How The Military Conducts PSYOPS

Gear
EC-130J in flight.
U.S. Air Force photo.

When people think about U.S. Army equipment, what probably comes to mind are tanks, gunship helicopters, self-propelled artillery, and other larger advanced weapons — all great for blowing things up. However, American troops often rely on a very different gear to both confuse and demoralize enemy troops and “win the hearts and minds” of civilians on and around the battlefield.


Thanks to an unclassified 2005 training aid, Task & Purpose is able to highlight the unique equipment military personnel bring on these psychological operations, or PSYOPS. As of 2017, Army Special Operations Command oversees all active PSYOPS troops, though some units are attached to the Army Reserve.

According to the unclassified PSYOPS training manual Task & Purpose obtained under the Freedom of Information Act, these troops employ everything from printed messages to radio programs to television shows to “create a behavior that supports the United States” and promote American military objectives, as the manual puts it. Elite troops have their own Special Operations Media Systems-B that combines both radio and television studio functions in a suite of relatively mobile equipment.

Four Humvees and two trailers can hold all the various pieces of the Mobile Radio Broadcast System and the Mobile Television Broadcast System. Special operators can deploy the two components wherever commanders might need them with the help of U.S. Air Force C-130 and C-17 aircraft, according to the guide.

The radio station portion produces, records, and transmits the alerts all by itself, according to the Army guide. While the mobile television production center does the same for audio-visual messages, it also has extra cameras, lights and other gear so specialized soldiers have the option of creating their own news reports from the field.

When American special operators arrived in Afghanistan after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, they brought the SOMS-B with them. By 2002, the U.S. military was broadcast radio programming in local languages, such as Pashtu and Dari, 24 hours a day as part of Operation Enduring Freedom.

To make sure messages went out around the clock, the PSYOPS soldiers on the ground got help from the Air Force’s EC-130J Commando Solo planes — noted in the Army’s training manual under “sister service capabilities.” These heavily modified C-130 cargo planes beam down radio and television signals from a unique, in-flight studio.

Related: How Joint Special Operations Command Became America’s ‘Perfect Hammer’ »

The Afghans loved the American-supplied news and other alerts, mostly because “they broadcast music and for almost everyone,” according to Weapon of Choice: U.S. Army Special Operations Forces in Afghanistan, a book published by the Army. For six years, the Taliban had banned radio stations from playing popular tunes and local folk songs.

The Army handbook points out SOMS-B has the ability to record content on CDs or tapes so troops can distribute it to friendly broadcasters. In 2016, American crews were dropping leaflets encouraging locals in northern Syria to tune in to FM 99.1. This is the frequency for Radio Rozana, a pirate radio station independent journalists run as an alternative to official Syrian government outlets.

In addition to the smaller down-range setups, the Army has larger production facilities situated at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, as well as the large but deployable Theater Media Production Center, or TMPC. Compared to the SOMS-B, this four-part system cranks out longer and more complex audio and video materials in both digital and physical formats, including CDs or even older cassette tapes.

The mobile unit also has scanners and high-resolution printers to make copies of photographs and printed messages. Another limitation of the smaller SOMS-B is that troops cannot produce substantial numbers of printed PSYOPS messages.  

As of 2005, the 3rd Psychological Operations Battalion owned the Army’s sole TMPC system. But PSYOPS soldiers need permission from president or the secretary of defense to roll it out, according to the Army manual, and we could find no open reports of its deployment.

Of course, the Pentagon continues to rely on older, more traditional PSYOPS tools, too. By the end of 2016, American aircraft had dropped thousands of leaflets over Iraq and Syria warning innocent civilians of impending air strikes and calling on them to resist Islamic State terrorists.

In addition to air strikes and commando raids in Iraq and Syria, the Pentagon will undoubtedly continue this other war over the radio and in print. Regardless, if American commander ever need to connect with regular people in a warzone, PSYOPS troops have the gear to quickly share America’s objectives and intentions — and maybe just a little music.

(DoD photo)

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Marine Maj. Jose J. Anzaldua Jr. spent more than three years during the height of the Vietnam War. Now, more than 45 years after his release, Sig Sauer is paying tribute to his service with a special gift.

Sig Sauer on Friday unveiled a unique 1911 pistol engraved with Anzaldua's name, the details of his imprisonment in Vietnam, and the phrase "You Are Not Forgotten" accompanied by the POW-MIA flag on the grip to commemorate POW-MIA Recognition Day.

The gunmaker also released a short documentary entitled "Once A Marine, Always A Marine" — a fitting title given Anzaldua's courageous actions in the line of duty

Marine Maj. Jose Anzaldua's commemorative 1911 pistol

(Sig Sauer)

Born in Texas in 1950, Anzaldua enlisted in the Marine Corps in 1968 and deployed to Vietnam as an intelligence scout assigned to the 2nd Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment, 1st Marine Division.

On Jan. 23, 1970, he was captured during a foot patrol and spent 1,160 days in captivity in various locations across North Vietnam — including he infamous Hỏa Lò Prison known among American POWs as the "Hanoi Hilton" — before he was freed during Operation Homecoming on March 27, 1973.

Anzaldua may have been a prisoner, but he never stopped fighting. After his release, he received two Bronze Stars with combat "V" valor devices and a Prisoner of War Medal for displaying "extraordinary leadership and devotion to his companions" during his time in captivity. From one of his Bronze Star citations:

Using his knowledge of the Vietnamese language, he was diligent, resourceful, and invaluable as a collector of intelligence information for the senior officer interned in the prison camp.

In addition, while performing as interpreter for other United States prisoners making known their needs to their captors, [Anzaldua] regularly, at the grave risk of sever retaliation to himself, delivered and received messages for the senior officer.

On one occasion, when detected, he refused to implicate any of his fellow prisoners, even though severe punitive action was expected.

Anzaldua also received a Navy and Marine Corps Medal for his heroism in December 1969, when he entered the flaming wreckage of a U.S. helicopter that crashed nearr his battalion command post in the country's Quang Nam Province and rescued the crew chief and a Vietnamese civilian "although painfully burned himself," according to his citation.

After a brief stay at Camp Pendleton following his 1973 release, Anzaldua attended Officer Candidate School at MCB Quantico, Virginia, earning his commission in 1974. He retired from the Corps in 1992 after 24 years of service.

Sig Sauer presented the commemorative 1911 pistol to Anzaldua in a private ceremony at the gunmaker's headquarters in Newington, New Hampshire. The pistol's unique features include:

  • 1911 Pistol: the 1911 pistol was carried by U.S. forces throughout the Vietnam War, and by Major Anzaldua throughout his service. The commemorative 1911 POW pistol features a high-polish DLC finish on both the frame and slide, and is chambered in.45 AUTO with an SAO trigger. All pistol engravings are done in 24k gold;
  • Right Slide Engraving: the Prisoner of War ribbon inset, with USMC Eagle Globe and Anchor and "Major Jose Anzaldua" engravings;
  • Top Slide Engraving: engraved oak leaf insignia representing the Major's rank at the time of retirement and a pair of dog tags inscribed with the date, latitude and longitude of the location where Major Anzaldua was taken as a prisoner, and the phrase "You Are Not Forgotten" taken from the POW-MIA flag;
  • Left Side Engraving: the Vietnam War service ribbon inset, with USMC Eagle Globe and Anchor engraving;
  • Pistol Grips: anodized aluminum grips with POW-MIA flag.

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