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7 Commando Royal Marines make their way to the beach from a landing craft who will then begin a ‘yomp’ across the fields to their commemorative event in Port-en-Bassin to attend the annual Royal Marines D-Day commemorative service.
AdminJun 09, 20244 min read

Deception in Modern Warfare: Adapting D-Day Tactics to a Transparent Battlespace

Eighty years ago, Allied forces landed on the beaches of Normandy after tricking the Nazis into believing Pas-de-Calais would be the main landing spot.

This involved an extremely meticulous and well-planned deception plot, involving fake ships, inflatable tanks and a steady stream of misinformation.

But could D-Day be repeated? And what would it look like?

General Sir Richard Barrons, UDSS Co-Chair and former head of Joint Forces Command, joins BFBS Sitrep to discuss, “Deception in the transparent battlespace”.

Watch now: 

Expert Insight: General Sir Richard Barrons on “Deception in the transparent battlespace”.

The challenge is that in a world where every square metre can be seen from space, with a range of other sensors like radars in the air and on the ground, and with so much open-source data covering almost all aspects of daily life, it is now very difficult to assemble any sort of armed force, move it, position it or use it undetected. The most recent example is the Russian invasion of Ukraine, where the US and its allies watched the invasion force form up over months and knew many weeks in advance that an invasion really would take place. In fact, the problem for some countries wasn't the data, it was simply not believing what it was telling them.

The problem is just as great at the tactical level; neither side in Ukraine has worked out how to muster an attacking force without the ever-present risk of being detected by things like drones and then destroyed with great precision and at long range by artillery systems like the US HIMARS.  

So everybody is looking for ways of creating deception around force locations, activity and intent.

The first requirement is to understand what is being seen from space and to exploit any gaps in coverage to move or make other big preparations before going to ground again. This is just going to get harder as more satellites with more capability are put in orbit.

The second requirement is to dominate the air in order to keep out an opponent's aircraft, drones and missiles. If an opponent cannot get over the top of our forces, it is much harder for them to know what is going on and to do something about it. Comprehensive air and missile defences are a really important part of maintaining operational security and being able to impose some deception.

The third requirement is to dominate the electromagnetic spectrum in the area of operations, blinding or neutralising the enemy's sensors such as radars, sound ranging and thermal imagers. This must also include interrupting the opponent's communications so that even if they detect something they are unable to pass that information around. Dominating the EMS is becoming at least as important as air and missile defence.

The fourth requirement is to conceal movement by not assembling large convoys or large collections of ships and aircraft. These will easily stand out and, once identified, can be targeted by precision weapons at greater and greater ranges. Forces are learning to move in very small packets and only assemble at the last minute before launching an operation. Nobody is really on top of this yet.

The fifth requirement is to conceal the location of big, static capabilities such as headquarters and logistic dumps. It is no longer possible to hide these in a wood, but it is possible to hide them in the much more complex environment of a city or large town. Being in an occupied area alongside many civilians incurs the risk of being detected by people who can then communicate what they see on their smartphones – every citizen is now a sensor, as we have seen in Ukraine. Nonetheless, with skill and good discipline, it is much more possible to hide military activity in a built-up environment than in a wilderness. A basic aspect of this can be not wearing uniforms in the way that groups such as Hamas move easily amongst the civilian population. Similarly, using civilian lorries rather than military trucks can conceal logistic activity.

As seen in Ukraine at the tactical level, an important part of deception is old-fashioned digging to put forces underground and out of sight. This can be reinforced by techniques such as using very low-power radio transmissions that don't reach enemy lines. Navies will increasingly have to go underwater and use civilian-looking surface vessels to avoid detection, although some argue that content computing will eventually make the seas transparent, and the game will be up there, too.

The challenge of transparency will mean that forces will try to fight at ever greater ranges to reduce their chances of being seen by concentrations of sensors and hope that even if detected, they are out of range of their enemy’s weapons. This is becoming a big feature of how the US thinks about a confrontation with China over Taiwan.

There is still plenty of scope for the art and science of active deception, which will have to be as full spectrum, innovative and comprehensive as it was in the major deception operations of the Second World War. Today, given the Internet and the pervasive nature of social media, deception operations will not only have to take these into account but exploit them and advances in things like fake voices and images will be really useful. But because the problem with concealing physical location and movement is now so much harder, it has become even more difficult to fake where forces are and what they are doing.

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