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Psychological Operations Tactics and Abilities


Psychological Operations (PSYOP) and the Maneuver Commander at the Joint Readiness Training Center (JRTC), Fort Polk Louisiana

MAJ Michael A. Eyre,
CPT David J. Albanese,
SFC Colleen M. Burrows,
SFC John D. Stockton, Sr.,
US Army Civil Affairs & Psychological Operations Command, Fort Bragg, NC.

1. PURPOSE. This paper highlights the mission and capabilities of tactical PSYOP for the maneuver brigade commander. PSYOP as a combat multiplier is demonstrated through various situations played at JRTC.
2. SUMMARY. The JRTC trains battalion and brigade commanders, and their staffs, in the most realistic training short of combat. It is here that tactical PSYOP integrates with the maneuver force in a stressful, near-combat environment. The versatility and flexibility of PSYOP throughout the continuum make it a combat multiplier and weapons system available to the maneuver commander.
3. Background and Discussion. PSYOP are planned operations to convey selected information and indicators to audiences to influence their emotions, motives, objective reasoning, and ultimately the behavior of organizations, groups, and individuals. Used in all aspects of war, it is a weapon whose effectiveness is limited only by the ingenuity of the commander using it.

A proven winner in combat and peacetime, PSYOP are one of the oldest weapons in the arsenal of man. It is an important force protector/combat multiplier and a non-lethal weapons system. The success of employing PSYOP starts with knowing its capabilities:

  • Project a favorable image of U.S. and allied forces
  • Inform target audiences in new or denied areas
  • Amplify the effects of a show of force
  • Assess attitudes and impressions
  • Give opponent audiences alternative courses of action
  • Overcome censorship, illiteracy, or interrupted communications
  • Diminish morale, reduce the will to fight or resist
  • Exploit ethnic, cultural, religious or economic differences
  • Support deception operations
  • Operations Other Than War:
  • Humanitarian Assistance
  • Noncombatant Evacuation Operations
  • Counterdrug Operations
  • Foreign Internal Defense
  • Unconventional Warfare
  • Peace Keeping/Peace Time Operations
  • PSYOP employment may be done through various media, i.e., visual: newspaper, posters, pamphlets, handbills; audio: radio, loudspeakers; face to face, a EC130(Commando Solo,) and being both audio and visual, television. All media must go through an approval process chain. Approval authority normally rests with the JTF commander/supported CINC. Maneuver commanders can request products in support of battalion, brigade, and division operations.

    PSYOP Support Detachments

    Tactical PSYOP is also associated with 'face to face' (direct) operations in support of the maneuver units within the theater. Tactical PSYOP Teams enable tactical maneuver commanders to communicate directly with the enemy and foreign civilians. The PSYOP detachments are normally task organized as:

    Corps PSYOP Detachment (CPD)
  • nine to fifteen soldier HQ (BN command group)
  • highest level of tactical PSYOP
  • BN CDR is Corps CDR'S PSYOP officer
  • Division PSYOP Detachment (DPD)
  • five to seven soldier HQ (1-2 OFF, 3-5 EM)
  • contains three BPDs
  • works in the G3 section
  • Brigade PSYOP Detachment (BPD)
  • three to four soldier HQ (1 OFF, 2-3 EM)
  • contains four Tactical PSYOP Teams
  • works in the brigade S3 section
  • Tactical PSYOP Teams (TPT)
  • three soldier team(1 E6, 1 E5, 1 E4)
  • conducts planning and coordination with BN S3
  • works a battalion level and below
  • Tactical Teams/Detachments can disseminate approved printed materials, conduct loudspeaker operations, face to face PSYOP, gather and assess the effectiveness of friendly and hostile PSYOP or acquire PSYOP relevant information on the local populace using linguistic skills.

    How does PSYOP integrate into the maneuver unit?

