NEWS FROM SOFIC: Psychological Ops Forces Seeking Transformative Technologies

By Mandy Mayfield
A U.S. Army Special Forces warrant officer shakes hands with an Afghan worker.

TAMPA, Fla. — Special Operations Command’s military information support operations — better known as psychological operations — component will soon be receiving its own technology development program, a SOCOM official said May 21.

Specialists in psychological operations are called upon to help combatant commanders shape battlefields by influencing populations or individuals.

The MISO specialists “do a whole lot more than just creating and disseminating the message,” Joanne Johnson, program manager for MISO systems said during the Special Operations Forces Industry Conference in Tampa, Florida, which is hosted by the National Defense Industrial Association. “They have to research their target audience, plan their mission, understand their target audience, execute the mission [and] evaluate how successful that mission was.”

Current MISO programs at Special Operations Command focus on traditional means of disseminating information such as leaflet drops and radio broadcasts, but the command is looking for more advanced means of communication, she said.

SOCOM wants a dedicated technology development program to further human language technology tools, provide artificial intelligence and machine learning technologies for target audience analysis, and enhance defensive capabilities with new forensic tools, Johnson said.

“We're really trying to leverage this science and technology funding to … really try to provide some capability that [special operators] didn't know they needed and didn't know they could go get,” she said

SOCOM Commander Army Gen. Richard Clarke touted the importance of technologies that enhance messaging during a keynote address at the conference.

"We need systems that allow us to recognize false information and messages of all types, to characterize disinformation or deceptive data, to notify and respond rapidly using the strength of automation, particularly in the area of human language processing," he said.

“We also need faster sentiment analysis to measure the impact of the message on vulnerable populations,” Clarke added.

A report by the CNA think tank released on the first day of the conference, “SOF and the Future of Global Competition,” urged the U.S. government to bolster SOCOM’s irregular warfare capabilities — including psychological operations — as the nation faces great power competition. The command is the lone element in the Defense Department that has these capabilities, the report noted.

"This is sort of our bread and butter program right now,” Johnson said. “We get to execute our own science and technology funding for MISO. We are really trying to get after those transformative technologies, the really out-of-the-box, early-in-development ideas.”

The command is readying technology that is focused on speech-to-text software, text-to-text systems, machine translation and language identification, Johnson said.

“If I am listening to a video and it's kind of fuzzy, can I identify what dialect that is and who is saying what, and pick those things out of a crowd?” she said.

The MISO component recently participated in an event held by SOFWERX, an organization established to help Special Operations Command solve problems by facilitating collaboration between industry, labs and government stakeholders. The collider event was a multi-phased competition which invited participants to propose solutions.

The MISO submission at the event had to do with AIML, or artificial intelligence markup language, which analyzes sentiments in populations, Johnson said.

“That is exactly what psychological operations is: it's sentiment analysis,” she said. SOCOM wants to gather that information out of data that's available, run analytics and utilize it to further its mission, Johnson said.

However, “none of those requirements are covered in any of our existing programs of record,” she added

Current efforts fall into the media production category and help specialists carry out traditional missions in austere environments. That includes a next-generation loud speaker system and a flyaway broadcast system — an FM television or cellular broadcast system. Version three of the technology was fielded last year, Johnson said.

Other initiatives the command is working on include the multi-mission payload, which provides airborne MISO broadcast capabilities, a media production program and a print program.

Meanwhile, Lisa Sanders, head of SOCOM’ Science and Technology Directorate, told National Defense that she couldn’t recall any MISO-related development programs in her agency. The directorate is responsible for lower readiness level technologies that still need a few years of development.

“Off the top of my head, I don’t think I have anything specific in S&T in that realm I am funding right now,” she said. However, the directorate has helped SOFWERX in its concept development for MISO prize challenges, she added.

— Additional reporting by Stew Magnuson


Topics: Special Operations, Special Operations-Low Intensity Conflict

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