Small Wars Journal

Integrating Tactical Deception Planning at the Brigade Level

Sun, 04/10/2016 - 11:55am

Integrating Tactical Deception Planning at the Brigade Level

George Hodge

The purpose of this paper is to suggest a model for actively integrating deception planning into the brigade level orders process, specifically during mission analysis, course of action development, and course of action analysis (wagaming).

Literature Review

The topic of Tactical Deception is mentioned in several doctrinal manuals and specifically mentioned that it should be integrated during the operations process but offers no practical examples.

The primary doctrinal manuals are:

FM 3-13 Inform and Influence Activities, January 2013. (Currently undergoing doctrinal rewrite.) It is focused primarily on Information Operations. There are four paragraphs devoted to Military Deception (and Counterdeception) in Chapter 3 and are very broad in explanation.

FM 6-0 Commander and Staff Organization and Operations, May 2014. Chapter 11 (nine pages) offers the best description of how to integrate deception planning into the operations process.

CALL Handbook 15-03 Information Operations Quick Reference Guide. Lessons and Best Practices (FOUO). February 2015. Chapter 9, Tactical Deception (seven pages) is a useful guide to doctrinal understanding of how deception planning fits with the steps of the Military Decision Making Process (MDMP).


FM 6-0, Chapter 11 and CALL Handbook 15-03, Chapter 9 are well written and include an explanation of deception terminology. These two chapters are useful in explaining the basic application of deception doctrine and how it is applied in each of the MDMP steps. The only thing lacking is a practical example that shows application at the tactical level.


It has been this author’s experience as a CGSC Instructor (20+ years) and as an Observer/Controller Trainer augmentee with the Mission Command Training Program, that tactical deception is rarely mentioned or considered at the brigade level during the MDMP. Only recently in the two doctrinal manuals mentioned earlier has tactical deception been adequately explained. The last doctrinal publication that discussed tactical deception operations was FM 90-2 Battlefield Deception published in 1988. Chapter 3 was devoted to Battlefield Deception at the Tactical Level. It was three pages in length and described how tactical deception could be used against the enemy within the deep, close, and rear areas of operations. It also described some of the ways such as masking troop movements, using false helicopter insertions, and by conducting demonstrations. There was no explanation of the integration with the MDMP.

A Fresh Set of Eyes

With the renewed importance of information operations over the last 12 years, deception planning at the brigade level needs to be reassessed. Currently it is often nothing more than a subset (with little-to-no elaboration) of information operations. As the Army Operating Concept evolves and includes the requirement for brigade sized units to conduct expeditionary operations against comprehensive hybrid threats, we must consider integrating deception operations whenever practical. The two chapters mentioned earlier provide a good starting point in explaining basic deception operations. This article offers a further elaboration to include an example of integration at the brigade level MDMP.

The Brigade staff in most instances will likely not include a qualified Information Operations Officer (FA 30) with previous experience in deception operations, therefore the deception operations planning will likely fall under the Plans section with assistance from the S2 (Intelligence) section.

Currently in FM 6-0 there is no mechanism in place to brief the Deception Estimate during Mission Analysis. Therefore a recommended solution would be to add the following to the S2’s evaluation of the threat.

Mission Analysis - Deception Estimate (Briefed by the S3 / S5 / IO Planner as part of Evaluating the Threat.)

Enemy focus (input from the S2)

  • Echelon of concern. (Based on the enemy SITEMP, the echelon we are facing.)
  • The echelon’s options. (The different options the enemy could employ that would adversely impact friendly operations with respect to our assigned mission.)
  • The echelon’s decision maker. (The enemy commander in charge of deciding which of those options to employ.)
  • Likely susceptibilities and biases. (Ways the enemy might be prone to being influenced such as through visual observation and reconnaissance, intercepting unsecure communications, by recognizing obvious doctrinal patterns and habits, etc…)
  • Feasible deception objectives. (Things we want the enemy to do or NOT do with respect to the previously identified options.)