    As part of the J3/G3 Battlefield Operating System (BOS) under J3/G3 staff proponency, at all levels, each PSYOP team:
  • advises commander on PSYOP employment
  • analyzes all higher OPLANS/OPORDS
  • conducts mission analysis, course of action development, wargaming
  • writes PSYOP annex/estimate
  • coordinates for operational level PSYOP support (Radio, TV, Newspaper, etc.)
  • ISSUE: Failure to integrate PSYOP Capabilities into the BLUFOR Commander's objectives.

    SITUATION: The BLUFOR Commander's objective to liberate the Shuggart-Gordon complex was met with resistance. His guidance to the armor element was to return fire using the main gun and eliminate any OPFOR. As a result, the village was completely destroyed and everyone killed except for a lone, severely wounded survivor. The BLUFOR Commander was never informed on the potential psychological impact of such an action, and in fact, did not warn the villagers of his intentions until the tank fired the first round. The OPFOR turned this action to their advantage and received the support of the surrounding villages. The trust and support of the local populace was destroyed along with the village itself.

    DISCUSSION: The Brigade PSYOP Detachment(BPD) Commander and the TPT NCOICs are the PSYOP experts for the supported units. Their primary duty is to inform the Commander and staff on issues that are relevant to PSYOP. This includes providing Area/Cultural Briefs, PSYOP activities that may effect the supported units' area of operations (AO), and most importantly, the potential psychological impact of both friendly and enemy activities. The failure to integrate PSYOP capabilities into the BLUFOR Commander's scheme of maneuver resulted in the destruction of the village and near annihilation of the inhabitants.

    How can I, the maneuver commander, employ PSYOP?

    As part of the J3/G3 (non-lethal) Battlefield Operating System (BOS) under J3/G3 staff proponency, the mission of tactical PSYOP is to provide the supported maneuver commander with the ability to communicate directly with the human element on the battlefield.

    Tactical PSYOP can be employed on the JRTC battlefield as the climate for operations dictate:

  • surrender instructions
  • discourage/disrupt enemy operations
  • control civilian/enemy personnel
  • assist in deception operations
  • induce surrender
  • discourage/disrupt enemy operations
  • create favorable U.S. image in civilian populace
  • counter enemy/negative propaganda
  • assist in deception operations
  • conduct area assessments
  • create favorable U.S./friendly forces image
  • counter enemy/negative propaganda
  • publicize civilian control measures - assist Civil Affairs
  • How is PSYOP used in a combatant environment?

    Tactical PSYOP soldiers can conduct psychological operations using several types of media - audio, visual, and print. However, during combat operations, loudspeaker systems are the only medium that can achieve face to face communication providing immediate feedback from enemy forces. During loudspeaker broadcasts, the enemy becomes a captive audience unable to escape the message. As a result, tactical PSYOP rely heavily upon loudspeaker operations at the Corp PSYOP Detachment, Division PSYOP Detachment, and Brigade PSYOP Detachment levels. Loudspeaker systems can be mounted on a vehicle or carried by a soldier in a backpack.

    The advantages of loudspeaker operations include: immediate feedback from the target audience, flexibility, mobility, range of transmission, exploitation of targets of opportunity, effectiveness with illiterate audiences, and ability to pinpoint targets. The limitations include: vulnerability to enemy fire, distortion of messages over distance and time, and employment of enemy countermeasures.

    How can tactical PSYOP shape the maneuver commanders AO?

    The key to a successful loudspeaker operation lies in tailoring each message to fit the situation. Loudspeakers are useful in tactical support of exploitation, retrograde movements, static situations, consolidations, and counterinsurgency operations. They also provide public service announcements to small rural areas.

    Exploitation: When friendly forces are exploiting the breakthrough of the enemy lines, loudspeaker operations can accomplish spectacular results. Surrender appeals and ultimatums are particularly effective when enemy units have been surrounded, isolated, or bypassed.

    ISSUE: Winning or losing popular support on the JRTC battlefield.

    SITUATION: During a recent JRTC rotation, the BPD Commander handed the BLUFOR Commander the results of the PSYOP survey with no further statement of what the results indicated or how they could be used to achieve the Commander's mission. PSYOP teams documented that some villagers indicated, on more than one occasion, the OPFOR were coming into the village at night and terrorizing them. The villagers even gave the times and routes taken. This presented an excellent opportunity for BLUFOR to kill OPFOR soldiers and gain support of the local populace. Neglect of the PSYOP weapons system in this situation resulted in the local population's perception that BLUFOR forces were unable or unwilling to protect the citizens. It was not long before the popular support was lost to the OPFOR.

