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From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Reconnaissance is a mission to obtain information by visual observation or other detection methods, about the activities and resources of an enemy or potential enemy, or about the meteorologic, hydrographic, or geographic characteristics of a particular area.[1]

Reconnaissance (FM 7-92; Chap. 4)

Reconnaissance (literately French "recognition" • from Middle French reconoissance; Old French reconoistre; "-to recognize"), is a military term denoting a preliminary survey; especially: an exploratory military survey (also scouting) conducted to gain, or collect information.[2] The term etymologically functions as a noun. However, the associated, linguistic forms are the verb reconnoitre (informal: recce [pronounced /ˈrɛki/]) in Australian, Canadian, and British spelling; and reconnoiter (informal: recon [pronounced /ˈriːkɒn/]) in American spelling.[3]

Primarily, it denotes preliminary reconnaissance; per reference, a commander employs reconnaissance to confirm the Intelligence Preparation of Battlespace (IPB) templates[4]. The IPB template determines the opposing enemy's intentions beforehand a theater of operation, by collecting and gathering information about an enemy's composition and capabilities, along with pertinent environmental and meteorological conditions via direct observation. Reconnaissance is generally a intelligence-gathering asset of human intelligence (HUMINT), under the intelligence cycle of intelligence collection management.

Examples of reconnaissance include patrolling by troops (rangers, scouts, or military intelligence specialists), ships or submarines, manned/unmanned aircraft, satellites, or by setting up covert observation posts. Espionage normally is not reconnaissance, because reconnaissance is a military force's operating ahead of its main forces; spies are non-combatants operating behind enemy lines.

There many generic uses of the term, reconnaissance, which also are applied to civilian applications—or fields of science or engineering—which occurs in geology, the "examination or survey of the general geological characteristics of a region"[5]; in computer networking and security, the "exploration or enumeration of network infrastructure including network addresses, available communication ports, and available services."[6]



The techniques and objectives of terrain-oriented reconnaissance and force-oriented reconnaissance are not mutually exclusive. The commander's intent dictates if his Intelligence, Surveillance, Reconnaissance (ISR) assets (i.e. reconnaissance platoon) conducts these two types of reconnaissance separately, or in conjunction with each other. Above all, force-oriented reconnaissance is first priority, when compared to terrain-oriented.


Terrain-oriented reconnaissance is the discipline of conducting a preliminary survey of the terrain, inland or subterranean; its features, topography, hydrography, meteorology, and other natural observations.


Aerial reconnaissance the reconnaissance by unmanned or manned aerial vehicles, or aircraft for surveying weather, terrain, and military purposes for observing tangible structures, particular areas, and movement of enemy forces (when used in conjunction with force-oriented reconnaissance).


Naval reconnaissance is the preliminary survey and hydrography of oceanic brown, green, and blue waters. It involves the scouting of underwater topography, ocean currents, meteorology; and militarily, naval force commanders implement aerial and spatial reconnaissance to complement data collection for projection of his fleet, or observation of naval enemy forces (when used in conjunction with force-oriented reconnaissance).


Spatial reconnaissance is the reconnaissance of any celestial bodies in space by use of spacecraft and satellite photography. It may either involved the observation of earth, or of other planetoids and interstellar bodies. In military reconnaissance, force commanders utilize satellite imagery and data interpretation, for observation of enemy forces (when used in conjunction with force-oriented reconnaissance), geography, and meteorological forecast. Spatial follows under the activities of signals intelligence (SIGINT) and electronic surveillance (ELINT).


Terrestrial reconnaissance (or ground reconnaissance) is the preliminary survey of the regions inland that are not concordance, but not limited to, the littoral and coastal areas. By military standards, it is the main elementary of reconnaissance, in which it support the engagements concerning ground warfare; the preliminary reconnaissance of terrain and its features, and other static and/or passive features, weather, or enemy forces (when used in conjunction with force-oriented reconnaissance). Ground reconnaissance may correlate to the coastal and maritime regions, a practice called "amphibious" reconnaissance, which is a conformity of reconnaissance to amphibious warfare.


