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Improving Tactical PSYOP Video Dissemination in Media-Austere Operating Environments

January 7, 2005

Recent psychological operations (PSYOP) in Afghanistan in support of Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF) have shown the significant challenges of reaching a target audience in mediaaustere operating environments. A media-austere operating environment is defined here as an environment where the means of broadcasting, namely television and radio, are severely degraded following military operations or have not yet developed into maturity, and where the target audience (TA) does not have access to the equipment (television or radio sets) necessary to receive the broadcast message. Successful video PSYOP in media-austere operating environments require modern and versatile tactical video dissemination that complements tactical operations and adheres to force-protection constraints to bring video products directly to the TA.

While the video medium is one of the most powerful means of communicating PSYOP messages, successful dissemination of PSYOP video has generally required an extant television network and a developed and ready television viewing audience. In media-rich environments, video PSYOP is typically broadcast to a TA already tuned in for normal programming. In a nonpermissive environment PSYOP programming can be delivered to the TA by either overpowering the normal signal or broadcasting on channels not in use. In either a semi-permissive or permissive environment, PSYOP can purchase or acquire airtime. In operating environments where such a network and viewing audience is not developed, tactical means for dissemination must fill the gap. PSYOP forces typically do not attempt to employ media not readily supported by the operating environment. Nevertheless, the supported commander may deem video to be the most effective means to reach an illiterate TA in a media-austere environment and may request such products to support his operations.

Effective broadcast dissemination of radio and television PSYOP in media-austere operating environments necessitates either the reconstruction of damaged broadcasting facilities or the employment of military radio and television broadcasting systems like the Special Operations Media System (SOMS-B for the latest “B” version), or the EC-130 Commando Solo aircraft. The reach of ground-based transmitters is limited by the effects of terrain and the number of transmitters that may be erected, protected, equipped and manned. The limitations on aerial transmitters are, primarily, broadcast range and flight time. However, video broadcast operations cannot reach a TA that does not have access to TV.

In broadcast radio PSYOP, it is generally practical to distribute radio receivers to the TA. While battery-operated portable FM radios can be obtained cheaply to overcome equipment 2 shortages, this is certainly not the case for television sets. Even if television sets could be distributed cheaply, the broadcast range of television signals is significantly less than that of radio. Because of the short range of TV signals, effective long-term broadcasting operations would require the installation of repeaters or additional broadcast facilities and crews to operate them. Whatever broadcast system is employed, portions of the TA will still be out of reach because they are either outside the range of the broadcast system or lack access to a receiver. These portions of the TA represent a “denied audience” for which PSYOP forces require other means to deliver video products.

In a media-austere environment, no indigenous programming draws the TA to the medium through which PSYOP messages are sent, nor can an existing broadcast infrastructure be coopted. Instead, tailor-made video products must be delivered on-site to small audiences in remote villages, military bases and cities using tactical dissemination systems that should be operated by PSYOP soldiers. The absence of video programming in a media-austere environment also makes difficult PSYOP forces’ ability to attract and keep the TA’s attention for subsequent engagements. To draw the TA to the medium, PSYOP forces need supporting video programming that is appropriate to the TA. To employ video PSYOP in media-austere operating environments, U.S. Special Operations Command (USSOCOM) must acquire both special-purpose tactical video dissemination systems and supporting and supplemental video programming appropriate to the culture of the TA. Currently, the exploitation of video media in austere operating environments lacking a mature television infrastructure exceeds U.S. PSYOP capabilities.