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Monday, August 17, 2009

PsyOps And The Audio Industry

In an interesting article in Wired Magazine, loudspeakers used for psychological warfare operations (pysops) in Iraq and elsewhere are getting a bit long in the tooth, having been designed in the ’90s, so they're looking for the Next Generation Loudspeaker System (called "NGLS" for short).

In reality, loudspeaker technology has changed little since the 20's. Sure it's improved and evolved, but the transducers are still the same transducers. In fact, the picture on the left looks a lot like the University horns that my first band used in the 60's.

But the military does want a new twist, intending to network speaker systems so they can be “interconnected using secure wireless technology to form sets of loudspeakers that provide high-quality recorded audio, live dissemination, and acoustic-deception capability.”

According to the article, "A set of scattered, networked speakers could certainly create some confusing sound effects. It could create the impression of a patrol or a vehicle moving around, surrounding the enemy with phantoms while masking the presence of real forces.

Special Forces have already had good results using focused sound in the form of the Long Range Acoustic Device (LRAD). The unofficial PsyWarrior site reports that LRAD could be clearly heard at 1,400 meters, and it proved a handy way of communicating with the locals. “Iraqis were seen writing down the counter-terrorism tip-line number at over 600 meters range.”

The article goes on to talk about first putting speakers on aircraft during the war in Vietnam. Many different broadcasts were tried, including the celebrated “Wandering Soul,” also known as the “Howling Ghost” or “Ghost Tape Number 10″ (”Number 10″ or “So Moui” was Vietnam slang for “very bad”). This played on the Vietnamese belief that unless a person is buried properly, his or her suffering soul will wander the earth.

According to the article, "The Wandering Soul tape had an echoing voice, supposedly of a dead Viet Cong, warning his comrades that his soul is doomed to wander forever and telling them to go back to their homes. The Viet Cong soon realized that the voice was not really a ghost, but it certainly had a very disturbing effect on them, and in many cases provoked them to open fire on the helicopter carrying the speakers," which of course, is what they wanted.

There's a huge difference between the "million dollar speaker system" from yesterday's post and the manpack systems used by the military, but it does go to show that the audio industry has a great impact on our lives in so many unappreciated ways. Many of us just see it as a way to reproduce music (which it does in its simplest form) but audio gear also provides everything from a sense of satisfaction to a feeling of superiority to the harbinger of fear.

Most of us are isolated in our own little audio world, but there's a lot bigger world out there than we know. And it's ever so interesting to get just a little taste of the things beyond our immediate horizon.

1 comment:

Tom said...

Hi, I am the developing engineer for the original FOL loud speaker systems that we developed in 1998. I beleive we were the first company to develope a full mil-spec class "D" audio amplifier. Each amp module produced 300 watts RMS and that met 461D EMI mil spec. We are still building and supporting these units. We have had some units come back from the field that were in fires from IED's hittin HUMVEES and the powder coat paint was burnt off and the rubber was melted in the connectors, but they still worked. The NGLS has been a complete flop as we understand it. An Alaskan firm has burned through 15 million dollars sofar in the last four years and are three years behing schedule and are still getting funded for junk. Our company has developed an equivelent NGLS for a sell price of a third of what a NGLS will cost and is aviable today. This little unit weighs under 16 pounds in puts out 131db at a meter. Its ironic we are selling these systems to Columbia under US funding and the Columbian military have the newer and better systems then the US military. We just did a shoot out down there with an LRAD an we were louder at one mile AGL then the LRAD at a third of the price. We are developing 155db at a meter. This is a far-field measurement at 4 meters intorpolated back to 1 meter. When I was testing through the sweep there were things that vibrated on my body that I don't think should be, Owell I survied. Do a Google search for NGLS looudspeaker and you can see are unit in action.


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