Friendly focus

  • Feasible deception goals. (The friendly actions we are trying to achieve.)
  • Available deception support assets. (Any other assets above our normal organization for combat.)
  • Time available to build a story. (Analysis of the amount of time to build, transmit, and for the enemy to receive and process deception events.)

These items are not focused specifically on “Information Operations,” but rather on the unit’s overall tactical problem they are facing. The purpose of these items is to build a picture for the commander and staff to better understand deception opportunities within their mission set. After the staff completes their mission analysis briefing the commander should be able to better visualize and describe his guidance to integrate deception measures into course of action development as appropriate. The following is a proposal for integrating deception guidance.

Commander’s Guidance – Deception Guidance (Part of the Movement and Maneuver Warfighting Function guidance)

  • The deception target echelon. (The echelon, unit, or capability that the friendly unit is trying to affect.)
  • The deception target. (This is the enemy person that controls the decision on the employment of the target echelon, unit, or capability of concern.)
  • The deception goal. (This is what the friendly force is specifically trying to achieve. It is derived from the analysis of the essential task(s).)
  • The deception objective. (This is what we want the enemy commander to do or NOT do with regards to employing his options.)
  • Guidance on the employment of any of the command’s assets or on the scheme of maneuver to support further deception planning. (Such as one of the supporting efforts conducting a feint, ruse, demonstration, display, or the use of other deception assets in order to divert the target commander’s attention away from the decisive operation long enough for friendly forces to achieve their objective.)

Course of Action Development – Deception Planning

The Deception planning team (the IO Planner or someone from the S3 / S5 plans along with a S2 section expert) develops deception actions that will support developing courses of action (COA). These actions must be feasible, practical, plausible, verifiable, and nested to effectively support the tactical plan.  The main idea is to deceive the enemy commander through the application of various actions available to the friendly commander. Example deception actions might include a feint, ruse, demonstration, or display by one of the supporting efforts, employment of Military Information Support Operations (MISO) Broadcast teams to mimic deceptive sounds, the building of decoy obstacles or positions, the creation of certain radio and information nets to transmit misleading information, and the deliberate employment of purposeful camouflage activities.

While misleading the enemy commander is the overall objective, it is valuable to understand that this can be accomplished by showing him indicators that reinforce what he already believes and then executing a different COA. This approach is referred to as “Ambiguity-Decreasing Deception.” In other words, we are purposely showing him indicators to enable him to make a specific decision which he already likely believes supports our most preferred COA.

Another approach is referred to as “Ambiguity-Increasing Deception. In this approach various indicators are displayed that add more confusion and uncertainty to the enemy commander’s view of friendly actions. This approach is often used to force the enemy commander to make his key decision too late to make a difference.

The most unlikely approach is to create a deception plan that attempts to “change the mind” of the enemy commander. Building indicators that are contrary to what an enemy commander already believes is resource intensive and time consuming, both of which are luxuries at the brigade level. Therefore the ambiguity increasing / decreasing approaches are usually the best approaches at the brigade level. 

Currently there is no paragraph within the COA Statement specifically for deception, but that is okay. The deception actions such as those mentioned above would easily be described in the framework paragraphs as actions executed by subordinate units.

Course of Action Analysis – Deception Analysis

Once the COA has been briefed and approved, the staff conducts a detailed COA Analysis (wargame) in order to identify all the specific requirements to synchronize all the moving pieces of the plan. From this analysis, the deception planners should verify their previous estimates are still valid such as the target echelon, targeted decision maker, deception goal, and deception objective. Additionally they should now be able to identify the required perceptions for the decision maker in order for him to make (or not make) the desired decision. The planning team would need to create a detailed deception story that should be portrayed to achieve the desired effects. The results of the process would include identifying:

  • Detailed tasks and purposes for the units involved in creating the deception story.
  • Sustainment requirements necessary to support the deception story.
  • The necessary operational security (OPSEC) measures needed to protect the story.
  • How the deception’s success will be assessed.
  • How the deception plan will be terminated.