Force-oriented reconnaissance is the essential discipline of military reconnaissance that address more directly toward the enemy forces "vice" terrain-oriented reconnaissance. In order for the military commanders to get details of the opposing forces on the battlefield, they rely on accurate and timely military intelligence (signal [SIGINT], imagery [IMINT] or measurement and signature intelligence [MASINT]) that are collected by the whichever obtainable ground reconnaissance assets who are assigned within that particular area(s) of operation; the collected data and information from people, with use of radio, signal, and imagery technology.

He may direct those reconnaissance assets that are quintessential to the mission to elicit a reaction from the enemy, in order to reveals their strength, deployment, tactical data, and other effects that may compromise, or exploit the enemy's weakness. This discipline allows flexibility within the scope of an operation, to help retain and facilitate the option by either returning to base with the data, or expand the conflict into a full engagement.

In recent years, the discipline of force-oriented reconnaissance evolved into its own genre that adapted to unconventional warfare, known as special reconnaissance, to complement special operations, by which it refers to the non-rudimentary disciplines many special operations forces around the world are coherently tasked. Many special reconnaissance assets institutionally conduct Direct Action (DA) operations; in which, such missions may consist of target acquisition and combat assessment.


Reconnaissance-in-force (RIF) is a term that refers to the usage of military tactics in the advancement toward the targeted area, or enemy, that is of interest; in which, using stealth, or aggression may be applied to provoke a reaction of the enemy to determine their strengths and capabilities. Even such reaction can allow surveying the status of arsenal and weaponry being used by the enemy, which helps to determine last minute decision-making for the military commander.

Other methods consist of hit-and-run tactics using rapid mobility, in some cases, using light-armored vehicles for added fire superiority, if the need arises.


Reconnaissance-by-fire (or "speculative fire") is a term that refers to fire on likely enemy positions to provoke a reaction, in which the friendly forces are in static, or defensive positions. Likewise, key weapon systems such as surface-to-air missile batteries, radar sites, artillery, and so forth can give their location away to everyone for miles around when actively fighting.

An example of using the technique was during the Battle of Ia Drang. The Battalion commander Lt. Colonel Hal Moore noticed his men had a large amount of ammunition. He ordered his men to fire at anything suspicious at an agreed synchronized time. The large amount of fire at that time led a group of undetected infiltrating enemy soldiers to believe that they had been discovered and charge the Americans, leading to their destruction.[7]
In the Iraq war, the irregular forces use a similar tactic, in which they brandish weapons or purposely draw suspicion, in order to learn about the rules of engagement of opposing forces.[citation needed]


Reconnaissance-push is used once the commander is committed to a plan, or maneuver option. The commander "pushes" his reconnaissance assets forward, as necessary, to gain greater visibility on specific named areas of interest to confirm or deny the assumptions on which the plan is based. Information gathered during reconnaissance push is used to finalize the commander's plan.

In 1991 during Operation Desert Storm, the operations conducted by the United States Marine Corps's I Marine Expeditionary Force were characterized by reconnaissance-push, in which the reconnaissance forces assisted in the advancing movement of friendly forces by aggressively patrolling, locating Iraqi forces (to include counterattacks by the Iraqi 5th Mechanized Infantry Division from the Burgan oil fields), preventing interference to I MEF's operations.[8]


Reconnaissance-pull is used when the enemy situation is not well-known and/or the situation is rapidly changing. The commander uses ISR assets to confirm or deny any reports of enemy activity, or terrain, before the decision on a plan, or maneuver option; thus -pulling- the battalion to the decisive point on the battlefield. Success of the reconnaissance-pull requires an integrated reconnaissance plan that can be executed before the commander making a course-of-action decision.

