous example of breaking an OODA loop, perhaps without realizing so, comes when taking multiple suspects into custody and separating them at the station. They may have a prefabricated story beforehand, but when kept apart from one another, if the story has cracks it will collapse. It is not a new concept in police work, but it is getting inside that loop to get to the truth. To paraphrase Major Robert Rogers’ Standing Orders for Rangers issued in 1757, “If prisoners are taken, keep them separate and question them individually”.  Rogers was telling his men how to break an OODA loop 200 years before the concept was defined.

However, most police work involves basic interactions with normal people caught up in extraordinary circumstances. Some are mundane and never go beyond that of a conversation or filling out a report, but it is important to keep in mind that while familiar territory to a police officer, these are often highly charged situations which can quickly escalate; particularly if it is the subject’s first contact with the police or if drugs or alcohol are involved.

The way to break or get inside these types of OODA loops can be as simple as changing the subject in the course of an interview or asking an off-hand question about sports or the weather. We have all experienced this in one form or another, particularly if we think back to our school or Academy days and remember being caught unaware by a pop-quiz or an unrelated question to the current discussion by a teacher/instructor (to see if we were paying attention, of course).

It can be the same with taking a complaint and the subject is displaying signs of hostility. At a traffic stop it can be as simple as asking them about the mileage that they get out of their car or if they like the particular model that they are driving. Following up with, “I have been thinking about one of these for myself (or my spouse)”, aids in humanizing the experience and perhaps deescalating the situation.

About Mike S.

Mike has worked around firearms his entire adult life starting as a Marine Rifleman at 17 and continuing as a gunsmith, ballistician, instructor, consultant and writer. An avid shooter and martial artist, he has written over 1000 articles about Mixed Martial Arts, boxing, knives and firearms for online media and print magazines such as RECOIL, Gun Digest's Tactical Gear, Blade, and SWAT. 

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