Reconnaissance is the military term for exploring beyond the area occupied by friendly forces to gain information about enemy forces or features of the environment.

Often referred to as recce (British & Commonwealth) or recon (USA), the associated verb is reconnoitre in British English or reconnoiter in American English.

Examples of reconnaissance include patrolling
Patrolling is a military tactic. Small groups or individual units are deployed from a larger formation to achieve a specific objective and then return. The tactic of patrolling may be applied to ground troops, armoured units, naval units, and combat aircraft...

 by troops (rangers, scouts, or military intelligence specialists), ships or submarine
A submarine is a watercraft capable of independent operation below the surface of the water. It differs from a submersible, which has more limited underwater capability...

s, manned/unmanned aircraft
Aerial reconnaissance
Aerial reconnaissance is reconnaissance that is conducted using unmanned aerial vehicles or reconnaissance aircraft. Their roles are to collect imagery intelligence, signals intelligence and measurement and signature intelligence...

, 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.


Traditionally, reconnaissance was a role that was adopted by the cavalry
Cavalry or horsemen were soldiers or warriors who fought mounted on horseback. Cavalry were historically the third oldest and the most mobile of the combat arms...

. From horses to vehicles...for warriors throughout history, commanders procured their ability to have speed and mobility, to mount and dismount, during maneuver warfare
Maneuver warfare
Maneuver warfare, or manoeuvre warfare , is the term used by military theorists for a concept of warfare that advocates attempting to defeat an adversary by incapacitating their decision-making through shock and disruption brought about by movement...

. 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.

Types of reconnaissance (by environment)

Reconnaissance conducted by ground forces
Ground warfare
Ground warfare or land warfare is the process of military operations eventuating in combat that take place predominantly on the land surface of the planet....

 includes special reconnaissance
Special reconnaissance
Special reconnaissance is conducted by small units of highly trained military personnel, usually from special forces units or military intelligence organisations, who operate behind enemy lines, avoiding direct combat and detection by the enemy. As a role, SR is distinct from commando operations,...

, armoured reconnaissance
Armoured reconnaissance
Armoured reconnaissance is terrestrial reconnaissance by soldiers in reconnaissance vehicles. The mission of armoured reconnaissance is to gather intelligence about the enemy.-Australia:...

 and amphibious reconnaissance
Amphibious reconnaissance
The concept of amphibious reconnaissance, or commonly amphib recon, are used primarily in conjunction with ground and naval reconnaissance concerning the littoral area bordering coastal or maritime areas of interests...


Aerial reconnaissance
Aerial reconnaissance
Aerial reconnaissance is reconnaissance that is conducted using unmanned aerial vehicles or reconnaissance aircraft. Their roles are to collect imagery intelligence, signals intelligence and measurement and signature intelligence...

 is reconnaissance carried out by aircraft (of all types including balloons and unmanned aircraft). The purpose is to survey weather conditions, map terrain, and may include military purposes such as observing tangible structures, particular areas, and movement of enemy forces.

Naval forces use aerial and satellite reconnaissance to observe enemy forces. Navies also undertake hydrographic survey
Hydrographic survey
Hydrographic survey is the science of measurement and description of features which affect maritime navigation, marine construction, dredging, offshore oil exploration/drilling and related disciplines. Strong emphasis is placed on soundings, shorelines, tides, currents, sea floor and submerged...

s and intelligence gathering.

Reconnaissance satellites provide military commanders with photographs of enemy forces and other intelligence. Military forces also use geographical and meteorological information from Earth observation satellite
Earth observation satellite
Earth observation satellites are satellites specifically designed to observe Earth from orbit, similar to reconnaissance satellites but intended for non-military uses such as environmental monitoring, meteorology, map making etc....



There are two types of reconnaissance:
  1. Terrain-oriented reconnaissance is a survey of the terrain (its features, weather, and other natural observations).
  2. Force-oriented reconnaissance focuses on the enemy forces (number, equipment, activities, disposition etc.) and may include target acquisition
    Target Acquisition
    In the military, target acquisition denotes any process that provides detailed information about enemy forces and locates them with sufficient accuracy to permit continued monitoring or attacking it....


The techniques and objectives of both are not mutually exclusive; it is up to the commander whether they are carried out separately or by the same unit.


Some military elements tasked with reconnaissance are armed only for self-defence, and rely on stealth to gather information. Others are well-enough armed to also deny information from the enemy by destroying their reconnaissance elements.

