Monday, September 23, 2013

The Trap of Garrison Thinking

We often feel that we live in a high tech, high speed new generation. We have iPhones, iPads, Tweets, Facebook Friends and LinkedIn business contacts. The MISO force is pretty much out of Afghanistan and the deployment rat race seems abated for the moment.

Yet perhaps this is not really the case.

Gilda Radner, the late Saturday Night Live Comedian titled her biography “It’s always something.” 
Interesting this is an apt description of what is happening in today’s military. 

I had a couple of sources for today’s posting, some of my on-line students at American Military University and a highly competent field grade officer who I have known for years. Based on these inputs and some others, it seems as though the Army in particular is retreating into a Garrison based personality.

This means that ‘requirements’, however well intentioned, are being dictated down from higher HQ resulting in the prostitution of training schedules and plans that were laboriously crafted based on the unit’s missions and the CDR’s assessment of its training needs.

While the issues addressed by these new top down initiatives are serious and surely merit attention, as a former CDR I believe these issues are best handled by the units themselves, probably at the BN level down. 

Getting out of the garrison or the drill hall provides the opportunity to practice MOS, soldier and survival skills, and serves to bond the unit and give everyone a new perspective to consider.
CDRs need to have the confidence to go back up the chain and push for a direct common sense approach while trying to insure that their soldiers are prepared to do their jobs under the most adverse conditions.

At least we don’t have the ‘paint the rocks white’ details we did when I first entered the service, I suspect there is a 21st century version of this busy work that continues to go on. 

Reader feedback encouraged.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Don’t Touch That Dial: It’s SOCOM!

According to the August 20, 2013 edition of the Tampa Tribune (see: “In future natural disasters or battlefield operations, U.S. Special Operations Command would like to be able to take over local AM and FM radio transmissions to broadcast its own message.” 

In a related item: The Headquarters, United States Special Operations Command (HQ USSOCOM) is seeking sources to provide a radio broadcast system capable of searching for and acquiring every AM and FM radio station in a specific area and then broadcasting a message(s) in the target area on all acquired AM and FM radio station frequencies.”. 

There are two ways to look at this: 1. Domestic Disaster Communications and 2. Overseas use.

Domestic Disaster Support

No one can doubt that natural disasters such as Katrina and Sandy require drastic measures. These disasters along with the 1989 earthquake in San Francisco show that traditional communication means are not effective during and shortly after many disasters.

There is a pressing need to get information to people affected by disasters quickly and reliably. MISO resources have proven effective in limited situations such as loud speakers after Hurricane Andrew in Florida See (MISO resources have proven effective in limited situations such as loud speakers after Hurricane Andrew in Florida. See:

Prudent disaster planning – natural and manmade – requires considering wider scenarios than have taken place in the past. Consider that passenger airplanes had not been used as weapons prior to 9/11.
SOCOM has been working with the US Department of Homeland Security to bolster domestic capabilities with military capabilities in the event of disasters. 

Does it make logical sense for SOCOM to have the ability (even with proper legal precedent and authorization) to be able to override the information and messages being broadcasted on domestic commercial AM and FM radio? 

For radio broadcasting to be effective there needs to be functioning transmission and receiving capabilities. On the receiver side, battery, hand powered and automotive powered radios will likely be functional after a disaster. Does it follow that the broadcasting stations will be functioning and that their antennas will still be in good enough shape to transmit? Not necessarily so.

However, assuming that they are, does it make sense to have a military resource available that can transmit the government’s messages over the commercial airwaves in the face of a disaster? My response would be probably yes. Local first responders whether government or NGO generally have only limited resources and capabilities. These capabilities can be quickly overwhelmed as we have seen in past disasters - - consequently a military resource would be helpful.

In the larger context, isn’t it more likely that the mobile phone will be most people’s information source? Smart phones have become indispensable for the normal activities of daily living – wouldn’t they be even more critical in a disaster?

Perhaps mobile phone ‘takeover’ technology would be in the SOCOM procurement pipeline down the road.

2.       Overseas Use

The ability to quickly take over an enemy’s means of communicating with their population would give the attacker a very significant advantage and that’s all I’ll say on the matter at this time.
SOCOM is the proponent for influence operations (except PAO of course) and has to plan for the future even in the face of potential political issues such as the fallout from NSA surveillance, Snowdon, Manning, etc. 

Overall, the ability to quickly convey information over commercial airwaves would seem to be a logical step in that direction. Further discussion perhaps at another time.

Photo source:

Friday, September 6, 2013

Are we ready for a PSYOP App?

The Financial Times of September 2, 2013 ran an article “Lebanon turns to apps to avoid growing violence linked to Syria (See:
The article describes “Smartphone applications that map gun battles and differentiate between fireworks and gunfire, offer paths around roadblocks and even contact the army in the event of kidnap are becoming a must-have for Lebanese commuters.”

The concept of a PSYOP app intrigues me. While I don’t consider myself a ‘techie’ per se, I do have a lot of electronic gadgets: iPad, iPhone, laptops, desktops, digital cameras (with their own wi-fi capabilities), etc. Today’s MISO practitioner, whether military or contractor, will also likely have the latest and greatest technology as well.

As a practical matter it would make sense to take full advantage of COTS products as much as possible. 

The range of potential capabilities is almost endless. In addition to verbal and non-verbal translators, some of the other functions would include access to all the current manuals (without a CAC card), perhaps the CIA Factbook, media data by country for print, broadcast and on-line media, briefings that I could use with my ‘customers’, video reachback for streaming content in the field, a currency converter, etc.

The timing for such an app appears to be right and would ride the crest of the “Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) trend that is engulfing the commercial sector. It would also serve to help take advantage of the innate creative of our younger MISO practitioners who are far more in tune with younger audiences and who are in the best position to reach these difficult to influence audiences.

Such an app would have to be suited for Apple, Android and even Windows as potential users might include allied forces as well. Conceptually the app could be a creation platform whose output would be influence products designed to operate on the smartphones, tablets and computing wearables such as the next generation of Internet capable watches.

A little high tech imagination never hurt anyone. Reader comments welcome.