Employment of Psychological Operations

The versatility and flexibility of Psychological Operations throughout the continuum make it a combat multiplier and weapons system available to the maneuver commander.

Psychological Operations or 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 is 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:

PSYOP employment may be done through various media, i.e., visual: newspaper, posters, pamphlets, handbills; audio: radio, loudspeakers; face to face, an 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.

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 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

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.

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

Static Situations: When lines are stabilized, loudspeaker teams 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, loudspeaker teams can be utilized to assist in civilian, traffic, or mob control.

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

The utilization of PSYOP Deception

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

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.