Friday, July 22, 2011

PSYOP/MISO: Battlefield Wild Card

I have just finished my 4th iteration of being the PSYOP/MISO SME for an exercise for Public Affairs Officers. The scenario is that a Joint Task Force (JTF) is deployed in a semi-permissive tactical environment to provide Humanitarian Aid/Disaster Relief (HA/DR) at the invitation of the government of a nation stricken by an earthquake.

(Photo source:

While the actual tactical situation is merely the backdrop for the real purpose of the exercise – exposing junior PAOs to life on a Joint Staff commanded by a 2*, I was able to give some thought to how MISO would support an actual operation of this kind especially if the tactical environment turned ugly.

As long as the environment is permissive, meaning no one is shooting at us, MISO functions primarily as an information channel. Loudspeaker teams with appropriate speakers or recorded messages would broadcast locations and schedules for aid distribution. Host nation and JTF print resources could be used to print with signs directing people to the aid resources and educational messages designed to teach people how to reduce their susceptibility to water borne diseases like Cholera and Typhus. Loudspeakers could also be used to broadcast into a collapsed building to assure the victims that help was there.

What happens when the bad guys start shooting? There is a great deal of doctrine and precedent on how Tactical PSYOP Teams (TPT) support the CDR in a traditional force on force situation. There’s a lot less out there on how TPT would be involved against insurgents in localized firefights – or if they would be at all.

Given that many insurgent operations are ‘hit and run’ – it strikes me that the MISO emphasis must be more on the long-term campaign, the one designed to convince adversaries to join the good guys. Perhaps there is a place for deception in making the bad guys think we have more resources than we do, or to induce them to direct their firepower at the wrong targets.

In some situations MISO could give way to EW and CNO under the right circumstances and for the proper targets. These IO options can generate the positive psychological effects as direct PSYOP/MISO.

Reader comment invited.


Voodoo said...

I'm fairly disappointed in you analysis of what a TPT brings to the table in the situation that you described. In about 1/2 second of consideration I came up with several things that TPTs could accomplish when a semi-permissive environment turned hostile. Hit and run is a very loose term - there's not much anyone can do in the case of a random sniper firing three shots, but given a 5-10 minute complex attack, or even a single IED blast, TPTs can be invaluable.

1) Civilian Non Interference - keeping civilians out of harm's way, and creating the perception among the local populace that the US military is protecting them

2) Violence attribution - making the civilian populace understand immediately, on the ground, who is responsible for the violence (the insurgent group) and illustrating that the insurgents want to prevent needed aid from reaching the population

3) Surrender appeals - given a sustained firefight, if the security element has done its job and fixed the enemy, the TPT can reach out to the combatants and persuade them if not to surrender, then to at least cease fighting

4) Preparation of the battlefield prior to an attack - if there's a chance of attack during a MEDCAP or such, the TPT can serve to create multiple distractions, giving the enemy a plurality of targets other than the actual HA mission. A TPT worth its salt will know the area and culture well enough to be able to assist in identifying any indications of an upcoming attack.

5) Target identification - locals usually know who the insurgents are. When hostilities break out, the TPT can leverage positive relationships with various community members to identify who the attackers are. Insurgents get real twisted up when you make it clear you know who they are. This is also critical to the post-event targeting process as in reality most insurgents are not killed/captured the first time they hit the US military.

6) Sonic disruption - a small insurgent fire team relies on vocal communication. An LRAD blaring commands, music, or even the dreaded 'wail' can degrade the enemy's C2 without interfering with the US response

Given more details on the specifics of the hostility, I'm sure I could generate several more responses without thinking too much about it. Not to mention, a TPT has 6 weapons, including a mass casualty producing SAW and a 203 grenade launcher. TPTs can kill the enemy too.

This illustrates a growing and dangerous chasm between the tactical practitioners and the commanders who guide them. It would do POO's a world of good to spend some time on the ground in the dirt getting to know what a good TPT can and should be doing.

Lawrence Dietz said...


I am properly humbled. Concur that time on the ground with those who work the mission is the best teacher. Unfortunately us retired folk don't get that opportunity often. Fabulous input thang!

Voodoo said...

Sir, its not just you, it really seems to be the entire branch in general. The Tactical in Tactical Psychological Operations has been entirely ignored over the past several years, with all attention and funding going to large, fancy, and frankly ineffective operational or even theater level efforts. That model is upside down, and looks to only get worse as we become more set in our ways as "Military Information Support and/to Operations" - a TPT's job is to *change behavior* using whatever techniques will work. The doctrinal model is identifying vulnerabilities, then applying or relieving pressure on said vulnerabilities in order to achieve the desired behavior change. In 1% of cases in the developing world that simply means "providing information"

Lawrence Dietz said...


While I don't have access to the actual budget numbers. I suspect PSYOP dollars are in inverse pyramid with the majority of dollars going to large systems and perhaps to fund regional and pan-regional efforts.

It would also seem that the Senior NCOs, the backbone of the force need to be more assertive to insure that the TPTs and the individual soldiers are always considered in the forefront.

Thanks again for the feedback.