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FM 90-2 Chapter 6 Deception in Operations



All warfare is based on deception. Therefore, when capable, feign incapacity; when active, inactivity. When near, make it appear that you are far away; when far away, that you are near. Offer the enemy a bait to lure him; feign disorder and strike him.

- Sun Tzu

Deception should be used selectively. It is unwise to attempt a deception with every operation. The opportunity for success must exist for deception to work. This opportunity will not be manifested in every situation. The opportunity must justify the resources that are expended in a detailed deception effort. Further, blanket use of deception may degrade deception emphasis among friendly forces. This may lead to stereotyped planning and execution. Still, the opportunity for a successful deception operation can appear during the conduct of virtually all types of military operations. This chapter presents techniques and considerations to confuse and mislead an enemy force. These deception techniques are grouped under specific operations (offense, defense, and so forth). However, the groupings are not restrictive. Imaginative planners can and should adapt these techniques to other operational postures.


In the offense, the commander must mobilize and deploy his forces while retaining security. Thus, he can avoid sacrificing surprise or drawing a pre-emptive attack. Tightened security is usually maintained while planning a surprise attack. However, OPSEC alone cannot conceal large-scale operations.

Specific warning signals almost inevitably filter through the security screen. As the attacker's preparations unfold, drawing more people into planning or movement, material indicators increase in frequency and specificity. The more technologically sophisticated the forces, the more susceptible they are to detection.

Deception is used in the offense to help achieve the element of surprise and by doing so, greatly enhance your offensive capability.

An important consideration in battlefield deception is that you must be able to exercise some influence over the battlefield. You need to influence through some offensive action the development of the battle and not merely react to the enemy's offensive initiative. Showing the enemy physical evidence of a particular intention is the most convincing way to sell the deception story. The ability to exercise some offensive initiative significantly increases your deception options. Offensive operations, then, are ideally suited for the planning and execution of a wide variety of deception operations.

To be most effective, your deception should be employed in an environment in which you have more options available to you than the enemy has forces to cover in strength. If he can effectively defend against all avenues of approach, then deceiving him as to your choice becomes much less significant. As your influence over the battlefield begins to increase, your options and, therefore, your opportunity for deception begin to increase. As the enemy's influence begins to diminish, his intelligence collection capability becomes more and more degraded by your increasing control of the battlefield. Consequently, his ability to assess your capabilities and probable intentions shifts to an environment of relative uncertainty. The opportunities for deception continue to increase. The enemy is required to make more and more tactical decisions based on the remaining, often uncorroborated, intelligence.

Conversely, as the enemy begins to lose his active intelligence collection capability, his ability to detect your deception story becomes progressively more difficult.

Established procedures make combat operations easier to conduct. But they also enable the enemy to anticipate our moves. These procedures result in distinct patterns, and our offensive patterns are well known. Many commanders have greatly enhanced their offensive capabilities by applying deceptive variations to these patterns.

NOTE: If in studying your unit's battlefield history, you find a stereotyped pattern, use it for deception. Feed the stereotype to the enemy's collections effort while you do something else, somewhere else.

The following are examples of deception techniques for offensive operations; but they also apply to other maneuvers.


Prior to the attack, forces must be concealed. Prior to the arrival of the main force in any offensive situation, consider-


Planning should include the provision of something for the enemy intelligence system to find (such as a decoy force). Planning should allow for visual and sonic detection. In addition, sufficient electromagnetic and inflated emitters should be used. This provides indicators of the size force being simulated. (For a detailed discussion of the use of decoys, see Appendix D).


When preparing for an attack, place preparation fires and aerial bombardments at the usual or higher degree of intensity at those avenues parallel to the main route of advance. This will confuse and deceive the enemy as to the true intent of your attacking force.