Reconnaissance-in-force (RIF) is a type of military operation
Military operation
Military operation is the coordinated military actions of a state in response to a developing situation. These actions are designed as a military plan to resolve the situation in the state's favor. Operations may be of combat or non-combat types, and are referred to by a code name for the purpose...

 or military tactics
Military tactics
Military tactics, the science and art of organizing an army or an air force, are the techniques for using weapons or military units in combination for engaging and defeating an enemy in battle. Changes in philosophy and technology over time have been reflected in changes to military tactics. In...

 used specifically to probe an enemy's disposition. By mounting an offensive with considerable (but not decisive) force, the commander hopes to elicit a strong reaction by the enemy that reveals its own strength, deployment, and other tactical data. The RIF commander retains the option to fall back with the data or expand the conflict into a full engagement.

Other methods consist of hit-and-run tactics
Hit-and-run tactics
Hit-and-run tactics is a tactical doctrine where the purpose of the combat involved is not to seize control of territory, but to inflict damage on a target and immediately exit the area to avoid the enemy's defense and/or retaliation.-History:...

 using rapid mobility, and in some cases light-armored vehicles for added fire superiority, as the need arises.


Reconnaissance by fire
Reconnaissance by fire
Reconnaissance by fire is a tactic in which military forces may fire on likely enemy positions to provoke a reaction.-Historical use:...

 (or speculative fire) is the act of firing at likely enemy positions, in order to cause the enemy force to reveal their location by moving or by returning fire.


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
Tinian is one of the three principal islands of the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands.-Geography:Tinian is about 5 miles southwest of its sister island, Saipan, from which it is separated by the Saipan Channel. It has a land area of 39 sq.mi....

 in 1944, during World War II
World War II
World War II, or the Second World War , was a global conflict lasting from 1939 to 1945, involving most of the world's nations—including all of the great powers—eventually forming two opposing military alliances: the Allies and the Axis...

, the United States Marine Corps
United States Marine Corps
The United States Marine Corps is a branch of the United States Armed Forces responsible for providing power projection from the sea, using the mobility of the United States Navy to deliver combined-arms task forces rapidly. It is one of seven uniformed services of the United States...

's Amphibious Reconnaissance Battalion, from V Amphibious Corps
V Amphibious Corps
The V Amphibious Corps was a formation of the United States Marine Corps and was composed of the 3rd, 4th and 5th Marine Divisions during World War II. They were the amphibious landing force for the United States Fifth Fleet and were notably involved in the battles for Tarawa and Saipan in 1944...

, used an example of reconnaissance-pull. 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.


When referring to reconnaissance, a commander's full intention is to have a vivid picture of his battlespace
Battlespace is a term used to signify a unified military strategy to integrate and combine armed forces for the military theatre of operations, including air, information, land, sea, and space to achieve military goals. It includes the environment, factors, and conditions that must be understood...

. 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
Engineer reconnaissance
Engineer reconnaissance is the reconnaissance operations performed by combat engineers to enable forward movement of own troops, in war usually over territory previously occupied by the enemy...

 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
Pontoon bridge
A pontoon bridge or floating bridge is a bridge that floats on water and in which barge- or boat-like pontoons support the bridge deck and its dynamic loads. While pontoon bridges are usually temporary structures, some are used for long periods of time...

 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 to observe, 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.

Within an Area of operation
Area of operation
In U.S. military parlance, an area of operations is an operational area defined by the force commander for land, air, and naval forces conduct of combat and non-combat activities...

 (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.


Zone reconnaissance focuses on obtaining detailed information before maneuvering their forces through particular, designated locations. 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.

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. 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
Route reconnaissance
Route Reconnaissance is the intelligence assessment of the operational environment in reconnaissance operations of routes for military use, including methods of reconnoitering and classifying them for other troops...

 is oriented on a given route: e.g. a road, a railway, a waterway; a narrow axis or a general direction of attack, to provide 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 zone
Landing Zone
A Landing Zone or "LZ" is a military term for any area where an aircraft can land.In the United States military, a landing zone is the actual point where aircraft land...

s or pickup zones, if the need arises.

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 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.


See also

  • Armoured reconnaissance
    Armoured reconnaissance
    Armoured reconnaissance is terrestrial reconnaissance by soldiers in reconnaissance vehicles. The mission of armoured reconnaissance is to gather intelligence about the enemy.-Australia:...

  • Intelligence, Surveillance, Target Acquisition, and Reconnaissance
  • U.S. military doctrine for reconnaissance
    U.S. military doctrine for reconnaissance
    -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...

  • Surveillance aircraft
    Surveillance aircraft
    A surveillance aircraft is an aircraft used for surveillance — collecting information over time. They are operated by military forces and other government agencies in roles such as intelligence gathering, battlefield surveillance, airspace surveillance, observation , border patrol and fishery...

  • Airborne pathfinders
    Pathfinders (military)
    A pathfinder is a paratrooper who is inserted or dropped into place in order to set up and operate drop zones, pickup zones, and helicopter landing sites for airborne operations, air resupply operations, or other air operations in support of the ground unit commander...

  • List of reconnaissance units
The source of this article is wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.  The text of this article is licensed under the GFDL.