Psychological operations of U.S. military services at the present stage
The situation in Iraq and around it has shown once again that the problem of identification of the main sources of military long- and short-term threats is still important for today’s Russia. Its solution evidently depends largely on military-political, economic and military capabilities of the United States to attain the goals of its internal and external policy.
In this connection, the U.S. and British military operation in Iraq will remain for a long time yet a subject of detailed studies by Russian scholars. With the main conclusions are yet to be drawn, experts both in and outside Russia are summing up preliminary results of the second war in the Persian Gulf. For the time being, experts are focusing on general questions of the effectiveness of the offensive air operation and its effects on the region’s stability and the world security system in general. Thereafter, we will discuss first of all the strategy and tactic of so-called "push-button warfare of the future" with Iraq as a proving ground where precision weapons and information and psychological operations were used on an unprecedented scale.
According to U.S. military and political leaders’ views, organization and conduct of psychological operations in modern conditions is a mandatory element of military services participation in armed conflicts of various intensity, peacekeeping, humanitarian and counter-terrorism operations.
In accordance with documents containing regulations which are currently in effect in the U.S. military services, psychological operations * are programs to produce products and/or action programs that influence assessment, opinions and emotions of foreign audiences (governments, organizations, groups, and individuals) with the purpose of inducing their behavior to be favorable to objectives of the U.S. foreign policy and plans of appropriate commanders (persons in command) at strategic, operational and tactical levels.
Psychological operations are a component part of information operations and of the International Public Information [IPI] System. ** PsyOp activities are planned, organized and conducted before, during and after conflicts of various intensity. In the past, there were clear distinctions between three levels of conducting PsyOps: strategic, operational and tactical levels. There are no such deep distinctions at the moment because it is practically impossible to confine any information campaign to one specific location. A leaflet produced, for example, in Bosnia and Herzegovina can be shown to a night news reporter in the United States and instantly read in Sarajevo from TV screen.
Strategic psychological operations are defined as operations entailing global consequences and they are planned, organized and conducted at the governmental level. Psychological operations of the U.S. military services are conducted in support of strategic PsyOps and should guarantee correspondence of commanders’ actions in theaters in peacetime and in wartime to the national plan of strategic PsyOps.
Operational psychological operations are conducted in entire theater of military operations to support appropriate commanders (persons in command) by joint PsyOps task forces or PsyOps elements. Operational PsyOps consist in communicating information to large audiences via television, radio, newspapers, magazine and leaflets. According to the concept of operational psychological operations of the U.S. military services, small forward-based PsyOp units of personnel and assets support the commanders in theater. Corresponding materials are prepared for them by the PsyOp Command at Fort Bragg, North Carolina. This concept, named Reachback, is realized by transmitting information via classified communications channels of the U.S. Army.
Tactical psychological operations consist in activities of forces and PsyOp assets in certain regions with focused psychological pressure on target audiences. Tactical PsyOps are conducted by small teams that disseminate leaflets, broadcast programs via local TV and radio facilities, use loudspeaker facilities and distribute billboards and banners.
The organization and conduct of psychological operations are in charge of the Unified Command of the U.S. military services Special Operations Command at Mac Dill Air Force base, North Carolina, the main component of which is the U.S. Army Special Operations Command (USSOC) at Fort Bragg, North Carolina administratively also subordinated to the Department of Defense. The USSOC has a command for communicating with civilian administrations and for psychological operations which has in its subordination regular PsyOp civil affairs units. The command has about 9,500 soldiers (including about 1,300 in regular forces and about 8,000 in organized reserves).
Every component of the U.S. military services has its own PsyOp personnel and assets whereas the main potential here (about 85 percent) is in the Army, the only component with regular PsyOp units in peacetime and big reserve PsyOp components of high mobilization readiness. The main regular element of the Army and at the same time the nucleus of the entire PsyOp structure of the U.S. military services is the 4th Psychological Operations Group (Airborne) at Ft. Bragg, NC. It consists of a headquarters element, a headquarters company and five PsyOp battalions: the 1st, 6th and 8th are regionally oriented battalions, the 9th is a tactical PsyOps battalion and the 3rd is a PsyOp dissemination battalion. The Group’s total strength is 1,135.
Regional PsyOp battalions are designed to organize and conduct psychological operations of strategic and operational levels in specified theaters in support of the Unified Command (UC) of the U.S. military services: The 1st Psychological Operations Battalion supports the UC in the Atlantic and the UC in Central and Southern America; the 6th Psychological Operations Battalion supports UC in Europe and Africa; the 8th Psychological Operations Battalion supports the UC in the Pacific and the Central Command zone. Each regional battalion has a headquarters support company and two region-oriented companies supporting concrete unified commands (groups) of the U.S. military services. Each of them has a strategic studies detachment, which includes civilians with expertise in the regions the battalions are responsible for. The battalions have MSQ-85B general-purpose audio and video studios for recording and editing television and radio programs and loudspeaker-broadcast messages, producing photographs, slides and printed material layouts.
