Ronnie S. Stangler, MD


Medscape General Medicine. 2003;5(1) 

In This Article

PSYOPS in the Future

"A target audience, whether an enemy or friend, domestic or foreign, will always perceive something from the way in which a government or armed force postures itself, and will act on that perception. So, given that a perception will be made whether this is wanted or not, it should be seen as important to project the image in the way you wish it to be perceived."
      G. Copley, 1996[21]

PSYOPS have been traditionally designated as strategic, operational, tactical, and consolidated, distinguished on the basis of place and scope. But these distinctions blur in a "CNN world," where constant feed and distribution of information make place an abstraction.[21,22,23,24,25]

Other global developments alter the nature of PSYOPS. The world struggles to define new ways of relating, as geographic and national boundaries recede with electronic interconnections and consequent interdependence. There is an ever increasing demand for options short of a traditional mission of winning wars. Casualties are unacceptable, and clandestine operations increasingly impossible. Prolonged tension and ambiguity must be endured. Military operations other than war may help shape the evolving world environment.

Future PSYOPS will reflect advances in technology and science: expansion and sophistication of networks, upsurge of mass media, and increasingly sophisticated social sciences that advance our understanding of specific elements of human behavior. Content and dissemination of future PSYOPS will reflect technology and telecommunications transformation. Technology increasingly allows the sending of any content over any channel (eg, radio via Internet). Mass broadcasting over all channels may be replaced by more narrow casting to smaller targeted audiences, even to the level of individuals. Higher quality digital media streams will be distributed via digital broadcasts. Trends in radio and TV include transition to digital, cable, and satellite; wireless telephone evolves into multimedia systems. The Internet, with Web sites, email, chat rooms, and messaging, offers new channels with endless content. Wireless Internet access progresses.

Beyond evolution of existing technology, new high-speed Internet technology will be transformational. Extremely high bandwidth fiber optic cables supporting this next generation Internet will have a major impact on distribution of all electronic media, as well as new forms of audio and visual material on demand. Advanced data mining will facilitate better understanding of both populations and networks and give more access to measurements of effectiveness, including receivability and receptivity. The lumbering Commander Solo platform, with old equipment and technologies, is not technically capable of participating in many of these developments.[26,27]

Future PSYOPS will have to contend with the incompatibilities of platforms, uncertainties about which innovations will prevail, as well as fragmentation and lack of standards, all confounding the planning process. Beyond the technological challenges, the broader view of PSYOPS extends beyond military tactics and realizes its capabilities as part of a synergistic effort of diplomatic, economic, military, and information initiatives. Both within the military and throughout our greater society, there will be terrific controversy about priorities: new weapons or new means to avert their use? Can PSYOPS belong in that latter category?

PSYOPS generate understandable concerns about an Orwellian future. Yet a future of physical hostilities between nations is an equally chilling and unacceptable prospect.

"There is no instance of a nation benefiting from prolonged warfare."
      Sun Tzu, c. 500 BC

While the guidance from Sun Tzu has never been more compelling, his message becomes increasingly challenging to implement. The role of PSYOPS must be understood in this context.