There are a number of risks associated with deception operations. The three primary risks are that the enemy is aware of your deception activities and is posturing himself to counter your plan. Another risk is that your deception plan runs counter to your next higher commander’s plan and would actually create problems. Therefore it is important to make sure your higher command approves of your deception plan. Finally, the deception plan relies heavily on only one or two activities in order to be plausible and these activities are not acquired and processed by the enemy commander in time to make a difference. These are risks that should be analyzed during the wargaming phase.

Example Scenario

In this scenario a US Mechanized Division is conducting offensive operations to seize multiple brigade objectives. The division’s decisive operation is being executed by one of the ABCTs. Its mission is to seize OBJECTIVE GOLD (an airfield, key terrain and crossroads controlling major lines of communications in the AO). An enemy battalion (1-114th Mechanized Infantry) is defending the approaches leading to the objective. The enemy commander has a reinforced tank company as his battalion reserve.

At the Mission Analysis briefing the S5 Plans Officer along with the S2 brief the Deception Estimate during the S2’s threat evaluation. They have identified the following:

Enemy focus

  • Our brigade’s echelon of concern is the 1-114th Mechanized Infantry Battalion.
  • The echelon’s options include employing his tank company reserve against the northern or southern approaches, or using them to conduct a counterattack thru a gap in our approaches with the intent of separating our forces and attacking to defeat our supporting artillery and / or forward CP location. He could also conduct a limited objective counterattack in order to allow his main forces time to sabotage the airfield, key infrastructure, and withdraw to better defensible terrain.
  • The echelon’s decision maker in all three of these options would be the 1-114th battalion commander. He would most likely require approval from his higher HQ, the 11th BTG Commander to commit his reserve. The next echelon reserve belongs to the 11th BTG Commander. It is the 11th Tank Battalion located approximately 15km to the south east of OBJECTIVE GOLD. It would likely be used against us or our sister brigade in their attack to seize OBJECTIVE SILVER.
  • Likely susceptibilities and biases include the perception that we would avoid the more difficult approach with our main effort, that we would seize the crossroads first in order to cut off the enemy’s ability to escape or allow them to introduce reinforcements, and that we would initially bypass or cordon the built-up areas in favor of covering more ground and establishing a deeper limit of advance.
  • Feasible deception objectives include causing the enemy commander to commit the tank company reserve against our supporting effort, or causing him to delay his decision until it’s too late against our decisive operation.

Friendly focus

  • The feasible deception goal is to allow one of our battalions to seize the airfield and then continue to advance to the east in order to block the enemy’s escape route or prevent reinforcements from the 11th BTG.
  • Available deception support assets include a MISO team from the division.
  • Time available to build a story is approximately 18 hours, the specific window being 18-36 hours from now.

Based on the rest of the mission analysis briefing, the commander would issue his complete commander’s guidance. In this scenario the commander’s guidance on tactical deception includes:

  • The deception target echelon is the 1-114th Mechanized Infantry Battalion.
  • The deception target is the 1-114th commander.
  • The deception goal is to enable our main effort to seize OBJ GOLD without interference from the 1-114th tank company reserve.
  • The deception objective is to cause the 1-114th commander to commit the reserve towards a supporting attack approach, or make the decision too late to commit them against our effort to seize OBJ GOLD.
  • Guidance on the employment of any the command’s assets or on the scheme of maneuver to support further deception planning. Consider a supporting attack / feint along the southern approach (favorable terrain) in order to cause their reserve to shift to the south, or at least fix it in place long enough for the main effort to seize OBJ GOLD.