The 3rd Psychological Operations Battalion (POB) serves as the PsyOp dissemination battalion for printed, audio and video PsyOp material and maintains and supports communications system of PsyOp units. It is made up of a headquarters and support company (with an electronic equipment maintenance platoon and a motor transport maintenance section), a print company (management section, a fixed-site print facility platoon and three mobile print facility platoons, a radio and television broadcasting company (a management section, production and dissemination platoon, a radio engineering section and a signals company (a management section, a tactical echelon communications support platoon, a communications and control center and a theater communications support platoon). The battalion’s print company can print at the rate of one million one-color leaflets in 24 hours after getting the assignment. The battalion is equipped with practically all types of mobile radio stations, television broadcasting and studio complexes, communications and printing facilities of the U.S. military services PsyOp bodies.
The 9th POB, a tactical support battalion, is responsible for planning tactical psychological operations in headquarters and conducting tactical PsyOps in direct support of Army units and elements. It has its own facilities to develop and disseminate PsyOp audio and video material. The battalion is made up of a headquarters and support company and three regionally oriented companies of tactical PsyOps. Company A is designed to conduct tactical PsyOps in Central and South America; Company B, in Europe and Africa; Company C, in the Pacific and the Central Command zone. Each company is made up of a headquarters and management detachments and a set of functional teams that can be the basis for operational PsyOp units if need be (one of division support and three of brigade support). The smallest unit of the battalion is a tactical loudspeaker broadcast team. Each tactical PsyOp company has 12-15 loudspeaker-broadcast teams. The 9th POB brings together the greatest number of all loudspeaker broadcast facilities of the U.S. military services.
The U.S. military services Army reserve troops has two headquarters of PsyOp groups: the 2nd, in Cleveland, Ohio; the 7th, in San Francisco, California: eight PsyOp battalions–three regional, three tactical PsyOp, one development and dissemination battalion and one for POW affairs and apprehended civilians, and one separate company for the development and dissemination of PsyOp material. Reserve PsyOp elements’ personnel numbers more than 3,100 (74 percent of the entire PsyOp personnel).
As may be required, civil affairs forces are called on to conduct psychological operations. They are designed to organize public administration on territories controlled (occupied) by American troops and maintain contacts with local authorities and residents. The 96th Civil Affairs (CA) Battalion of the Army has 6 companies (about 200 PsyOp personnel each), 3 headquarters of CA command, 2 headquarters of CA brigades and subordinated CA battalions and teams in the Army Reserve (about 4,800 PsyOp personnel).
The U.S. Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps do not have organic PsyOp personnel and assets in peacetime. At the same time, they have a certain PsyOp potential in their reserves.
Thus, the Air National Guard of the U.S. Air Force has the 193rd Special Operations Command Wing based at Harrisburg International Airport, Pa. Its primary mission is to provide an airborne platform to broadcast (relay) radio and television PsyOp programming to hostile areas or foreign states, also with the use of satellite system. The Wing has six EC-130E and two EC-130J aircraft configured to carry "Volant Solo/Commando Solo" and "Commando Solo-2" radio and television broadcasting equipment. Every aircraft has the capability of broadcasting color television on a multitude of worldwide standards throughout the TV VHF/UHF ranges and radio in standard AM, HF, and VHF, bands. The aircraft are also equipped to drop leaflets and other PsyOp material. Similar missions are also assigned to one of the four MC-130 Combat Talon aircraft of the U.S. Air Force Special Operations Command.
The U.S. Navy has in its reserves units with a capability to develop television and radio programming for foreign audiences. Their personnel and equipment constitute the Fleet Tactical Readiness Group (FTRG) capable, within 48 hours, to move, deploy and get combat ready PsyOp personnel and equipment. FTRG is fitted out with sets of radio and television transmitters configured for transportation by air, sea or land. The transmitters’ output is 10.6 kW. Radio programming is broadcast in MW and SW bands. The U.S. Marine Corps reserve has two PsyOp groups (the 3rd group is on the East Coast and the 4th, on the West Coast) tasked, in particular, with the conduct of PsyOps.
Basic training of PsyOp experts is based on a single U.S. DoD training program at special educational institutions and training courses. Fundamentals of psychological operations is part of the course of training at most military educational institutions in the United States, from NCO schools up to command and staff colleges of the military services.
