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Posted on Nov 29, 2010 in Tactics101, War College

Tactics 101 055 – Military Deception

By Rick Baillergeon and John Sutherland


Military deception can achieve many things on the battlefield. Let’s highlight some of these below:

  • Mask your maneuver from your enemy
  • Reinforce the belief your enemy has in your strengths, weaknesses, or current or future mission
  • Distract the enemy’s attention
  • Overload your opponent’s intelligence collection capabilities
  • Overload your opponent’s intelligence analytical capabilities
  • Slow down the decision-making process of enemy leadership
  • Speed up the decision-making process of enemy leadership
  • Create the appearance of friendly strength when there is actual weakness
  • Create the appearance of friendly weakness when there is actual strength
  • Induce the enemy to execute an action he did not anticipate conducting
  • Influence the enemy to not conduct an action he planned on executing
  • Confuse the enemy as to your size, activity, location, timeline, equipment, or intent
  • Disrupt your opponent’s ability to synchronize his assets during the fight
  • Diminish your foe’s will to fight
  • Increase your enemy’s proverbial fog of war
  • Achieve surprise

As you look at the list, some of these are obviously much more difficult to achieve than others. The decision on which function or functions you want to achieve depends on many variables. This include how much time you have available, what assets you possess to conduct military deception, your enemy’s vulnerability to various military deception techniques, and most importantly, what functions best assist you in achieving your mission.


‘The Brain’ – The True Target of Military Deception


It seems everything in tactics has its’ own set of principles. Military deception is certainly no different. Below we have listed the key military deception principles. Their adherence is not a guarantee to achieving your objectives. However, they will certainly lead you in the right direction.

  • Focus – You must focus your deception efforts on the right person/persons. They must be enemy leaders who have decision-making authority. They must be the people who will either execute an action or decide not to execute a planned action you can ultimately capitalize upon. Thus, deception efforts are always aimed at the enemy commander via his intelligence people.
  • Defined Purpose – As in any tactical endeavor, you must have a complete understanding of why you want to execute the military deception. This why should be tied to achieving your mission.
  • Centralized Planning and Control – In tactics, it is usually a good thing when you decentralize planning and control. This sets the conditions for initiative at the lower levels. However, in military deception decentralized planning and control is not so good. Because of its’ complexity and the requirement for all pieces of the effort to be in synchronization, there is a necessity for more centralized planning and control. There must be someone at a higher headquarters who is overseeing the planning, preparation, and execution of the military deception effort. Many units will have a designated military deception officer to orchestrate these efforts. However, as always it is the commander who is ultimately responsible.
  • Sound and Thorough Planning and Preparation – Perhaps, nothing in the realm of warfighting demands more detailed planning and meticulous preparation than military deception. Paramount in planning is understanding your enemy and how he may or may not act to indicators.
  • Security – Obviously, you do not want your opponent to know you are planning to or conducting a military deception on them. The old saying, “too many cooks spoil the broth” is clearly relative here. The more people you have knowledge of the military deception; the more likely it will be compromised. This is not to say they will leak it out. However,
  • Time – You must have enough time to let your deception efforts run its course. Trying to obtain results too quickly will not be successful. A good deception plan with a chance of succeeding takes time to execute.
  • Use Multiple Sources – It is critical that a unit use a variety of sources in executing their deception. Variety does many things for you. First, it assists you in adding credibility to the story you are trying to portray. Second, it provides the enemy more chances to believe the deception is actually real.
  • Integration/Synchronization – Tied directly to using multiple sources is the ability to integrate and synchronize those sources. You can have all the variety of sources you would like, but if they are tied to each other with a purpose they will not be effective.
  • Know your environment – Your deception story must be tied to what is currently taking place on the ground. It must believable as it relates to the terrain and friendly and enemy actions.
  • Feedback – It is imperative you have systems in place to receive feedback as to the progress of the deception efforts. Of course, you want to gather indicators as to if it is working. Just as importantly, you want to know if it is not working. If that is the case, a decision must be made as to the future of the operation. If you determine it is not going to result in your objectives; then terminate and utilize your resources elsewhere. One other point on feedback is to be sure the enemy is not doing things that he believes you want to see. A crafty opponent may very well turn the tables on you and deceive you.

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