Broadcasting ships during the Gulf War

Shock and awe on the air – US steps up propaganda war

By Mika Mäkeläinen [Editor of and foreign news reporter for the Finnish Broadcasting Company (YLE)]

Surrender or die is the message beamed at the remaining Iraqi Republican Guard soldiers in trenches around Baghdad. Coalition propaganda is aired 24 hours a day over Information Radio, part of a sophisticated psychological warfare operation aimed at winning the war in Iraq with less fighting, less casualties – and more clever persuasion. (…)

Information Radio, Radiyo al-Ma’ulumat in Arabic, is a US military Special Operations radio station broadcasting anti-Saddam Hussein messages, which are aimed at weakening his support among the Iraqi people and military.

Radio broadcasts are transmitted 24 hours a day from several transmitter sites in the air above Iraq, on the ground in Iraq and on naval vessels in the Persian Gulf and the Gulf of Oman. Until now, these transmitter locations have remained unknown. The programs however are well-known – or at least they should be – because that is the purpose of the mission. Each program normally lasts about an hour and contains an introduction, combinations of regional and Western music and an information message. (…)

The most important field player in the PSYOP warfare is Commando Solo, the 193rd Special Operations Wing of the Pennsylvania Air National Guard. In November 2002 an EC-130E plane had been dispatched from its base at the Harrisburg International Airport in Middletown, Pennsylvania, to Qatar, to launch a radio propaganda operation against the regime of President Saddam Hussein. (…)

Leaflets have been dropped to Iraq since mid-December 2002, detailing broadcast times and frequencies of Information Radio.

Leaflets have been dropped using various platforms from fixed-wing aircraft dropping fiberglass leaflet-bombs to UH-60 Blackhawk helicopters spreading the leaflets. The leaflets are not dropped by the Commando Solo aircraft, as often reported, but leaflets drops and radio broadcasts are separate operations. Thousands of wind-up radios have also been dropped from the air as well as handed out to the Iraqis on the ground to facilitate the reception of Coalition broadcasts.

A key function of the leaflets has been to inform Iraqis of the frequencies used by Information Radio. From the start, Information Radio has been advertised to broadcast at 18.00 – 23.00 Iraq local time (equal to 1500-2000 UTC during the winter and 1400-1900 UTC from April 1, 2003) on five different frequencies, 693 and 756 kHz mediumwave, 9715 and 11292 kHz shortwave and 100.4 MHz FM.

Another version of the leaflets dropped in Iraq (English translation)

DXers and professional monitoring organizations were quick to spot broadcasts on 9715 kHz. Also 756 and 11292 kHz have been monitored, while other frequencies have not been confirmed by independent monitoring. (…)

In mid-February 2003, Information Radio transmissions were extended. “We’re currently broadcasting on five different radio frequencies 24 hours a day and have been doing so since the 17th of February,” said Brigadier General Vincent Brooks in a Central Command press briefing on March 25. However, it was not the five frequencies nor the 24-hour transmissions that were new. What Brooks failed to mention is that for the first time Coalition partners were involved – and that the extended transmissions originated from ships.

Broadcasts began from coalition naval vessels patrolling in the Persian Gulf and the Gulf of Oman in the northern Arabian Sea. One ship at a time, primarily performing maritime interdiction missions, has been relaying Information Radio programming using whatever transmitters have been available on the particular ships, says Major Peter Mitchell, US Marines Public Affairs official at Central Command forward headquarters in Qatar.

Currently the ships are broadcasting only on 9715 kHz shortwave. Transmitter power depends on the ship in question. Broadcasts begin at 23.00 Baghdad time – when Commando Solo heads back to its base – and end at 18.00 Baghdad time, when Commando Solo once again begins its five-hour broadcast. Together these platforms make 9715 kHz available for 24 hours a day.

Ships from at least three Coalition countries (US, UK and Australia) are rotated so that each ship transmits a few days at a time, before handing over responsibility to another ship. In late March 3-4 ships were rotating, but since the beginning of the naval transmissions in February, a total of 6-10 ships have been involved in the broadcasts.

Coalition partners have been reluctant to identify the ships in question to maintain operational security. As far as the United Kingdom is concerned, there are three frigates (HMS Chatham, HMS Marlborough and HMS Richmond) and three destroyers (HMS Liverpool, HMS Edinburgh and HMS York) which could be involved. HMS Chatham has previously been reported operating as a platform for broadcasts to Iraq. [The Type 22 frigate HMS Chatham (…) broadcasts programmes dubbed ‘Radio Free Iraq’, consisting of a mix of modern Middle East music interspersed with messages of peace – and warnings that the Allies will use extreme force against those who do not surrender. (published on March 25th, 2003 on] (…)

In an interview with US Central Command, Air Force Lt. Col. “Mike,” a Commando Solo II detachment commander, said that “We call ourselves weapons of mass persuasion”. When the war had lasted for two weeks, evidence was mounting that these weapons of mass persuasion have resulted if not in mass surrenders, at least in mass desertions.

Not all of this has been achieved by only leaflets and radio broadcasts combined with traditional warfare; PSYOP tools also include email campaigns, telephone calls, messengers and TV transmissions, which were begun by Commando Solo in late March. This was announced by Brigadier General Vincent Brooks on March 28. PSYOP units also use loudspeakers to reach enemy troops up to a distance of nearly 2 kilometers.

There are also weapons of mass persuasion which the Coalition does not admit having. Clandestine radio operations such as Voice of Iraqi Liberation, discovered first by, and Radio Tikrit broadcast practically the same message as Information Radio, but are presumably run by the US intelligence community. All together, the US has launched the broadest and the most sophisticated psychological warfare operation in modern history to oust Saddam Hussein.


Article published on April 5, 2003, sligthly updated later.

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