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Chapter 8


Special-Purpose Forces
Signals Reconnaissance Units
Air Assets
Army Group
Army or Corps

The OPFOR considers reconnaissance the most important element of combat support. All commanders and staffs organize reconnaissance to acquire information about the enemy's NBC and precision weapons; force disposition and intentions; and terrain and weather in the area of operations. This information is crucial to the planning process in OPFOR command and control (C2) systems. Reconnaissance can decisively influence the outcome of a battle, operation, or campaign.


Reconnaissance and intelligence collection are critical to OPFOR military operations. Strategists place significant emphasis on the destruction of enemy precision weapons and on conducting high-speed, continuous, combined arms operations throughout the depth of the theater. Reconnaissance and intelligence collection have three distinct levels--strategic, operational, and tactical. These three categories overlap, mutually support, and differ primarily by the level of command and the commander's area of responsibility.

Commanders require continuous, timely, and accurate intelligence on the enemy, terrain, and meteorological situation. Thus, the OPFOR devotes substantial effort to all forms of reconnaissance. Commanders confirm their plan only after thorough reconnaissance.


The OPFOR uses six principles to guide its reconnaissance activities: focus; continuity; aggressiveness; timeliness; camouflage, concealment, and deception; accuracy and reliability. For the greatest likelihood of a successful operation, OPFOR reconnaissance units must satisfy all of these principles simultaneously and continuously.


The actions of reconnaissance units must serve the commander's needs and focus on elements and objectives critical to the execution of combat operations. Each level of command, from theater to brigade, develops a comprehensive reconnaissance plan in accordance with the organization's mission. Reconnaissance resources are always scarce. The commander must carefully define and limit ground reconnaissance objectives and concentrate reconnaissance assets on the critical sectors of the battlefield.

To use reconnaissance assets effectively, the commander must be flexible. If the situation changes, he must redirect the reconnaissance effort, even altering the plan. The reconnaissance plan must coordinate all available assets into an integrated plan.


The modern, fluid battlefield demands continuous reconnaissance to provide an uninterrupted flow of information under all conditions. Reconnaissance provides constant coverage of the enemy situation and helps prevent enemy operational surprise. To ensure continuity, the OPFOR employs a wide variety of assets with deep overlapping coverage ranging from satellites to human agents to unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs).

Reconnaissance units attempt to maintain contact with the enemy at all times. They conduct reconnaissance in all directions, including the flanks and rear, in order to prevent surprise. Reconnaissance units collect information during all battle phases, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, in all weather conditions. Not only must reconnaissance units answer specific requests for information; they must continuously collect information on all aspects of the enemy, weather, and terrain to fully meet future requirements. Units conducting reconnaissance and intelligence collection must maintain a high state of combat readiness, and prevent any shortage of reconnaissance personnel, weapons, or equipment. Reconnaissance is a critical responsibility for all commanders at all times.


Aggressiveness is the vigorous search for information, including the willingness to fight for it if necessary. Reconnaissance troops must creatively conduct intelligence collection and make maximum use of assets on the battlefield to ensure success. The OPFOR vigorously employs all available collection resources and adheres carefully to the reconnaissance plan. However, it may alter the plan when its own initiatives or enemy actions dictate. Although reconnaissance is the primary mission, all reconnaissance units train to defend themselves. Many remain ready to attack, sabotage the enemy, or conduct reconnaissance in force. The OPFOR stresses initiative, resourcefulness, and daring in the conduct of reconnaissance. Reconnaissance troops attempt to penetrate enemy defenses, ambush and raid enemy forces, and as a last resort, draw fire to determine enemy positions. In short, they do what is necessary to fulfill the commander's intelligence needs.

Commanders use all available means to seek information. The need for intelligence determines the techniques to use, such as clandestine infiltration by special-purpose forces or quick mechanized reconnaissance. Ambushes and raids are fruitful sources of intelligence from POWs, captured documents, and equipment. Such intelligence actions are generally more important than any associated damage, but there are exceptions. Reconnaissance elements must sometimes destroy high-value targets they find. Elements of enemy reconnaissance-strike complexes, precision weapons, MRLs, and forward operating sites for attack helicopters or ground-attack aviation are some high-priority targets.


Timely information is critical on the modern battlefield. Because of the high mobility of modern armies, there are frequent and sharp changes in the battlefield situation. As a result, information quickly becomes outdated. Timely reporting enables the commander to exploit temporary enemy vulnerabilities. He can adjust plans using increased data automation to fit a dynamic battlefield.

Camouflage, Concealment, and Deception

OPFOR commanders try to conceal the scale, missions, targets, and nature of reconnaissance efforts. They understand it is not possible to hide the fact that reconnaissance is being conducted. However, they do strive to prevent the enemy from discovering where they are preparing to launch their main attack. The OPFOR may also use camouflage, concealment, and deception to "paint a picture" that confirms the enemy's stereotyped views of how the OPFOR fights. By showing the enemy what he wants to see, the reconnaissance effort can help to establish the conditions for success during ensuing operations.

