By Karolyn Stuver
Renewable energy sources and low-tech communication tools harken a new era for PSYOPs. Whether it is a solar-powered radio, a pager or a talking greeting card, sending the friendly message may be as easy as throwing a piece a paper out the back of a plane.
Since the days of the American Revolution, printed materials have been a part of our campaign strategy to win the hearts and minds of noncombatants. The likes of Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin and John Adams, among others, used pamphlets as a means of making their case for independence.
The idea that ink and paper can change the course of events remains an important part of U.S. military strategy. Leaflet drop programs have been used by the U.S. military to spread a variety of controlled messages throughout denied areas since at least World War I. Each leaflet mission may have a different agenda such as countering negative information, calling for defections or seeking local cooperation and support.
U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) reports that so far this year 9.3 million leaflets have been dropped from low-flying aircraft into Afghanistan and 3.8 million into Iraq. Psychological warfare operations (PSYOPs) experts say leaflets, as well as broadcast programs and other multimedia efforts are especially effective inside those countries because the population has limited access to outside media. Just how effective the programs can be became clear in the first Gulf War when Iraqi soldiers, waving leaflets, (29 million were dropped during that conflict), surrendered to U.S. forces.
But the humble leaflet may be headed for a digital overhaul. USSOCOM spokesman Lieutenant Commander Steven Mavica explained that the command has issued a Broad Agency Announcement (BAA) for air droppable, scatterable electronic media to find the latest and greatest. “We are looking for the newest technology that could be adapted for military use.”
Self-powered radios are on USSOCOM’s interest list, and Kaito Electronics, Inc., Walnut, CA, a subsidiary of CEIEC ShenZhen, China, is already a supplier to the U.S. Army Special Forces as well as the British Army. Company President Walter Zhao claimed that products such as Kaito’s KA-008 Dynamo & Solar radio would be well received if distributed because they are more valuable, multipurpose devices: “People like to hear the news and they also can use it to receive other information. If you send a pamphlet it might get used [inappropriately] and be thrown out. There is more they can do with a radio.”
Zhao noted USSOCOM has already purchased about 100,000 KA-008 units. Some were hand-delivered to Iraqi civilians by U.S. soldiers. “[In the desert], power is the first concern. Second is the cost—you are not going to give away an expensive unit. This is a specially made radio. We make it workable, durable and [capable] of working on all ranges, but low cost, with all possible powers. We make the [KA-008] to airdrop into Iraq and Kabul.”
A hand-cranked generator charges internal NI-MH batteries, or it can be operated using direct sunlight. It also runs using three AA batteries or on 110V electricity with an included adapter. It plays for 48 hours with six hours of charging.
The portable radio is only 6 1/2 inches by 5 1/2 inches by 2 1/4 inches in size. It operates on AM frequencies 525-1710 KHz and FM 88-108 MHz. It receives weather bands, VHF, TV1 and 2 channels, and four continuous short wave bands.
If, as Zhao stated, cost, size and power options are the top considerations for air-droppable radios, there are a number of companies that offer products similar to those in the Kaito line, including Freeplay, Omega, ICP Global, C.C. Crane and Grundig, among others. However, the companies we contacted were unresponsive when queried about suitability.
According to Mavica, the media devices resulting from the BAA may complement other activities. “The PSYOP Global Reach Advanced Concept Technology Demonstration [program] is investigating different technologies to improve the dissemination methods for PSYOP,” he said.
The BAA specifically mentions Internet-capable devices, entertainment and game devices, greeting cards, and phone and text messaging technologies along with receivers for AM/FM/UHF/satellite broadcast operations, satellite radios, AM/FM transmitters and miniaturized loudspeakers.
Depending how far forward USSOCOM is looking, the disposable or temporary cell phone may develop as a viable option. Irvine, CA,-based Hop-On Wireless is a hopeful in this area. The company plans to be the first to market a disposable wireless phone early next year.
A Hop-On spokesman admitted that existing cell phone technology, throw-away or otherwise, may have unattractive cost, frequency and ruggedness issues, making it incompatible with USSOCOM needs. However, he added that despite these challenges cell phones are an excellent way to establish immediate communications among a large number of people—even in remote locations where temporary towers operating with encoded frequencies must be erected.
Hop-on will offer two pocket-sized versions, neither will have an LCD screen or be web-enabled. The GSM HOP1807 is 81 millimeters by 45 millimeters by 16 millimeters and weighs a mere 63 grams. It is a tri-band (900/1800/1900 MHz) phone powered by a rechargeable lithium-ion 550 mAh battery. Talk time is estimated to be four hours with 150 standby hours.
Slightly larger, the CDMA 200 HOP1905 operates on the 800 and 1900 MHz frequencies and uses a rechargeable lithium-ion 720 mAh battery. Digital talk time is three hours (standard battery) with standby talk time of 10 days.
Hop-On’s phones are made from traditional materials. An earlier, experimental model by a now-defunct vendor was built out of cardboard in an effort to reduce price.
Another, more cost-effective solution might be to use tried and true technologies and applications but adapt them for military use. Did you ever send or receive a talking greeting card? Hallmark tried, but discontinued such a line. SOTECH talked to one of the company’s chip providers about how that same technology might enhance military leaflet programs. Sure enough, they had first-hand knowledge, but a company executive was unable to provide details.
The company, Americhip, specializes in producing sound inserts—short recorded advertisements—embedded on chips that can be used in any number of printed, package, or trinket applications such as a key chain or other small gadget. These talking cards, packages, toys or other novelties offer a number of communications advantages, including overcoming literacy issues. Plus, there’s the “look what I have” factor that, according to Americhip’s Web site, may help generate more attention and keep the piece in circulation longer than a static piece of paper. In 1964, Marshall McLuhan proclaimed, “The medium is the message,” and forever changed how technology’s role in disseminating information is viewed. Television was still in its adolescence, and although McLuhan coined the term “global village,” most of the tools that make that concept a reality today didn’t exist. McLuhan’s point was that the communications vehicle could, at times, be a more important factor in determining effectiveness than the actual content of the message. But if the paper system is working just fine, why change? It makes sense, a CENTCOM source commented, to move the program forward from an evolutionary standpoint. After all, horsemen aren’t still riding through cobblestone streets handing out pamphlets.