Moving artillery into supporting positions and purposely revealing other signs of preparing for an operation can deceive the enemy into believing we are planning an operation in an area where we are not. The enemy's attention is drawn to this area and his activity indicates his interest or concern. We can, under cover of darkness or reduced visibility, reposition the majority of our artillery pieces. The units move directly into preselected and camouflaged positions. Our repositioning actions must not alert the enemy to our true intentions; therefore, activity at the deception site remains as previously displayed and witnessed by the enemy. Decoys replace withdrawn equipment. By using flash simulators or explosive charges along with some real pieces left in position, the enemy continues to believe we are preparing for an attack in the area.


Intensifying patrol and reconnaissance activities in areas other than those of the main attack will also confuse the enemy. However, your activities should not vary with normal procedures to the extent that you reveal that you are engaged in deception.

Frequent raids or strong feints may harass the enemy to the extent that he becomes confused and, possibly, careless. He may become accustomed to our pattern of activity and not detect the main attack launch. He may think it is another harassing action.

Building on the enemy's preconceptions, Allenby did exactly this at the Battle of Megiddo in 1918. He reasoned that his name had become linked by the Germans and Turks with a cavalry thrust against their desert flank. Accordingly, his deception operations were designed to reinforce this notion. But, of course, he attacked elsewhere.

For most offensive situations, such as an attack on a river line, we have set procedures on how to conduct the operation. For example, we will-

If the attacker effectively portrays these kinds of activity at one or more plausible locations away from the intended crossing sites, he will have greatly increased his potential for surprise and success.

A method successfully used by commanders has been to attack over an avenue of approach other than what is considered to be the most plausible or best. The Soviets in World War II would prepare for an attack in a position that was on a plausible (if not best) avenue of approach. This would focus attention away from the real position. They would then move great distances under cover of darkness to arrive at the actual area of offensive operations.

Commanders often disregard the possibility of conducting operations along what they believe to be the unacceptable avenue of attack. Some commanders however, have demonstrated they could overcome a superior force by doing what is believed to be unsound. As Napoleon said: "An army can always pass in any season wherever two men can plant their feet." General MacArthur demonstrated the soundness of using the unacceptable avenue of approach when he made the Inchon Landing in September of 1950.


Deception is used in defense to conceal the true locations of our forces in the battle area and to mislead the enemy. By concealing our real location we minimize losses. We cause the enemy to expend fire power and intelligence efforts unprofitably. By misleading the enemy, we can cause him to attack or deploy unwisely.

The deception plan for the defense ranges from decentralized efforts by each unit to a carefully coordinated master plan designed to cause the enemy large-unit commander to attack or deploy in an unfavorable manner.

Regardless of how targets are first detected, the enemy will normally confirm them by photographs or direct observation. Also, most air strikes and artillery registrations will be based on final visual adjustments. Creating false targets to cause the enemy to waste reconnaissance efforts and firepower is a concurrent, coordinated activity during all phases of the defense.

In the defense, inertia is truly the ally of deception. If, for instance, the enemy has decided on one course of action, it is easier to convince him to continue that course rather than alter his plans or tactics. Offensive operations are characterized by deliberate planning and speed of execution. A successful deception operation conducted by a defender can result in the inappropriate deployment of attacking enemy forces. The far easier task of maintaining that deception can result in the continued commitment of enemy forces at a time and location least advantageous to them.


As in the offense, our defensive patterns are also well known. Beginning with reconnaissance, we take a look at the entire area and then concentrate on those locales selected for occupation and use. Activity becomes more and more concentrated. It culminates with troops arriving, digging in, clearing fields of fire, and finally, camouflaging positions.

If we intend to deceive the enemy or to deny him information about our activities, we must alter this pattern. We should follow our established procedures in those areas not intended for actual defense. We should avoid them to the extent possible in the real battle position. This way we can mislead the enemy into expending his efforts needlessly.


Using a map, the normal distribution of command posts (CP), logistic installations, and unit positions in a defense can be plotted with reasonable accuracy.

