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Posted on Jan 7, 2011 in Tactics101, War College

Tactics 101 056 – Military Deception Means and Techniques

By Rick Baillergeon and John Sutherland

I make the enemy see my strengths as weaknesses and my weaknesses as strengths, while I cause his strengths to become weaknesses and discover where he is not strong.”

Sun Tzu


Last month, we began our discussion of military deception with a focus on the basics. Our goal was to provide you with a foundation so we could move into the finer points of military deception. We keyed on several different areas. First, we highlighted some of the more famous uses of deception in history. Second, we gave you a definition of military deception. Third, we addressed the functions, principles, and components of military deception. Finally, we looked at the reasons why military deception works and conversely, why it fails.



Possessed with a firm foundation of the doctrine of military deception, we will delve into more specifics this month. Specifically, we will focus on the means and ways a commander has at his disposal to conduct military deception. You will find a commander has potentially much available to him. The key is taking these available assets and synchronizing them into a believable story focused at the right audience.

Deception Means

In the world of military deception, means are the methods and resources you utilize to convey or deny information to the deception target. As a review, the deception target is the person or group of people you are directing your deception efforts upon. This person or persons must be the decision-makers on the battlefield. The decision of the target is critical. If you get this wrong, you are wasting your vital resources.

We break up deception means into three distinct categories. These are: physical, technical, and administrative. Let’s discuss each of these.

Physical Means

When a commander employs physical means he is utilizing specific activities or resources aimed to influence his target. When we think of deception, this is normally the means that quickly come to mind. Normally, physical means are aimed at the visual senses of the target. However, there are also ways that physical means can be focused on the senses of hearing and smelling (we will highlight those shortly).

There are several keys to making physical means as effective as possible. First, the activity must be believable to the target. Second, the activity must be witnessed by the enemy’s surveillance systems. Finally, physical means are more believable if they are enhanced with technical and administrative means.

There are many types of physical means. These include:

  • The Employment of Reconnaissance Forces. For example, you may send recon forces in an area you do not plan to maneuver through. This is done to sell to the enemy that you are planning to maneuver in that area.
  • Maneuver of Forces. Nothing makes someone take notice more than the maneuver of his enemy. In a deception effort, maneuver must be well-thought out and have a specific purpose. If it is a hap-hazard effort, an enemy will quickly see through the deception. If this occurs, the deceptor could be become the deceptee (not doctrinal terms!). In terms of utilizing maneuver in deception, a commander has four primary techniques at his disposal. These are: feints, demonstrations, ruses, and displays. We will discuss each of these in detail later in the article.
  • Rehearsals/Exercises. A smart, well-equipped opponent will strive to know what you are doing at all times. A wily commander can capitalize on this. In regards to deception, a commander can conduct rehearsals (particularly full-scale) and exercises to portray different things to his enemy. For instance, you may conduct a rehearsal on a type of operation you do not plan to conduct. Perhaps, this will plant a seed in your opponent and cause him to react or change his plan. Additionally, the time of rehearsals can also be utilized in deception. For example, many would conclude that the conduct of an offensive rehearsal would allude that an attack is imminent. However, if the attack does not come; doubt could enter the opponent’s mind. This doubt can be exploited in the future.
  • Decoys. One of the most popular deception means at the tactical level is the use of decoys. In simplest terms, a decoy is something placed on the battlefield to draw the attention of your enemy. Decoys can be an item that is manufactured (for example a mock-up tank), something already existing on the battlefield that can adapted, or could be something you own such as an unserviceable vehicle (due to maintenance or combat loss). In regards to decoys, it is something you want the enemy to see. Consequently, it must fit into your overall deception story focused on a specific target. In order for a decoy to be effective there are certain principles you should follow. These include:
    • Location– Decoys must be emplaced in locations that tactically make sense to the story you are trying to sell. Decoys placed in terrain that does not pass the common sense simply looks like a decoy! The decoys must also be tactically tied to the purposes and tasks of the units surrounding it.
    • Movement– There must be movement tied to the decoy. Again, if there is no physical activity around the decoy; the decoy will look like a decoy to the enemy. Movement can be accomplished in several ways. These include:
      • Having Soldiers move around near the decoy. Their movement should simulate activities appropriate to the decoy.
      • Having logistical vehicles conduct actions associated with the decoy. Perhaps, send a fuel truck to replicate refueling operations. Maybe move an ammo truck next to the decoy to simulate ammo resupply.
    • Signatures – A decoy should have additional visual signatures to aid in selling itself to the enemy. These signatures can take the form of a variety of things. These can include dug-in firing positions, smoke, dust signatures replicating movement, obstacles around the decoy, etc… As long as they are believable, they will assist you in selling the decoy.