The principal institution training PsyOp experts is the John F. Kennedy Special Warfare Center and School. The USAF Special Operations School at Hurlburt Field, Florida provides PsyOp briefings for high-level military and civilian personnel.
Strategic and operational tactical patterns of combat employment of PsyOp units and the scope of PsyOp activities were tested by American forces in many military operations of various scales, duration, geographical location, objectives and missions and participants in the conflicts. Among such operations are the use of U.S. military force in Grenada (1983), Panama (1989), the Persian Gulf (1991 and 2003), Haiti (1994), Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo, etc.
Pentagon experts think that, while operations in a number of armed conflicts were successful, the PsyOps during the peacekeeping operation in Somalia and air strikes in Yugoslavia failed. U.S. PsyOp units in Bosnia and Kosovo faced formidable difficulties. One of the main cited reasons for the lapses is the wrong estimation of the target audiences and subsequent problems in planning and organization of concrete PsyOp programs. Analyzing operations with the use of PsyOp forces and equipment during air strikes at Yugoslavia, American military expert T. Thomas wrote that the expectations that the air operation against the Serb armed forces would be brief were the reason for excluding NATO psychological operations from the original campaign plans. It took two weeks before they began to develop and disseminate PsyOp products and nearly 30 days to draw up appropriate plans. (1)
Furthermore, American experts think that the United States had some rivals that acted more cautiously and effectively and managed to use to advantage the so-called traditional methods of psychological pressure. Among the purported rivals are Russia, China and India. Today, the U.S. PsyOp personnel and assets compete in organization and conduct of PsyOps at the operational level with local and international mass media that are often better financed and technically equipped. American PsyOp units compete against well-trained foreign contingents not constrained by political dogmas and commitments. These things do cause anxiety among U.S. military and political leaders. This prompted the DoD to create a special military research unit to analyze the performance of the U.S. military services psychological operations agencies and develop on this basis practical recommendations.
A special report filed by this unit pointed out that the structure of psychological operations at the turn of the 21st century reflected the obsolete Cold War policy geared to support tactical PsyOps directly on the battlefield. The experts saw among the chief drawbacks of the U.S. military services psychological operations lack of cooperation at the strategic level and contradictions in the content of information campaigns in theater and international public information activities. They think the doctrine and structure of psychological operations of the U.S. military services at the strategic level was more in line with wartime requirements. This orientation was the reason for the low effectiveness of the PsyOp forces and equipment during the period of threat in the course of peacekeeping and counter-terrorism operations.
The report says that ideally the study of foreign PsyOp target audiences should be based on a modern scientific basis and data from the national intelligence community and latest advances in military-political psychology. In reality, U.S. military services PsyOp experts face great difficulties procuring intelligence, processing and analyzing it.
Pentagon analysts think that under existing structure regional PsyOp battalions are cumbersome and extremely short of experts who can tackle wideranging missions. Whereas there are sufficient numbers of PsyOp personnel and equipment to support four corps, there is a glaring imbalance between the regional and tactical PsyOp personnel and assets.
The main problem with tactical PsyOp personnel and assets is that they are vulnerable in medium- and high-intensity conflicts. As modern weapons are growing ever more deadly, survivability of tactical three-person PsyOp teams using a High Mobility Multi-purpose Wheeled Vehicle (HMMWV) equipped with a loudspeaker with a range of 1,000 meters or so is counted in minutes, not in hours.
The U.S. Department of Defense developed appropriate recommendations to overcome existing difficulties. They called for amendments to the structure of PsyOp forces and assets, and for a program of their comprehensive support and provision with equipment.
The recommendations proposed to create a working PsyOp planning agency under the Defense Department directed by an aide to the Defense Secretary for special operations and low-intensity conflicts whose job it is to integrate psychological operations on the operational and tactical levels with programs of strategic international public information. Furthermore, the DoD examined the possibility of having a greater number of regular job categories of ranking PsyOp personnel. Thus, according to the recommendations, PsyOp advisers to commanders in theater and the commanders of joint operational PsyOp groups in theater, should be in the colonel rank. One proposal was to create in the DoD a special PsyOp reconnaissance unit to finance and provide equipment under the programs calling for analysis of open sources of information and provision by the reconnaissance communities of all necessary information (including information on social and cultural characteristics of foreign audiences) so as to subsequently develop PsyOp materials.
