In its new budget, unveiled on Monday, Darpa introduced a new $4 million investigation into technologies that will “manage the adversary’s sensory perception” in order to “confuse, delay, inhibit, or misdirect [his] actions.” Darpa calls the project “Battlefield Illusion.” Of course.
“The current operational art of human-sensory battlefield deception is largely an ad-hoc practice,” the agency sighs as it lays out the project’s goals. But if researchers can better understand “how humans use their brains to process sensory inputs,” the military should be able to develop “auditory and visual” hallucinations that will “provide tactical advantage for our forces.”
Ultimately, the aim is to “demonstrate and assess the operational effectiveness of advanced human-deceptive technologies on military ground, sea, and airborne systems.”
If this all sounds a little outside the military norm, it shouldn’t. Magicians and generals have had a long-standing relationship — one that produced very real effects during wartime. Harry Houdini snooped on the German and the Russian militaries for Scotland Yard. English illusionist Jasper Maskelyne is reported to have created dummy submarines and fake tanks to distract Rommel’s army during World War II; some reports even credit him with employing flashing lights to “hide” the Suez Canal. At the height of the Cold War, the Central Intelligence Agency paid $3,000 to renowned magician John Mulholland to write a manual on misdirection, concealment and stagecraft. It was republished in 2009 as “The Official CIA Manual of Trickery and Deception.”