During the landings of Tinian in 1944, during World War II, the United States Marine Corps's Amphibious Reconnaissance Battalion, from V Amphibious Corps, used an example of reconnaissance-pull. Preliminary reconnaissance from aerial photography, and the confirmation by the amphibious reconnaissance platoons determined that the Japanese defenders had largely ignored the northern beaches of the island, while focusing most of their defensive effort on mostly likely beaches in the southwest. The landing was changed to the northern beaches, and when coupled with a hasty "deception" operation off the southern beach, resulted in a complete surprise.[9]

This example shows the ability to use reconnaissance-pull to determine enemy disposition, and find or create exploitable gaps through which friendly forces can pass while avoid obstacles and strong points.

Depth of penetration

Reconnaissance missions, within the scope of the battlespace, are characterized by the depth of penetration required, in terms of time, risk coordination, and support requirements[9]. Information is gathered by commanders at all echelons and is used to prevent surprise, permit the timely maneuver of ground forces, and to facilitate the prompt and effective use of supporting arms[10].

Depth of reconnaissance in relation to the battlespace.
FEBA—Forward Edge of Battle Area
FSCL—Fire Support Coordination Line


Military commanders use forward platoon and company-sized elements of their own organic forces, to perform close reconnaissance ("short-range" reconnaissance)[10], such as: the recon/scout platoons in infantry battalions; reconnaissance platoons in armored regiments/battalions; or "intelligence, surveillance, target acquisition, reconnaissance" (ISTAR) companies that are organic to intelligence brigades/battalions.

These mission normally are conducted in the area between the forward positions to the rear, extending forward of the "Forward Edge of the Battle Area" (FEBA) to the "Fire Support Coordination Line" (FSCL)[8]. This area is usually in the commander's Area of operation (AO). It is directed toward determining the location, composition, disposition, capabilities, and activities of enemy committed forces. Close reconnaissance covers the ground between the forward positions that are within the FEBA[9], to the rear of the zone covered by 'distant' (or medium) reconnaissance assets.


The units that provide distant reconnaissance (or known as "medium" reconnaissance) capabilities are usually organic to, or attached to regimental/brigade, division-level, corps-level commands. It is usually directed toward determining location, disposition, composition, movement of supporting arms (i.e. artillery emplacement), and the reserve elements of the enemy committed forces[9]. Distant reconnaissance is conducted between the FEBA, beyond the FSCL[10], to the rear of the commander's area of influence[8]. Dedicated scouts serving with infantry, tank, artillery, engineer, or logistics units will generally position themselves about 5 kilometers, in advance of the forward units where possible.

Traditionally, reconnaissance was a role that was adopted by the cavalry. From horses to vehicles...for warriors throughout history, commanders procured their ability to have speed and mobility, to mount and dismount, during maneuver warfare. Military commanders favored specialized small units for speed and mobility, to gain valuable information about the terrain and enemy before sending the main (or majority) troops into the area; screening, covering force, pursuit and exploitation roles.

Today, commanders have scout (tank) and light-armored reconnaissance units, or similar, at their disposal. light-armored and patrol/fast-attack vehicles are used with reconnaissance (scouting) units for much added armored protection, firepower, speed and mobility; to include, excellent communications, procurement of short- and long-range (remote) sensors, such as thermal imagery, ground surveillance radar and seismic sensors, [and if…] in range of the artillery fan, they have the much needed indirect fire support, when the need arises. In effect, these units are often replicate miniature combined-arms task forces (or battlegroups).


At the highest command level of a committed force or component (the division, corps, or field army-level), the force-level reconnaissance is employed to perform deep reconnaissance (or "long-range surveillance" [LSR])[10], which is conducted beyond the force (or component) commander's area of influence to the limits of the area of interest[8] (i.e. the geographical area from which information and intelligence are required to execute successful tactical operations, and to plan for future operations)[1]. Deep reconnaissance is oriented toward determining the location, composition, disposition, and movement of enemy reinforcements[9], combat support, and combat service support units[10], in order to shape and describe the battlespace.