An enemy intelligence analyst can do the same. In a conflict where the enemy has effective support and uses artillery and missiles extensively, placing forces in logical or ideal positions will probably negate even the best camouflage efforts. You should consider placing installations in unsuspected areas and troops on less obvious terrain. You must determine if you can do so and still accomplish your mission. After forces are positioned and preparations for the defense have begun, other logical, unoccupied positions should be selected which will allow detection. Leaving some soil scattered about indicates continuous use. Some troops should be present to provide visible activity in the area.

At the true defensive position, the opposite approach is taken, Units must dig in and camouflage positions to protect against ground and air observation. This should be done even if their location is behind the line of contact. High-level air photography does not respect distance. An attacking enemy is interested in the preparation of defensive positions indepth on the battlefield.

Totally effective camouflage serves no purpose if the enemy has photographed earlier careless actions. The detection of just one pile of fresh earth can draw detailed attention. Conversely, those areas where there are no troops should be considered for the intentional display of such attention-getters. This is especially true if the unit has a poor history of maintaining OPSEC disciplines.


The skillful concealment of artillery can add greatly to the element of surprise; thus, to the success of the defense. Enemy observers are trained to search for indications of artillery and missile units. These include-

Artillery positions should be prepared prior to unit arrival. They should be occupied during periods of reduced visibility. Concealment can be enhanced by moving artillery into oppositions, not as a unit, but by weapon echelon. In battery positions, guns should be dispersed at irregular intervals. To avoid making tracks, consider setting weapons next to a road. Surveillance equipment and fire control centers should also be camouflaged. The electromagnetic signatures of artillery units are extensive; therefore, efforts must be made to reduce them while those signatures are replicated elsewhere.


Decoys are extremely important in deception planning. Two dimensional or three dimensional decoys may be available. If not, the commander can use such locally available items as telephone and fence poles, posts, logs, ammunition cylinders, or other objects to fabricate decoy devices. A log sticking out of a pile of brush can draw a lot of attention and artillery fire. The use of detonation cord and smoke simulators may be helpful. Placing a section of weapons in a display area can distort the enemy's picture of our dispositions. This can lead to the fruitless expenditure of his resources. The simulation of missile sites, with their associated electronic equipment, is difficult. However, dividends can be great.

One of the most effective decoys for deceptive artillery, air defense, or missile activity is a damaged or salvaged item. For added realism, use real weapons with the decoys. When a real piece is fired, activate a flash device by the decoy. Periodically rotate the real equipment and the decoys to further enhance the deception. A substantial portion of the enemy's available air strikes and artillery or missile fire might be directed unprofitably by using weapon firing or activity simulation.

Another method of adding realism to an artillery decoy is using the decoy position as an offset registration position or as a roving gun position.


Vehicle tracks are a special concern when using deception in defensive operations. From reconnaissance activities through troop arrival, detailed consideration must be given to the tracks typically created by personnel and vehicles. A track plan should be developed to take advantage of existing roads and overhead cover. It should include paralleling hedge rows and fence lines to conceal movement. Enemy air photos compared on consecutive days will pinpoint unit locations if tracks are not concealed. Where tracks are unavoidable, they should continue past the true destination to a logical but unused termination area.

Areas that are not actually occupied by defensive forces or installations should display appropriate vehicular tracks. A careful selection of these areas, accompanied by the display of decoys, may draw a substantial number of air strikes and artillery rounds. Using troops during daylight hours and adding new tracks and other observable signs can reveal the display.

The following ideas are offered with defense in mind, but variations may be adapted to other tactical postures:


Deception is necessary to reduce the inherent vulnerability of a unit during movement to the rear. Deception should be used to help maintain secrecy during the movement and to aid in achieving surprise in unit redisposition.