During COA development the staff develops a scheme of maneuver that supports the commander’s deception guidance. In this case the staff recommends a supporting attack axis in the south that is task organized to appear as the axis of main attack (a battalion minus with the attached MISO broadcast team). Additional support equipment to include a mock-up Q-53 Counterfire Radar, is positioned to support the perceived build-up of forces along the southern approach. This is done on the belief that the enemy UAS will see the movement of forces towards the southern approach. Likewise the brigade’s Raven UAS are repeatedly flown along the southern approach. These activities become tasks to subordinate units and are identified in the description of the framework. The COA statement might read as:

“The decisive operation is the seizure of OBJ GOLD by a reinforced combined arms battalions using the northern approach. The northern force initiates the attack first, then a second combined arms battalion minus, with attached MISO broadcast team conducts a feint along the southern approach to fix the enemy reserve. The sudden appearance of forces moving rapidly along the southern approach, along with the supporting elements and concentration of fires should reinforce the perception of a main attack force. The third combined arms battalion follows the main effort in the north and serves as an exploitation force to advance into blocking positions beyond OBJ GOLD in order to protect OBJ GOLD and prevent reinforcements from counterattacking. The Reconnaissance Squadron guards the northern flank and protects the main effort as it approaches OBJ GOLD. On order the Squadron continues forward to guard the flank of the exploitation force. The focus of intelligence and reconnaissance are the obstacles along the approach routes, identification and location of the main defensive positions, command post locations, air defense assets, and the location of the tank company reserve. Brigade Fires are focused on defeating the direct support artillery systems, suppressing main defensive and air defense systems, and command and control nodes. Sustainment operations support the deception plan by stationing additional support systems along the southern corridor. The Brigade Support Area will move forward to the airfield at the conclusion of offensive operations.”

During COA Analysis the staff works out all the detailed requirements to allocate and synchronize the deception activities. These activities would include such things as task organization changes of combat forces, attachment of the MISO team to the supporting effort, positioning of the decoy Q-53, creation of false radio and signal traffic to support the deception story, the movement and build-up of logistical equipment and the timeline that these activities should occur in order to be acquired and processed by the enemy. Likewise, OPSEC measures should be identified, most of which should be SOP. Extraordinary elements of the deception plan, such as the location of the real Q-53 would likely be identified as an Essential Element of Friendly Information (EEFI). It would be very likely that knowledge of a decoy Q-53, or the activities of the MISO team would not be widely known throughout the brigade.

Whether or not the deception plan has been successful in this case should be easily assessed. The assessment question would be: “Did the tank company reserve inhibit the friendly force’s seizure of OBJ GOLD?” Preemptory indicators would look to see if the tank reserve moves into position to reinforce the defense vicinity OBJ GOLD prior to the main effort’s attack.

Once the tank reserve moves one way or the other the deception plan is likely terminated. Likewise if the reserve stays fixed in his location too long to affect the seizure of OBJ GOLD the deception has successful. Even though the deception event has terminated, it is still important to safeguard your deception activities (such as the radar mock-up and MISO broadcast team) in order to safeguard future options.


The brigade staff should be able to deliberately consider deception planning in its operations. Someone on the staff should perform a Deception Estimate. The Information Operations planner and an S2 representative are the two most likely subject matter experts. FM 6-0 and the CALL Handbook 15-03 are the two best resources to assist them.

Tactical Deception Basic Principles

  • The Brigade Deception Plan must be congruent with the higher commander’s deception plan. It cannot be designed in a vacuum.
  • OPSEC is key in making deception successful. Therefore the deception plan is still “on a need to know basis.”
  • A comprehensive deception plan requires a lot of moving pieces and a lot of time. Creating / controlling ambiguity against the enemy commander is probably sufficient enough to achieve your objective.
  • The best chance at deception is to determine what the enemy already believes about your intentions and to reinforce those beliefs. Build on his biases.
  • Expect the enemy to use deception operations on you too.

About the Author(s)

George Hodge, LTC, USA (Retired) is currently serving as an instructor in the Department of Army Tactics (DTAC) at the US Army Command and General Staff College (CGSC), Fort Leavenworth, KS. He served on active duty from 1980-2002 as an armor officer then as an army aviator. He has over 20 years of teaching at CGSC.