While almost every front-line military unit is sometimes assigned to do limited patrolling, or surveillance, of one kind or another, this kind of stealthy scouting—far from friendly forward operating bases—is a particularly dangerous mission. Scouting specialist, or reconnaissance operators, may protrude as far as 25–50 kilometres (16–31 mi) forward of the FSCL. In practice, reconnaissance or scouting platoons, typically of 20–40 men (4–6 men per squad/team), can probe beyond the FEBA[1], usually in means of 190–320 kilometres (120–200 mi) from any friendly ground forces, however, this extreme distance excludes any advantages of operating under the supporting arms fan; such as naval gunfire or artillery support, but are not limited to close air support.

In the United States Army, some brigades and divisions have separated, and structured into Long-Range Surveillance (LRS) units, which can go deeper beyond the front line; in which, the units are reorganizes into a Brigade combat team model with enhanced reconnaissance[11]. As of 2007, however, scout specialists were being removed from some brigades, such as the Stryker Brigade.[citation needed]


When referring to reconnaissance, a commander's full intention it to have a vivid picture of his battlespace. The commander organizes the reconnaissance platoon based on: 1) mission, 2) enemy, 3) terrain, 4) troops and support available, (5) time available, (6) and civil considerations. This analysis determines whether the platoon uses single or multiple elements to conduct the reconnaissance, whether it pertains to area, zone, or route reconnaissance, the following techniques may be used as long as the fundamentals of reconnaissance are applied.

Scouts may also have different tasks to perform for their commanders of higher echelons, for example: the engineer reconnaissance detachments will try to identify difficult terrain in the path of their formation, and attempt to reduce the time it takes to transit the terrain using specialist engineering equipment such as a pontoon bridge for crossing water obstacles.


Area reconnaissance refers to the observation, and information obtained, about a specified location and the area around it; it may be terrain-oriented and/or force-oriented. Ideally, a reconnaissance platoon, or team, would use surveillance or vantage (static) points around the objective from which to observe in and the surrounding area. This methodology focuses mainly prior to moving forces into or near a specified area; the military commander may utilize his reconnaissance assets to conduct an area reconnaissance to avoid being surprised by unsuitable terrain conditions, or most importantly, unexpected enemy forces. The area could be a town, ridge-line, woods, or another feature that friendly forces intend to occupy, pass through, or avoid.[1]

Within an Area of operation (AO), area reconnaissance can focus the reconnaissance on the specific area that is critical to the commander. This technique of focusing the reconnaissance also permits the mission to be accomplished more quickly. Area reconnaissance can thus be a stand-alone mission or a task to a section or the platoon. The commander analyzes the mission to determine whether the platoon will conduct these types of reconnaissance separately or in conjunction with each other.[1]


Zone reconnaissance focuses on obtaining detailed information before maneuvering their forces through particular, designated locations, generally utilizing preliminary reconnaissance in this practice. It can be terrain-oriented, force-oriented, or both, as it acquire this information by reconnoitering within—and by maintaining surveillance over—routes, obstacles (to include nuclear-radiological, biological, and chemical contamination), and resources within an assigned location.[9]

Also, force-oriented zone reconnaissance is assigned to gain detailed information about enemy forces within the zone, or when the enemy situation is vague by which the information concerning cross-country traffic-ability is desired[1]. The reconnaissance provides the commander with a detailed picture of how the enemy has occupied the zone, enabling him to choose the appropriate course-of-action.

As the platoon conducts this type of zone reconnaissance, its emphasis is on determining the enemy's locations, strengths, and weaknesses. This is the most thorough and complete reconnaissance mission and therefore is very time-intensive.


Route reconnaissance is oriented on a given route: a road, a railway, a waterway; a narrow axis (such as an infiltration lane), or a general direction of attack, to provide detailed, new or updated information on route conditions or activities along the route. A military commander relies on information about locations along his determined route: which those that would provide best cover and concealment; bridges by construction type, dimensions, and classification; or for landing zones or pickup zones, if the need arises.[1]

In many cases, the commander may act upon a force-oriented route reconnaissance by which the enemy could influence movement along that route. For the reconnaissance platoons, or squads, stealth and speed —in conjunction with detailed intelligence-reporting—are most important and crucial. The reconnaissance platoon must remain far enough ahead of the maneuver force to assist in early warning and to prevent the force from becoming surprised.