Accuracy and Reliability

The OPFOR uses every available means to verify the accuracy and reliability of the reported information. A commander must base his decisions on accurate and timely reconnaissance information. Reconnaissance must clarify the true enemy situation in spite of enemy camouflage, deception, and counterreconnaissance activities. Multiple means of acquisition help defeat enemy counterreconnaissance. To maximize results, the commander's plan requires accurate information on the enemy's size, location, equipment, and combat readiness. Accuracy is crucial to destroying precision weapons, C2, and communications. Reconnaissance-strike complexes and other high-value weaponry are also important.


OPFOR reconnaissance operations are characterized by--

  • Flexibility. The OPFOR must be able to switch priorities from one target to another without degrading the overall mission.
  • Sustainability. Reconnaissance elements must be able to sustain themselves wherever they are operating, without relying on others for transport, subsistence, and so on.
  • Security. A reconnaissance asset should be as secure as possible during operations. This means operating in a manner that conceals activities and areas of interest at all times. Reconnaissance activity should not reveal the parent unit's plan of action.
  • Communications. Reconnaissance elements must have reliable communications. An intelligence organization may successfully gather all necessary information, but if it cannot transmit this information to the user (such as the commander or an artillery unit), the entire effort is useless.
  • Reserves. All levels should maintain a reconnaissance reserve to take on unforeseen tasks or redeem failure on key missions.


Reconnaissance activities must support the information requirements of the commander. Therefore, priorities vary at different levels of command: strategic, army group, army or corps, and division.


The highest priority of strategic reconnaissance is to provide indications and warning of impending hostilities, as well as targeting information for strategic nuclear weapons. However, strategic intelligence can also gather information useful to operational and even tactical commanders. In this case, the information must pass down through intelligence staff channels to the potential user.

Army Group

The army group conducts reconnaissance to locate the most critical enemy targets including the following:

  • Precision weapons.
  • NBC systems.
  • Air defenses.
  • Intelligence-collection assets.
  • Higher headquarters and communications centers.
  • General support artillery groups.
  • Operational-strategic groupings and their movements.

Army or Corps

The army or corps repeats these priorities and, in addition, seeks the following:

  • Contents of airfields and army aviation forward operating bases.
  • Major concentration areas of reserves.
  • Unit boundaries.
  • Location and extent of defended areas.
  • The enemy's combat capabilities and intentions.


Divisions repeat army or corps priorities and address more local threats including the following:

  • Location of direct support artillery and mortars and attack helicopters.
  • Disposition of tanks and medium- and long-range antitank systems.
  • Deployment of air defense weapons.
  • Location of brigade and battalion command posts.
  • Nature and extent of natural and manmade obstacles.
  • Locations of field defenses.


Strategic reconnaissance acquires and analyzes information about the military-political situation in individual countries and coalitions of probable or actual enemy nations, their armed forces, and their military-economic potential. Strategic reconnaissance provides the information required by the highest military-political leadership. Needed information concerning a potential enemy includes the following:

  • Intentions and capabilities.
  • Military, industrial, and economic potential.
  • Preparation and disposition of forces in various theaters.
  • Nuclear, biological, and chemical capability.

Special-Purpose Forces

In addition to agents and reconnaissance forces, the Main Intelligence Directorate of the General Staff has its own special-purpose forces (SPF). These elite troops are a major source of human intelligence (HUMINT). The SPF represent an important element in the total integrated reconnaissance network planners try to achieve. Special-purpose forces provide reconnaissance and combat capabilities for strategic and operational employment, normally beyond 100 km in advance of the forward edge of friendly troops. (See Chapter 16 for more information).

The Main Intelligence Directorate controls all special-purpose forces. The General Staff would normally reserve some SPF brigades under its own control for strategic-level targets. If it creates a theater headquarters, it may place an SPF brigade under the operational control of the chief of reconnaissance at that level. Even SPF units allocated to army group or army control may support strategic missions.

The chiefs of reconnaissance of army groups and armies may use special-purpose forces. The army group normally has an SPF brigade. An army might have a SPF battalion to operate from 100 to 500 km beyond the forward edge. The divisional reconnaissance and electronic combat (EC) battalion has a long-range reconnaissance company of similar troops, who conduct both reconnaissance and long-range sabotage operations in the enemy's rear area. Their priorities include--

  • Precision weapons.
  • NBC systems.
  • Headquarters and other C2 installations.
  • Road, rail, and air movements.
  • Airfield and logistics facilities.
  • Air defense systems.

