Lessons from the Korean War: The OODA Loop in Agtech

The OODA Loop, also known as the “Boyd Cycle,” emerged in the 1950s as a response to the challenges faced by US fighter pilots in combat against the MiG-15 during the Korean War. Developed by Colonel John Boyd, this decision-making framework aimed to counter the superior maneuverability of the MiG-15. While the MiG could outperform the US aircraft in individual maneuvers, Boyd realized that through a series of strategic moves, the US fighters could gain a tactical advantage and ultimately prevail in dogfights.

This framework consists of five key steps:

Observe: Assessing the current situation, including the actions of the opponent and environmental factors.

Orient: Understanding one’s position relative to the opponent and forming a strategic perspective.

Decide: Choosing the next course of action based on observations and orientation.

Act: Implementing the chosen course of action decisively.

Loop: Repeating the process iteratively to continuously adapt and respond to changing circumstances.

In a dogfight scenario, the defending pilot begins by observing their own position and that of their opponent, considering environmental factors like weather and ground targets. These observations inform the defender’s orientation and help them develop a strategic plan based on their experience and knowledge. They then decide on a course of action and act on it it, looping the process as needed to continually adapt to the evolving situation.

OODA Loop in Agriculture

In the context of Agriculture, we’ve used this to situate FarmLab and Agtech more broadly into the decision making cycle of the farmer and their consultant. To highlight how useful the framework is, I’ve included 2 x slides below – one I recently gave at a GRDC Research Updates, and another I gave on a seminar on Carbon Farming. Both provide a great explainer on how it’s used in the context of decision making around 1. Maximising Yield, and 2. Increasing Soil Carbon.  

In the context of managing for yield, the OODA Loop might look something like this:

Observe

At the start of the season, farmers gather data on soil nutrient levels, landscape features, and economic factors. This comprehensive assessment provides insights into the farm’s current state and potential challenges.

Orient

Farmers utilize tools like climate data, yield history, and soil analysis to understand their farm’s historical yield potential and identify opportunities for improvement. This step helps them develop a clear perspective on the available options.

Decide

Based on their observations and orientation, farmers and consultants formulate several Courses of Action (COAs) for the upcoming season. These COAs may include strategies to address soil constraints, optimize crop selection, or enhance resource management.

Importantly, developing multiple COAs encourages farmers to think creatively and consider alternative approaches to achieve their goals. Each COA is accompanied by an assessment of associated risks and potential benefits, allowing farmers to make informed decisions.

For example:

COA 1: Implement deep ripping to improve soil structure and increase revenue by 40%, with a cost of $40 per hectare.

COA 2: Switch to a different crop variety to diversify revenue streams, resulting in a 10% revenue increase with a cost of $10 per hectare.

COA 3: Combine deep ripping in specific paddocks with crop rotation to achieve a 25% revenue increase at a cost of $25 per hectare.

Act & Loop

Once the COAs are developed, farmers implement their chosen strategies with confidence, knowing they have considered various options and their potential outcomes. Acting decisively is crucial to realizing the intended benefits of the chosen course of action.

The OODA Loop is an iterative process, and farmers continuously monitor the outcomes of their actions. I always emphasize that the most important part of the framework is the loop. Revisiting what was done and making adjustments based on new observations and insights gained throughout the season – this also also known as continuous improvement. This adaptive approach allows farmers to optimize their strategies and respond effectively to evolving conditions.

Conclusion

Although it was developed in the depths of the Korean War, the OODA Loop has its uses across many industries – and agriculture is no exception. I’m a big fan of it in Agtech, as the tool itself is really useful in situating where technology may fit into the decision-making cycle for the farmer or consultant. Funnily enough, when we started using the tool we discovered our spatial modeler and resident mathematician, Dale, had published a few articles on optimizing the decision-making process in military applications – particularly looking at the OODA Loop as one of those frameworks being assessed.

Of course, it’s not the only decision-making framework out there – many in the military use alternative frameworks nowadays to replace the OODA Loop, such as ASDA (Act, Sense, Decide, Adjust). Despite this, I’ve personally found good use of the OODA Loop due to its simplicity and relatability in almost any decision-making context.

For further reading on the OODA Loop as a decision-making tool in industry, be sure to check out the following links:

https://www.forbes.com/sites/forbestechcouncil/2023/01/10/using-data-to-leverage-the-ooda-loop/?sh=4efdd7463ecf

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/OODA_loop

https://uk.indeed.com/career-advice/career-development/ooda-loop

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