A retrograding force can inflict heavy punishment and cause considerable delay to the enemy through the proper use of deception. The commander should take maximum advantage of darkness and other conditions of reduced visibility. Any daylight activities that might disclose the intention to withdraw, such as abnormal vehicular movement to the rear, are prohibited. Necessary daylight motor movements, including reconnaissance, are made by infiltration. Also, units must ensure that noise does not betray the withdrawal. Delay operations, enhanced through the use of deception, can provide maximum loss of enemy personnel and equipment with the minimum use of friendly resources.

Dummy minefields can be used very effectively in the retrograde to slow and canalize the enemy attack or cause the enemy to mass his forces. Dummy minefields might consist only of mine field markings and a few mines along the edges to add realism. Another possibility is to establish fake minefields, but to plant real mines in possible bypasses. Dummy minefields are most effective when mixed with real ones throughout the battlefield.

CAUTION: The emplacement of dummy minefields requires the same authorization, recording, and reporting procedures as the type minefield it is designed to replicate.

Delaying positions can be established on other than the most likely defensive position. When the enemy attacks the anticipated positions, he can be taken under fire from elsewhere. This deception can be greatly improved by establishing decoys in the notional area and camouflaging real positions.

Planning for retrograde includes coordination of EW activities to assist in the deception aspects. For example, prior to the retrograde, the unit could establish a pattern of countersurveillance jamming by time periods. Use daily times when electronically detectable equipment is to be withdrawn on D-day (for example, tanks and heavy vehicles). The pattern should be established far enough in advance of D-Day so the enemy does not place special significance on activation of the jammers at the time of withdrawal. The pattern of friendly electronic surveillance devices should establish that only a portion of the total friendly capability operates at one time. Thus, the absence of the surveillance positions withdrawn initially will not reveal the overall retrograde.

Consideration may be given to having some of the forward area personnel possess fake operation orders or maps. If an opportunity arises, they may be able to leave them for the enemy to find. Remember, it will be the circumstances surrounding the discovery of planted orders or maps that, ultimately, will determine the degree of success of this type of ruse.

Consideration may also be given to the initiation of preparations for an attack when a unit is actually performing a retrograde operation. Allow movement forward to the initial delay positions only during daylight hours. Permit daylight movement to the rear only through infiltration on resupply convoys, in helicopters, or on foot. Employ communication deception, sonic deception, and decoys.

A deception story of an attack, while a unit is actually in retrograde, requires a situation where a deception story of attack is appropriate and plausible. Also, it must be within the enemy's estimate of our capability.


Security is the key to a successful relief in place. A properly executed deception will enhance the opportunity for success. Usually the deception story will portray the occupying unit remaining in place.

The appearance of normal activity in the area of operations is maintained during the relief. The incoming unit assumes the normal patterns of harassing and interdicting fires, patrols, communications, traffic, and movement from the outgoing unit.

Several days before the new unit occupies positions, radio operators and equipment should be incorporated into the outgoing communications system. This provides a continuity of communications signatures when the old unit departs.

The operation should be so well coordinated that unites moving in or out of the position need not use their radios until the move is complete. Operators in defensive positions should maintain normal communications at all times. If radio communications are necessary, the radio frequencies and call signs of the outgoing unit should be used initially by the incoming unit. This could reduce the effectiveness of enemy SIGINT.

Items of equipment that are moved to the rear and not replaced in kind should be replaced with decoys. If enemy agents or sympathizers are in the area, ensure that changing unit markings, shoulder patches, and so forth, do not give away the movements of the units.


A passage of lines is one of the most difficult military operations to execute. Since two or more units are temporarily occupying the same terrain, they are extremely vulnerable and lucrative targets. Deception techniques applicable to both offense and defense can and should be used to prevent the enemy from exploiting the potential confusion surrounding this kind of maneuver. Remember, the deception plans of the units involved must be coordinated to avoid unexpected and unwanted results.