    DISCUSSION: Success or failure for units on the JRTC battlefield is in large part a reflection of their success in dealing with the challenges presented by the civilians on the battlefield (COB). The JRTC villages hold many keys to success for the Commander in the form of combat information. Failure to "win the local populace" can create havoc for the BLUFOR ranging from civilian interference of military operations to OPFOR gaining/maintaining the support of the locals for the government.

    Information gained during a visit by PSYOP Teams must be shared and analyzed. It is not uncommon for PSYOP personnel to find information, place it into a PSYOP assessment, and not act on the information.

    Retrograde: Loudspeakers can be used to clear roads, thereby facilitating the operation.

    Static Situations: When lines are stabilized, TPT loudspeakers can broadcast news of successes to the enemy, build upon enemy tensions or promote nostalgic themes about home and family. Primary objectives are to encourage dissatisfaction, malingering, individual distractions within the enemy force, and desertion by creating an atmosphere of fear, insecurity, and disillusionment.

    Consolidation: In newly occupied terrain, TPTs can be utilized to assist in civilian, traffic, or mob control.

    Counterinsurgency Operations: TPTs can be used to broadcast a wide variety of programs and messages to civilian populations and insurgents.

    ISSUE: The utilization of PSYOP Deception

    SITUATION: The BLUFOR Commander prepared his force for one main axis of attack from the west. In order to mask his intent, the BLUFOR Commander utilized sonic deception and smoke assets to simulate an attack from the east. This deception was successful as the OPFOR covered both avenues of approach. The OPFOR was duped and forced to deplete quantities of air scatterable mines to cover what was thought to be two separate attacks. The deception was highly successful and severely diminished the OPFOR ability to concentrate their combat power.

    DISCUSSION: To be successful, PSYOP deception operations must be planned, coordinated, integrated, synchronized, and executed successfully. Failure in any one area will result in failure of the whole plan.

    What must I do, as maneuver commander, to ensure an effective PSYOP campaign?

    Tactical PSYOP support at each level must integrate the needs of the maneuver commander with the CINC/JTF PSYOP campaign plan. This results in a PSYOP plan that supports each maneuver commander while ensuring consistent PSYOP themes and objective at all levels.

    An effective PSYOP campaign requires regional analysis, detailed coordination, and the inclusion of tactical PSYOP soldiers into the planning process as early as possible. Early planning results in well planned, integrated PSYOP campaigns, deployment with the supported unit, and immediate operations upon arrival. When incorporated early and coordinated at all levels, tactical PSYOP will provide an effective weapons system for the maneuver commander. However, knowing the limitations of any weapons system is key to its effectiveness.

    Limitations of tactical PSYOP are:
  • Tactical PSYOP teams require security
  • Product approval process takes time
  • Often must use supported unit's communications equipment
  • All products developed must fall within a approved PSYOP campaign plan
  • " PSYOP...was a great threat to troop morale, second only to the coalition bombing campaign. "
    An Iraqi General.

    Tactical PSYOP as a combat multiplier, in combination with other assets, increases the effectiveness of the overall operation. PSYOP enhances the plan when forward deployed or positioned at critical points in the AO. On weakened or bypassed units, PSYOP decreases their effectiveness and prevents units from fighting doggedly; which is the cause of higher friendly casualties and expenditure of resources. PSYOP messages must remain truthful to maintain credibility however, the impact on the target audience is only limited by the imagination of the PSYOP specialist, the staff, and the commander.


    Headquarters, Department of the Army, FM 33-1-1, Psychological Operations , May 1994

    9th Psychological Operations Battalion Tactical Primer, Commander's Guide to Tactical Psychological Operations , April 1993

    USSOCOM, Joint Publication 3-53, Doctrine for Joint Psychological Operations , July 1996.