  • Camouflage. Most of us have been infatuated with camouflage since we were young kids. You remember the good old days of playing army out in the woods, rolling in the mud and sticking foliage all over yourself to blend in with the surroundings and then sneaking up on your buddy after he passed you by! Well, the use of camouflage in military deception has many of the same principles. Camouflage in deception can take the role of hiding your actions from your enemy. It can used to blend yourself into your surroundings. Or you may use it to disguise your strength and location from your opponent. There is one important thing you must remember when using camouflage – That is you must be consistent. If your unit has used camouflage in a particular way prior to your deception efforts; you must continue to utilize it that same way. If you stray from that; it is a red flag to your enemy that something may be going on.
  • Smoke and Obscurants. Everyone has heard the old adage, ‘Where there’s smoke, there’s fire.’ Certainly, smoke quickly draws the attention of all. Smoke used well is clearly a combat multiplier. Smoke used poorly is a combat degrader. The use of smoke and obscurants in deception operations can be a tremendous asset. Its chief benefit lies in its ability to confuse. Hopefully, this confused state will occur in the enemy and not friendly forces. Below are some examples of utilizing smoke in deception:
    • Properly used smoke is a great way to simulate damage. Simulated damage can take the form of vehicles (the old burning hulk in the desert) or perhaps even a location such as a logistical facility, bridge, section of railroad, power plant, etc…. When using smoke in this way you are trying to deceive the enemy as to your overall strength or the use of a location. With the simulated damage, you want the enemy to think you are weak causing him to not attack in a certain area or to send forces at a location.
    • Obviously, the first thing you think of with smoke is its ability to conceal. In deception, a commander may use smoke to deceive his enemy as to strength, location, and/or maneuver.
    • Smoke can be used to have your enemy focus in one direction while you maneuver in another.
    • Earlier, we discussed the use of dummies and decoys. Smoke can greatly assist in their credibility. When using smoke in these situations it is critical it is used realistically.

** In our next article, we will discuss in detail the use of smoke in the offense, defense, and in deception operations.

However, we will not discuss this use of smoke.

  • Logistical Activities. The more you can tie-in logistics actions with your deception the better. This can be achieved in numerous ways (many have been discussed previously). Below are some examples:
    • Simulating activities such as refueling and rearming decoy or dummy locations.
    • Portraying a logistical base that does not exist.
    • Dropping barrier materials in locations to portray obstacles that will be constructed.
  • Olfactory Indicators. Alright, here is an old school saying for you – Do you remember the old Fruit Loops commercials with Toucan Sam saying, “Follow your Nose” (that is way back!) ? Well, the use of olfactory methods (geared to the enemy’s sense of smell) can be effective. Of course, the crucial factor in this is the ability for the enemy to smell the deception efforts. In more sophisticated efforts this may mean the enemy must possess some specific technology to detect the smell. At the lower levels, it may simply mean the enemy is in close enough proximity to smell. When utilizing olfactory indicators, you would like to combine them in with other means. Below are some ways of using olfactory indicators:
    • Smells linked to vehicles such as diesel fuel, oil and gasoline can assist in selling the use of decoys or in simulating movement.
    • The cooking of food can portray that troops are in the area.
    • Smells can also be utilized to infer the use of chemical agents. This was an effective technique in World War II. For those who have experienced it, there is nothing better to get your heart pumping than a chemical alarm going off!!
  • Sonic Indicators. Similar to use of olfactory indicators is the use of sonic indicators in deception. Of course, when referring to sonic indicators we are focused on methods aimed at your opponent’s sense of hearing. If you can link up what your enemy hears to what he thinks he sees; your chances of success are greatly improved. Sonic indicators can be activities such as:
    • Simulated vehicle movement played on speakers.
    • Firing of weapons (real or simulated) that is appropriate to the tactical situation.