The following are provocative ideas for you to expand, adjust, and envision on the battlefield; but most of all, these ideas should trigger your imagination:


To understand the relationship of deception to rear operations, the following areas must be analyzed:

The enemy is expected to strike deep into our rear area, causing confusion, panic, total disruption of support, and a rapid degradation of military and civilian activity and the desire to fight. This would be done by dedicated, highly trained individuals or groups. They would conduct assassinations, kidnappings, and the destruction of HVTs such as airfields, nuclear capabilities, and other critical targets in US or Allied rear areas.

Deception planning and preparation must be done in the rear area. Not only must the multidisciplined collection threat be deceived, but enemy and host-nation persons must be denied access to deception activities and objects.

We have developed sophisticated methods for deceiving the enemy. However, an enemy agent will easily discover the deception if allowed physical access to deception sites.

Counterintelligence (CI) assists in developing indications and warning information regarding the threat from enemy special operations forces and terrorist activities. The enemy may rely on human intelligence (HUMINT) to confirm indicators of the deception Picked up by his SIGINT and imagery intelligence (IMINT) systems. In such cases, CI must assist in developing indicators that will deceive enemy HUMINT as well as SIGINT and IMINT. It is critical that ongoing CI operations and CI special operations do not conflict with deception efforts directed against enemy HUMINT. Additionally, decePtion efforts directed against enemy HUMINT must be coordinated with and support deception efforts directed against enemy SIGINT and IMINT. This will ensure that the enemy, from a multidisciplined point of view, receives information that is consistent.

Intelligence personnel must conduct a detailed intelligence preparation of the battlefield (IPB) of the rear area to identify HVTs. Deception can be used in the rear area to-

The objective of deception in support of rear operations is to deny the enemy factual information about rear area posture while causing him to lose the element of surprise, critical to effective penetration of our rear area.

The problem facing the commander is to prevent the enemy from detecting the location of those forces that are massing for the attack. This includes the forces further to the rear that are being positioned to reinforce or exploit the developed situation. It is dangerous to depend only on concealment to hide this buildup. If the enemy locates nothing, he will intensify his effort or will make educated guesses and seek to confirm them.


The threat of friendly operation and activities in low intensity conflict (LIC) is similar to those encountered in normal rear operations. In LIC, enemy HUMINT is the primary concern. But still, detailed analysis must be made to determine what the enemy SIGINT and IMINT threat will be. As in rear operations, enemy sabotage, espionage, subversive agents, and terrorist activities are major threats to deception. In LIC, the local civilian population is important because of the difficulty identifying insurgents and guerrilla forces interspersed throughout the local population. In order for deception to be used successfully in LIC, the specific HUMINT and insurgent threat must be identified and exploited. CI personnel are specifically trained to develop the threat data base and counter or exploit the enemy insurgent HUMINT and unconventional forces. Coercion, brutal force, and extortion are all used by the insurgents to gain the cooperation of local citizens. Aggressive CI must be combined with appropriate activities by host-nation police, intelligence, and government agencies. This is used to neutralize the factors responsible for the LIC. For more information on LIC, see FM 100-20.

Deception in LIC may be designed as a subtle disinformation or propaganda campaign designed to enhance secrecy. It may be an active operation designed to cause the enemy to attack a decoy position or move into a position where our fire and maneuver can destroy him. For example, when on search-and-clear operations, the contrast between the noise of armored vehicles and the stealth of dismounted infantry can be used to great advantage. While moving into an area, mechanized forces can drop off ambush patrols along likely trails or routes of enemy movement and then continue their mission, circumventing the suspected area. In the process of sweeping the area, the APCs double back toward the dismounted ambush forces who lie in wait for enemy fleeing from the tracks.

Another variation of teaming armor and dismounted infantry to take advantage of noise and confusion created by vehicles can be used in search-and-clear operations. Many times the enemy hides rather than fleeing the area. After vehicles pass, he is free to slip out behind them. The deception technique deploys additional dismounted infantry at some distance behind the armor and conducts the sweep in two echelons.