Signals Reconnaissance Units

Signals reconnaissance is an integral part of the concept of electronic combat. The overall scope of EC includes the interception, analysis, and exploitation of electromagnetic (radio and radar) emissions, coupled with measures to disrupt or destroy the enemy's radio and radar assets. Signals reconnaissance assets are found in two types of organizations. The majority are organic to signals reconnaissance units at all echelons and provide significant support to the chief of reconnaissance. Additional assets are organic to jamming units, where they provide targeting support. (See Chapter 13 for details.)

Air Assets

Aerial reconnaissance includes visual observation, aerial imagery, UAV reconnaissance, and signals reconnaissance. Since most reconnaissance aircraft must penetrate enemy airspace, many of these missions are possible for manned aircraft only when the OPFOR has established air superiority. However, UAVs do not necessarily require air superiority. They are generally harder to detect because they are smaller and fly at lower altitudes than manned aircraft. Also, they are relatively low-cost and may be considered expendable.


The air force has varying reconnaissance assets to meet specific needs. These units use high-performance aircraft to conduct aerial reconnaissance, including visual, photographic, radar, and signals reconnaissance missions. Aircraft on photographic reconnaissance missions normally fly at high speed and may fly at high or low altitudes. They fly in pairs or singly, out to about 600 km beyond the forward edge of friendly troops. Aircraft with side-looking airborne radar (SLAR) normally work at high altitude and may not need to cross the forward edge to achieve their objectives. Similarly, signals reconnaissance aircraft may not need to cross the forward edge to identify and locate enemy radar emissions.


Helicopters are a primary means to transport and insert reconnaissance elements behind enemy lines. They can emplace observation posts or reconnaissance patrols rather than perform air reconnaissance, especially when the OPFOR does not have air superiority.

Unmanned Aerial Vehicles

There are two types of UAV: drones and remotely-piloted vehicles (RPV). A drone flies a set course programmed into its onboard flight control system prior to launch. An RPV, on the other hand, can be flown by remote control from a ground station, over a flight path of the controller's choosing.

Flight patterns can vary according to the mission. For surveillance missions, the UAV typically uses a figure-eight or racetrack pattern to maintain it over the assigned surveillance area. For reconnaissance, intelligence collection, target acquisition, and battle damage assessment missions, a loop or zigzag pattern allows thorough coverage over a specific target area. RPV operators can vary these basic flight patterns by taking control of the RPV and changing its altitude, speed, or direction of flight. This allows RPVs to search for high-priority targets or to collect more detailed information on such targets once it locates them. While the radio command link gives an RPV greater flexibility, it also limits the range of the RPV to the line-of-sight transmission range from its control station. However, many RPVs can also operate in a preprogrammed mode at longer ranges.


The Main Intelligence Directorate controls satellite reconnaissance to support the OPFOR. These satellites provide unique capabilities of noninvasive reconnaissance (not violating enemy airspace), "free" access, and continuous communications or surveillance from their orbits. The OPFOR uses three basic types of reconnaissance satellites: photographic, early warning, and signals reconnaissance.


Satellite reconnaissance is not as flexible as other types of reconnaissance, because a satellite only reconnoiters an area when its orbit takes it into range. As a result, the OPFOR uses several specialized photographic reconnaissance satellites to record designated enemy activity. Satellites may photograph an area 40 to 50 km wide from an altitude of 200 to 250 km.

Early Warning

Early warning satellite orbits cross over foreign countries and the oceans. The satellites might be used to detect infrared signatures from intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) launches.

Signals Reconnaissance

The OPFOR uses several classes of signals reconnaissance satellites to gather information on the electronic order of battle. Signals satellites locate C2 nodes, battlefield radars, and forward units. Some might also monitor transoceanic shipping and air traffic. Another function could be to detect unknown electronic signatures that might indicate the presence of new equipment.


Operational reconnaissance units support army group, army, and corps commanders. They acquire and analyze information, about an actual or probable enemy, to prepare for the successful conduct of combat operations. Operational reconnaissance elements usually collect information throughout the entire depth of the enemy's corps area (300 to 600 km). See Figure 8-1 for a graphic depiction of the effective ranges of various reconnaissance measures available to an army group. Operational reconnaissance collection assets include signals reconnaissance, aerial reconnaissance, and special-purpose forces. Army groups, armies, and corps conduct operational reconnaissance using their own resources, plus those of their subordinate divisions and brigades.

Figure 8-1. Effective ranges of reconnaissance means.

Army Group

The army group intelligence directorate coordinates the army group's reconnaissance effort. The following paragraphs discuss the army group's reconnaissance organizations and assets.

Special-Purpose Forces

Although the Main Intelligence Directorate of the General Staff controls all SPF, it normally allocates an SPF brigade to support the operations of an army group. Thus, each army group has specially trained SPF troops to insert by parachute, helicopter, light aircraft, or infiltration to conduct special reconnaissance. An SPF brigade can deploy 80 to 100 SPF teams. Of course, commanders do not insert all of the assets at the outset to operate simultaneously; they might retain some in the reconnaissance reserve.