The DoD considered a special fund of military intelligence the command of special operations forces needs to buy corresponding sources of information outside the United States, especially in Europe and Asia, and put together a specialized databank. At the same time, it held consultations with the Department of State on buying PsyOp information dissemination channels. With regard to refitting PsyOp personnel and assets, it was proposed to first of all study modern technical potentials and equipment for the dissemination of mass information (in particular, with the use of reduced-size sets of equipment) and to insist that civilian suppliers should meet higher quality requirements.
Expert estimates show that these programs called for annual investments of approximately $50 million. No concrete decisions were made with regard to the formulated avenues of work, which could have been a reason for the lapses in the U.S. PsyOp efforts in Afghanistan and Iraq.
Having studied psychological operations of the first Gulf War, the peace-keeping operation in Somalia and air strikes at Yugoslavia, PsyOp experts of the U.S. military services arrived at the following conclusion: effective study of PsyOp audiences and the development on this basis of appropriate psychological techniques and PsyOp material dissemination equipment is the necessary condition for successful PsyOps. American experts believe it is essential to constantly model possible trends in the development of global mass communications and their probable impact on the contents of PsyOp programs and dissemination of their products.
This work produced corresponding concepts of psychological operations in land, air assault, peacekeeping and anti-terrorism operations the main points of which are reflected in many documents containing regulations including the "Doctrine for Joint Psychological Operations" and the U.S. FM 3-05.30 "Psychological Operations."
According to these documents, the basic tasks of psychological operations are to explain the U.S. political objectives in conflicts, use coercive persuasion, create a favorable image of the American military services, promote "Western democratic values," exploit ethnic, cultural and religious differences, undermine hostile forces’ morale and their spirit of resistance, coerce them into surrender; persuade civilians that they should cooperate, spread false information and use counterpropaganda.
CA units are supposed to operate right in the territories freed from regimes hostile to the United States and during peacekeeping and humanitarian operations. CA units’ job is also to restore or build local public administrations, public health services, public education, sanitary and epidemiological services, help the public with construction and agricultural work, transportation and distribution of humanitarian relief supplies.
In offensive air operations, the stress is on stepping up significantly information and psychological impacts on hostile forces and population which is one of the most important ways of raising effectiveness of psychological operations. American military experts have arrived at this conclusion because it is civil affairs operations that achieve the maximum effect whereas the psychological effects of air strikes can even surpass the results of the delivery of fire for effect.
In keeping with this approach, American experts classify offensive air operations depending on the targets of information and psychological pressure:
* air operations against hostile strategic targets, the destruction or the threat of destruction of which can compel the opposing side’s government to stop the conflict on terms acceptable to the United States;
* air operations directly against hostile forces, whose demoralization can cause the cessation of organized resistance and subsequent military defeat.
Strategic targets in this context imply hostile targets located in the capitals or major industrial or cultural centers and near them. American PsyOp experts think that air strikes in this case have psychological effects on both the military-political elite and opinion leaders in the enemy’s camp. Psychological operations during air strikes should stress the idea that the enemy has suffered defeat and further resistance would deny it "favorable" terms of surrender. The sine qua non of success of PsyOps is the removal and isolation of enemy political and military leaders.
The psychological effect of air strikes directly at hostile forces is maximal when there is a significant rise in losses and casualties, destruction of strong points and military equipment. The cessation of resistance, massive surrender and desertions are also caused by long and effective air strikes resulting in lack of food and medical supplies. In this case PsyOp personnel and assets of the U.S. military services are assigned the mission to keep the adversary in a state of constant psychological tension by threatening air strikes for protracted periods and at any time of the day.
After Sept. 11, 2001, PsyOp experts of the U.S. military services have appreciably expanded and upgraded the strategy of psychological operations against terrorists and terrorist organizations. The concept adopted by the U.S. military services singles out three classes of offensive information operations to combat terrorism: attacks on terrorist organizations’ information structure (destruction of information or information agencies themselves); deception, disinformation (garbled, falsified or manipulated data); psychological operations (psychological pressure on minds of individuals or groups of individuals). In this aspect information operations are viewed as ideological struggle for the minds of people and include the entire range of psychological communications and military techniques of psychological pressure on leaders of groups of terrorists or the country’s population as a whole. In this connection, the role of psychological operations is decisive in both estimating terrorist threats and combating terrorists.
In line with current documents of the U.S. military services containing regulations the PsyOp personnel and assets are assigned the following missions: to win over and keep up support from friendly countries and populations during long campaigns against terrorists; persuade people that terrorism is hostile to them; inform people as to the true objectives of terrorists and persuade them that they should rely on government agencies protecting their lives and property; inform the international community of acts of terrorism so as to deny the terrorists support from other countries; unmask the nature and essence of terrorism in order to discredit it in the eyes of the people and restrict the terrorists’ freedom of movement; use instances of terrorist attacks on civilian population to win over support of other countries.
