In future natural disasters or battlefield operations, U.S. Special Operations Command would like to be able to take over local AM and FM radio transmissions to broadcast its own message.
To do that, the MacDill Air Force Base headquartered command “is seeking sources to provide a radio broadcast system capable of searching for and acquiring every AM and FM radio station in a specific area and then broadcasting a message(s) in the target area on all acquired AM and FM radio station frequencies,” according a solicitation posted Monday on the Federal Business Opportunities website.
The solicitation doesn’t offer any cost estimates or timetables, nor does it include any specifics on how or when the system would be used.
But Socom spokesman Ken McGraw offered a few examples of how the system could work, both at home and abroad.
Special Operations Forces “loudspeaker teams” were used in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina and they were used in the aftermath of Hurricane Andrew in South Florida, said McGraw, “to assist in notifying civilians in hurricane relief operations. You can look at this as one or two or three steps up from a loudspeaker team, to assist in notifying civilians in hurricane relief operations, flooding or any kind of natural disaster.”
The radio broadcast system would allow those caught in disasters to know where to get medical care, water and food, McGraw said.
Overseas, the system would fall under the Military Information Support Operations, which used to be known as Psychological Operations, and provide similar information. The military is not allowed to conduct those operations domestically.
The radio broadcast system would mostly target civilians, said McGraw, because enemy fighters aren’t generally sitting around listening to the radio.
“U.S. military commanders, when conducting operations anyplace, have an obligation to the civilian population that live in those areas,” said McGraw, “And that is why civil affairs people assist in meeting those obligations. If a commander operating in a specific area has information he wants to get out quickly to the civilian population, then using the broadcast network system that is indigenous is probably the fastest.”
MISO is one of the Defense Department’s tools in information operations, which are “the principal mechanism used during military operations to integrate, synchronize, employ and assess a wide variety of information-related capabilities in concert with other lines of operations to effect adversaries’ or potential adversaries’ decision-making while protecting our own,” according to the Department of Defense.
Socom is responsible for coordinating MISO in support of information operations, according to a May 2 Defense Department directive.
“In a war zone, MISO is providing truthful information to foreign audiences in support of U.S. military and foreign policy objectives,” said McGraw. On the battlefield, the radio system would be used “where you have a large combat operation, and civilians need to be evacuated and find medical treatment and food and water,” he said. “It would not be used for nefarious purposes.”
The radio system appears to be part of a larger Socom effort to improve its MISO capabilities through a wide range of technology. According to Socom budget documents, the command is seeking, among other capabilities, multifrequency broadcast systems; digital broadcast capabilities; remote-controlled electronic paper; near-real-time command and control of unattended MISO systems, especially in denied areas; focused/beam speaker sound technologies; visual projection technologies; advanced commercial broadcast technologies including AM and FM radio transmitters and antenna; television transmitter and antenna systems; internet and telephony dissemination and broadcast systems and “technologies capable of disseminating MISO products to reach target audiences across a wide variety of media into denied areas; and technologies that automate and improve MISO planning and analytical capability through integrated capabilities.”
For the radio system, Socom is “contemplating a Foreign Comparative Test of a light-weight, multifrequency, simultaneous over-broadcast system,” the solicitation states.
The test, according to the Defense Department, helps determine whether the items in question “satisfy U.S. military requirements or address mission area shortcomings.” The Pentagon’s Comparative Technology Office would pay for the testing and evaluation; Socom would pay for all procurements that result from a successful test.
At the moment, Socom is only looking for parties interested in providing the radio system technologies and has not even reached the request for proposal stage, according to the solicitation.