Decoy vehicles have a long pedigree
by ROBERT BECKHUSEN
As Iraqi troops began overrunning Islamic State positions in and around Mosul in fall 2016, a curious sight appeared — wooden dummy tanks and fake Humvees stored inside a building.
More recent imagery appeared in late November showing what appears to be Islamic State fighters wheeling out a dummy tank on the bed of a semi-truck.
Deception is central to Islamic State tactics, and dummy vehicles are an old trick that has been around as long as tanks have rolled into combat. The Allies during World War II constructed hundreds of dummy vehicles — planes and tanks — to deceive the Germans regarding their plans and placement of their forces.
One of the most sophisticated dummy operations in recent history came during the 1999 NATO air campaign over Kosovo and what remained of Yugoslavia. The Yugoslav army built fake bridges, anti-aircraft missile launchers and artillery — and NATO planes bombed away at them.
“We were spoofed a lot,” a member of a joint NATO and U.S. Air Force assessment team said according to a Newsweek investigation after the war.
The U.S. Air Force’s intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance methods have improved since the war with Yugoslavia— a state which had considerably more resources to invest in its spoofing effort. But war is inherently confusing, and as with other forms of camouflage and deception, the point is not to be foolproof but to introduce doubt and increase one’s relative margin of safety.
Dummy tanks will appear dissimilar from real tanks from the air, as they don’t emit their own heat sources to be picked up on infrared sensors.
ISIS uses wooden vehicles to divert attention from military fighter jets in #Iraq's #Mosul city
However, if a few hundred dollars worth of construction materials dressed up like a vehicle causes an American pilot to make a mistake and hit it with a $25,000 laser-guided bomb, instead of striking a nearby fighting position, it’s probably worth the cost and effort for the Islamic State.
Think of it this way — a pilot spots a dummy vehicle. He or she might wonder, is this Humvee-looking thing real or fake? There’s a chance the pilot might blow it up just to be sure.
Da'ish factory captured by #Iraq's army in #Mosul. "Humvees" and "tanks" made out of wood to trick aircraft:
Don’t think it can happen? First consider that American pilots don’t always have a clear idea what they’re bombing in Iraq.
Islamic State fighters hide inside common structures and move around in civilian vehicles. The U.S. military’s aerial strike reports frequently — and vaguely — reference nondescript “vehicles” and “buildings,” and American pilots have more than once killed civilians, mistaking them for Islamic State fighters.
Furthermore, while U.S. strike aircraft can pack high-resolution, infrared cameras, they regularly rely on drones to guide their bombs to their targets. “We’re involved in pretty much every engagement,” Col. James Cluff of the 432nd Wing at Creech Air Force Base, which operates America’s overseas drones, told The Daily Beast in 2015.
But drone imagery is typically poorer, grainier and lower-resolution than you might think. Overworked drone crews must also contend with exhausting schedules and information overload during frantic combat situations.
Introducing more information into the U.S. military intelligence networks — false information, at that — is not on its face a bad tactic for the Islamic State, no matter how silly the fake vehicles look up close, or the fine distinctions in their IR signature when viewed from above.
More precise are U.S. joint air controllers, whose job is to spot targets from the ground, embedded with Iraqi and Kurdish forces … but they can’t be everywhere. That leaves manned aircraft and drones to pick up the slack.
But the dummy tanks won’t make much — if any — difference regarding the outcome of the Mosul offensive. But a dummy tank could be enough to fool a pilot or drone operator once or twice, and this modest goal might be what the militants are trying to achieve.