Technical Means
When we start discussing technical means, we are getting into some real high tech stuff. A few years ago these were things you only saw in your most creative sci-fi movies. Now these things are really out there. The key in using technical means is ensuring your opponent has the capability to collect these indicators. Why initiate these indicators if the enemy cannot pick them up?

In regards to technical means, there are many possibilities. Below you will find some examples of technical means (Please do not scoff too much – these means are out there):

  • Use of radiation.
  • Emission or suppression of chemical or biological odors.
  • Emission or suppression of nuclear particles.
  • Deliberate reflection of energy.

We know these means are a bit out there. However, if you digest it a bit; they are certainly feasible if both sides possess the necessary technology to deliver and detect the indicators.

There is one category of technical means that is not so hard to fathom. This is the use of multi-media in deception. Within this area, there are certainly the obvious mediums of radio, television, print media, and of course, the internet. Multi-media have been used significantly in the past and will be used even more in future deception operations.

Administrative Means

When we speak of administrative means, we are focused on the utilization of what is called physical evidence (sounding like CSI). A prime example of physical evidence would be for a unit to craft an operations order for a fictional mission. Then, through a believable scenario enable your opponent to somehow get their hands in it. Another example would be to craft up a false status report on your forces (showing combat strengths, etc.) and again allowing the enemy to gain access to it. Administrative means are a challenge to pull off. The difficulty is making your enemy believe his coup is legitimate and that the operation order is factual.

Deception Techniques

As we discussed earlier, there are four primary deception techniques available to a commander. These are feints, demonstrations, ruses, and displays. Let’s discuss each in detail.


The most commonly used deception technique is the feint. A feint is a type of offensive attack used as a deception technique with the purpose of drawing your opponent’s attention from your main effort attack. This could include moving his reserve or repositioning units such as his field artillery or second echelon forces. Because of the nature of a feint, it requires some contact/engagement with the enemy. That is the only way you will be able to sell the deception. Feints can take the form of a raid or even a supporting attack.

As discussed earlier, the goal of the feint is divert the enemy’s attention from the main effort attack and to persuade him to use resources that may normally be used elsewhere. Some of the key actions you would like the enemy to do in reaction to the feint are:

  • Prematurely deploy some of his second echelon forces which may be presently focused in the sector of your true main effort.
  • Vice versa, a feint may cause the enemy to keep forces focused on the area where the feint is being conducted instead of shifting it to the main effort.
  • If the enemy feels the feint is significant enough, he may deploy his reserve.
  • He may shift his supporting fires away from your main effort and focus them on the feint. This obviously makes the going a little easier for your main effort.
  • The maneuver of the feint forces can cause the enemy to impulsively fire his weapons. This can tip his hand as to his defensive posture and layout.

Two key decisions you must make in regards to the feint is where you will conduct it and at what time. Let’s discuss each below:

Location –

  • The first thing is that it must fit the total deception story. A feint is only part of the story. To make it viable in the enemy’s eyes it must be part of a package of methods. Thus, the feint must take place in an area that is tactically sound.
  • A feint must take place in terrain that is of interest to the enemy. After all, if the terrain the feint is occurring at is not truly important to the enemy; he will not commit resources to it.
  • You want to make sure that the area utilized for the feint does not interfere with the attack of the main effort. If the proximity for the attacks is too close, it will make it difficult for the enemy to distinguish the feint form the main attack. It is likely the enemy will consider it all one attack.
  • One good way to select an attack axis for a feint is to choose an axis that may have been discussed as a potential axis for the main attack.


Time –

  • A feint can take place at any time during the operation. Thus, it could occur before, after, or even at the same time as the main attack. There are several key factors in determining the timing of the feint attack. The driving determinant is the planned time for the main attack.
  • Another consideration in the timing of the feint is how long it would take for your enemy to react with his anticipated actions. If you believe the enemy will shift second echelon forces to react to the feint; then you must determine how long it will take him to do this. You must give him time to react.
  • You will usually conduct a feint before the main attack to have your opponent shift significant forces and resources towards the feint.
  • You will generally conduct a feint with the main attack to have your enemy divert some of his forces away from the main attack. Additionally, the feint adds another action into his thought process and could slow his decision cycle down significantly.
  • You will normally conduct a feint after the main attack to cause the enemy not to commit additional forces/resources against the main attack.