Even it is paramount to obtain information about the the available space in which a force can maneuver without being forced to bunch up due to obstacles. Terrain-oriented route reconnaissance allows the commander to obtain information and capabilities about the adjacent terrain for maneuvering his forces, to include, any obstacles (minefields, barriers, steep ravines, marshy areas, or chemical, biological, radiological, and nuclear contamination) that may obstruct vehicle movement—on routes to, and in, his assigned area of operations. This requirement includes the size of trees and the density of forests due to their effects on vehicle movement. Route reconnaissance also allows the observation for fields of fire along the route and adjacent terrain. This information assists planners as a supplement to map information.

List of units





United Kingdom

United States


Mixed reconnaissance patrol of the Polish Home Army and the Soviet Red Army Operation Tempest, 1944
A52 Oste, a modern Oste class ELINT and reconnaissance ship, of the German Navy
Soviet truck convoy deploying missiles near San Cristobal, Cuba, on Oct. 14, 1962. Taken by Maj. Steve Heyser's U-2, it was the first picture proving Soviet missiles were being emplaced in Cuba.
Aerial reconnaissance photographs of Utah Beach prior to the D-Day landings on 6th June 1944.
A Fennek armoured reconnaissance vehicle of the German Army.

See also


  1. ^ a b c d e f g Field Manual (FM) 7–92: The Infantry Reconnaissance Platoon and Squad (Airborne, Air Assault, Light Infantry). United States Army. 2001. p. 4.0. 
  2. ^ Merriam-Webster Dictionary
  3. ^ Cambridge Dictionary Online
  4. ^ Diagram of Intelligence Preparation of the Battlespace (IPB)
  5. ^ Definitions from
  6. ^ Situation Awareness.DOC
  7. ^ Galloway, Joseph L. (1990). The word was the Ia Drang would be a walk. The word was wrong. U.S. News
  8. ^ a b c d Pushies, Fred J (2003). Marine Force Recon. Zenith Imprint. ISBN 9780760310113. 
  9. ^ a b c d e f "Chap. 11". Marine Corps Operations (MCDP 1-0). Marine Corps Doctrinal Publication. 2007. pp. 11-10. ISBN 978602060623. 
  10. ^ a b c d e Pellish, Richard B. (1991). Improving The Surveillance, Reconnaissance, Intelligence Group (SRIG). CSC. Retrieved 11 March 2010. 
  11. ^ Field Manual (FM) 7–93: Long-range Surveillance Unit Operations. Dept. of the Army. 1995. Retrieved 11 March 2010. 

External links

1911 encyclopedia

Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From LoveToKnow 1911

RECONNAISSANCE (from Fr. reconnaitre, to recognize, Lat. recognoscere), a military term denoting the reconnoitring or examination of an enemy's position or movements, or of a tract of ground. Reconnaissances naturally vary indefinitely according to the purposes for which they are undertaken. A topographical reconnaissance is practically a survey of a tract of country or route, comprising both a map and a report as to its advantages and disadvantages. All reconnoitring work of this character is done by officers with small patrols, escorts or assistants. Strategical reconnaissance is performed by contact squadrons, which send forward officers and patrols to find the enemy. Tactical reconnaissance falls to the lot of troops of all arms, whether in contact with the enemy or for self-protection. A reconnaissance by a large force of all arms with the idea of provoking an enemy into showing his hand, if necessary by fighting, is called a reconnaissance in force.

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Simple English

Reconnaissance, sometimes referred to as scouting, is the act of exploring (especially military or medical) to gain information. Often referred to as recce (UK, Canada and Australia, pronounced /ˈrɛki/) or recon (U.S., pronounced /ˈriːkɒn/), the associated formal verb is reconnoitre (British spelling) or reconnoiter (American spelling). In informal English, both recce and recon are often also used as a verb.

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