A possible ruse to induce the enemy into attacking a position is the baited attack. If it is suspected that the enemy is closely observing unit movements and waiting for an opening to attack, the commander fragments his forces to make it appear that the perimeter will be poorly defended. Then, lucrative targets, such as a decoy CP or logistic base, are displayed in a relatively obvious position that appears marginally defended. At dusk, the remainder of the unit is infiltrated into the area. If the enemy has been observing, he may well attack the perimeter originally established in the hope of overrunning the position. The following is a description of Operation El Paso in 1966 (see Figure 6-1).

This deception operation was conducted by the 1st Infantry Division in July 1966. It took place along Route 13 (Minh Thanh Road) in Binh Long Province against the 272d Regiment.

A plan was developed to lure the Vietcong (VC) into attacking US forces. Consequently, information on scheduled US resupply plans was intentionally leaked.

The leaked plan (deception story) was a move of engineer equipment and supply vehicles between Minh Thanh and An Loc on July 9. The convoy was to be escorted by a minimum security force.

Allowing time for the VC to gain the information and react to it, the division estimated possible VC reaction. Five likely ambush sites were selected. The site selected as the most probable was the one the VC used.

Figure 6-1 Deception In LIC-Operation El Paso

The true force consisted of two armored cavalry troops and one infantry company (on a reconnaissance-in-force mission) moving between An Loc and Minh Thanh. Infantry battalions were positioned as rapid reaction forces at An Loc, Minh Thanh, and Chon Thanh. Supporting artillery units were positioned and laid on the predicted ambush site. Close-air-support flights were kept on station during the movement of the task force.

At 0700 on July 9, 1966, the force departed AN LOC and started moving along Route 245 toward Minh Thanh. Upon arriving at the most probable ambush site at 1100, the column was heavily engaged by elements of the 272d VC Regiment. They fired from the well-fortified ambush positions along the road. The combined effects of the .50 caliber and 90 millimeter fire from the tanks and personnel carriers, concentrated artillery fire, and the pounding from tactical air overwhelmed the VC regiment. By 1300 the regiment was in disorganized retreat. The pre-positioned infantry battalions were airlifted behind the regiment and engaged retreating VC elements. Air and artillery were used against withdrawal routes.

On July 10, elements of the VC regiment continued to be engaged by infantry battalions. By dusk, all elements of the 272d Regiment had withdrawn from the battle area. The regiment suffered severe losses during the engagement and was probably reduced to less than 50 percent strength.

The operation achieved the intended results: The 272d VC Regiment attacked the 1st Infantry Division and suffered losses which considerably reduced its fighting strength.

Some methods of disseminating deception information in LIC are uniquely suited to CI operations and CI special operations directed against enemy HUMINT. These methods include-

We must not overlook the possibility that major hostile powers may be supporting the insurgents with sophisticated SIGINT and IMINT systems. If this is the case, each specific threat must be identified and exploited in conjunction with HUMINT-directed efforts. As in conventional conflict situations, a detailed IPB of the area is essential. A complete understanding of enemy intelligence capabilities is a must for successful use of deception in a LIC. Unique to LIC is the fact that CI directed against enemy HUMINT gains additional importance in deception planning and execution phases due to the nature of the threat in LIC.


Battlefield deception and psychological operations (PSYOP) are both directed toward the enemy. However, they target different audiences and use different channels to reach these audiences.

Battlefield deception is directed toward the enemy commander and his staff. It is primarily intended for the attention of the enemy's intelligence organization. PSYOP are directed toward enemy forces in general. Propaganda, a tool of PSYOP, is disseminated by such media as leaflets, newspapers, pamphlets, loudspeakers, radio, television, and rumors. PSYOP support the deception operation by disseminating information that confirms or supports the deception story presented to the enemy through his intelligence channels. Prior consideration should be given to the possibility that such use may degrade or jeopardize the credibility sought or achieved by PSYOP supporting tactical forces. It is important that PSYOP in support of deception be thoroughly coordinated at all levels of command during the planning and execution phases of the operations.

05-28-1996; 16:25:09