When discussing whether information operations in general and psychological operations in particular can be used to combat terrorism, Western experts increasingly say that it is necessary to use against terrorist organizations PsyOp methods developed for opposing rebel (guerrilla) and revolutionary movements. This viewpoint is based on the premise that "new terrorism" is an international underground movement, an asymmetric threat to modern society, and an ideological opposition to it. In this context, the generally accepted practice of reducing terrorist threats through talks with the leaders of more moderate factions of extremist organizations does not work and in some instances it is simply impermissible. The fundamental objective of psychological operations should be to erode the fundamental principle of terrorism–the end justifies the means. It is this principle that prompts extremists to adopt terror.
All these innovations in organization and conduct of PsyOps were used on a smaller or greater scale in the U.S. military operations in Afghanistan and Iraq. Despite the impressive successes scored by the PsyOp personnel of the U.S. military services in these campaigns, the Americans once again made serious mistakes studying the target audiences of psychological pressure.
PsyOp experts in Afghanistan did not understand the ethnic and religious characteristics and mentality of Afghan tribes. The economic factor and the low living standards in the country have practically slipped the minds of the officers of the 4th PsyOp Group. For this reason, the effectiveness of psychological pressures on Afghan tribes was not high enough. In conditions of the information blockade conducted by the Taliban, most people in the country had vague ideas of the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks and the reasons for bombing Afghanistan and as a result they were immune to American propaganda. Local people often took food rations in yellow packages for life-threatening TNT. The greater proportion of humanitarian relief supplies ended up in the hands of profiteers and subsequently on the market. At the same time, many containers with relief supplies were dropped on deserted or mined areas. Most of the leaflets were threatening for which reason many Afghans, especially Pashtuns and Baluchis, found them insulting.
In Iraq, American military PsyOp experts think, the key factor in the effective military operation against the regime of Saddam Hussein was the reduction in loyalty to the Baghdad leaders of Iraqi military personnel and the country’s population. The objectives of operational-tactical PsyOps in this case were to effect a split among members of the ruling quarters of Iraq and Iraqi society and to demoralize military personnel and civilians.
Right from day one of preparations for strikes against Iraq, the personnel and assets of U.S. military services began to actively deceive the military-political leadership, military personnel and civilians about the day the military operations was to begin and the plans for combat employment of troops. Information and psychological effect materials made attempts to set the political elite and Hussein’s inner circle and the dictator himself against Iraq’s military command. In addition, PsyOp experts did much to foster, inside and outside the country, opposition forces for subversion. The 4th PsyOp Group was continuously inciting the Kurdish population in Northern Iraq to active separatist activities. A separate avenue of PsyOp personnel was opposing the passing of effective administrative decisions at all levels of power in Iraq using the latest information-psychological and IT techniques.
At a later stage, the PsyOp personnel and assets of the U.S. military services were supposed to create in the areas of military actions in Iraq the necessary sociopsychological conditions to prevent the execution of orders of the supreme military-political command by medium-echelon commanding officers and encourage open insubordination and sabotage among members of the military personnel and civilians. Radio broadcasts and leaflets intimidated members of Iraq’s armed forces and local populations by American military might and consequences of massive bombing strikes and ground-attacks at military and civilian infrastructure targets. PsyOp experts of the U.S. military services called upon ordinary soldiers and officers of the Iraqi military to surrender en masse and incited fear and panic in major Iraqi cities.
Three weeks of combat operations made it obvious that the Americans went too far with a large-scale employment of the latest advances in communications and psychological techniques unleashing on the unprepared Iraqi audiences supermodern information and psychological warfare assets. The U.S. Air Force planes dropped, during twenty-four hours of fighting, on the city of An-Najaf two million leaflets that called for surrender. The actual result of such unprecedented action was zero.
Thus, despite the constant honing in the United States of theory and practice of psychological operations, introduction of modern models of specialized equipment and weapons, development of advanced information and psychological techniques, military personnel continues to face serious difficulties in organization and conduct of PsyOps. The main mistake of American experts at the current stage is their overestimation of the technological superiority factor to the detriment of sober analysis of the sociopsychological situation and the morale of target audiences.
* Military Psychological Operations, or PsyOps, in American terminology.
** International Public Information (IPI) System is in the charge of the U.S. Department of State.
(1). T.L. Thomas, "Kosovo and the Current Myth of Information Superiority," Parameters, 2000, pp. 13-29.
Lt. Col. A.G. STARUNSKIY
Candidate of Psychological Sciences
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