A demonstration is similar to a feint in many ways, but is far less resource intensive and the expectations are not as great. Within a feint, you are still conducting an attack again aimed at drawing your opponent’s attention from your main effort attack. However, there are some key distinctions.

  • First, the main difference is that you do not want to make contact with the enemy (get in an engagement). This can be a challenge at times. The risk is that you will become decisively engaged and cannot break contact.
  • Second, and tied directly to the first point, is that since you do not want to get into a fight with the enemy; you will normally utilize far less combat power in a demonstration.
  • Third, the goals of a demonstration are usually less than that of a feint.
  • Fourth, because you are not using as much combat forces, you will find more use of simulations in a demonstration.
  • Fifth, because most opponents are not dumb, they are likely to determine that a demonstration is a deception effort quicker than a feint is.


Just the word itself, exudes of deception! In basic terms, a ruse is a ploy intended to deceive the enemy to gain a subsequent advantage over him. During a ruse, you will deliberately expose false information so that your enemy can collect upon it. It is hoped that this information will be analyzed by the enemy as truthful.

Ruses can be executed at all levels. For example, at the lower levels it could just changing vehicle bumper numbers. For those World War II enthusiasts out there, you know that the War was filled with ruses on both sides. The amount of misinformation planed by both sides was simply incredible! The more elaborate the ruse – the more time is needed to potentially pull it off.

A Factitious OPORD can be of Great Value in Executing a Ruse


The final deception technique is the display. Just as the name suggests, a display is a static presentation aimed to deceive the enemy. The display is focused on your enemy’s sense of sight. Thus, it could be geared to his radar, various types of cameras, and of course, the human eye. A display can take the form of simulations, disguises, or portrayals. Obviously, if you can effectively utilize a combination of these; your chances of success are improved. Below we will address each:

  • Simulations — When utilizing the simulation technique, you are attempting to make the enemy believe there is something on the battlefield that is not actually there. Typical things that are replicated in this technique are logistics nodes, airfields, bridges, and field artillery or air defense artillery emplacements. As you can surmise from the above, simulating these locations takes some extensive work and resources. However, the benefit can be large. Many times, an enemy deceived by the simulation will expend large amounts of his resources to destroy these false locations.
  • Disguises – We all know what a disguise is. Within military deception the concept is much the same — you are striving to alter something (disguise it) to make it look like something else to your enemy. There are two customary ways of using disguises. First, you can disguise a vehicle/unit etc… of value to you to something that does not appear valuable to your enemy. Second, you can disguise a vehicle/unit … not of real value to you to something that appears valuable to your enemy.
  • Portrayals – In a portrayal, you are attempting to deceive your enemy as to the actual existence of a unit or to its’ type. For example, an excellent case of portraying a fictional unit was the Allied deception effort OPERATION FORTITUDE SOUTH, prior to D-Day. We discussed this operation in last month’s article. On the other hand, you may use particular vehicles from a cav unit to portray an armor unit. When executing a portrayal, it is extremely beneficial to use simulations and disguises in the operation.


As this article has highlighted, there is much that a commander has at his disposal. At the strategic and operational levels of war there is much star wars stuff and things we will never know about. At the tactical level, there are simpler means and techniques that can and have been highly effective. The key at any level is utilizing as many techniques as feasible to sell your story. However, all it takes is for one technique or means to be determined as deception and the entire deception story is blown (an incredible waste of resources).


In our next article, we will go into detail on the use of smoke and obscurants on the battlefield. We will talk about the use of smoke in the offense, in the defense, and in the deception. The use of smoke is truly part art and part science. We will discuss both these aspects in our next article.


  1. i really love this article. iwant to be fed with the monthly tutorials in my mail box

  2. I have a question. Consider that you want your opponent to discard something of value so that you may pick it up, so that you may gain use of that value or tool once discarded by the enemy through the use of your propaganda or ruse in getting the enemy to discard that value. What would you call such a tactic and can you give examples of it’s use?
    Thank you.