Signals Reconnaissance Assets

The OPFOR fields a large capability for radio and radar intercept and direction finding. Generally, an army group has one signals reconnaissance brigade, but it may have two of them. In lieu of a second brigade, the army group may have a signals reconnaissance regiment or a separate signals reconnaissance battalion.

Air Assets

The army group commander normally controls aerial reconnaissance but may allocate aircraft to army or division headquarters to support a particular operation or battle. The number and composition of units, and the types of fixed-wing and rotary-wing aircraft can vary greatly. The OPFOR also employs UAVs to conduct aerial reconnaissance. Generally, an army group has a UAV regiment.

Artillery Assets

The army group has an organic target acquisition regiment to obtain and transmit meteorological, topographic, and targeting information. Each brigade of the army group's artillery division also has a target acquisition battalion or battery. Each target acquisition battery in these organizations has a meteorological survey section that is especially significant in NBC conditions. Sound-ranging systems can locate targets up to a range of 20 to 25 km but are not as effective in highly mobile operations. Target acquisition batteries and even individual artillery battalions have organic battlefield surveillance and countermortar/counterbattery radars capable of detecting targets up to 20 km or more.

NBC Assets

From army group to brigade, chemical defense units and chemical reconnaissance units deploy numerous NBC reconnaissance patrols to detect, report, and mark all contaminated areas. Helicopters can also perform this mission.

Engineer Assets

Engineer units, from army group to brigade level, have reconnaissance specialists to accompany maneuver unit reconnaissance elements. There are specialized engineer reconnaissance patrols that assess routes, reporting on obstacles, road conditions, and the general nature of the terrain. These engineer assets help units maintain a rapid rate of advance.

Airborne Forces

Airborne forces are elite troops whose primary purpose is to conduct active combat operations in the enemy's rear area. Airborne forces might conduct reconnaissance operations and relay information directly to the main command post or headquarters as they operate against targets in the enemy's rear area.

Army or Corps

At the army or corps level, the chief of reconnaissance (COR) heads the intelligence directorate. This directorate coordinates operational reconnaissance in the same manner as the army group's reconnaissance directorate described above.

Forward Detachments

Armies, corps, divisions, and even brigades employ forward detachments as the situation dictates. Maneuver forces configured as forward detachments have reconnaissance as one of their missions. These detachments transmit information on the size, type, and disposition of enemy forces, enemy obstacles, route conditions, and river crossing sites.

Special-Purpose Forces

The Main Intelligence Directorate of the General Staff may allocate an SPF battalion to support army operations. Such a battalion can deploy 9 to 15 SPF teams.


At army or corps level, drones provide aerial reconnaissance support. An army or corps typically has a drone squadron. Drones normally fly at low altitude and subsonic speeds.

Signals Reconnaissance Assets

An army normally has a signals reconnaissance battalion, or perhaps two of them. Instead of these battalions, some high-priority armies may have a full signals reconnaissance regiment composed of three battalions.

Artillery Assets

At army or corps level, an artillery brigade has an organic target acquisition battalion or battery, and an MRL regiment has a target acquisition battery. In addition to these assets, a corps typically has a target acquisition battalion. An army has a target acquisition regiment comprising three such battalions, plus an RPV squadron. These RPVs provide real-time targeting support to firing units. Surface-to-surface missile units do not have reconnaissance assets, but rely on external intelligence support.

Ground Forces Tactical Reconnaissance

Reconnaissance is a combined arms responsibility. Thus, ordinary mechanized infantry and tank units perform two functions; they perform their own close reconnaissance tasks with organic resources, and they provide reconnaissance detachments of up to reinforced battalion strength. Leading units may also conduct reconnaissance in force, attacking the enemy to determine his strength and disposition.

At brigade level, specialized reconnaissance troops normally conduct reconnaissance 25 to 30 km forward of the OPFOR line of contact (or forward of the main body of the brigade on the march). When necessary, they can operate out to a maximum distance of 50 km. Division-level reconnaissance troops also operate out to approximately 50 km. The division commander can insert the airborne-qualified, long-range reconnaissance company up to 100 km deep without its vehicles. Task-oriented reconnaissance groups, reinforced by engineer and NBC reconnaissance and, often, by mechanized infantry and tank elements, also move forward. Generally, these groups try to avoid combat in fulfilling their tasks, although they may direct artillery fire or air strikes. Typical missions might include--

  • Locating, identifying, and reporting enemy precision weapons and nuclear delivery means, headquarters, communications centers, troop concentrations, and movements of enemy units.
  • Determining the strength and disposition of the enemy's defenses and locating his boundaries.
  • Providing topographical information concerning routes to, or bypasses around, enemy positions as well as concerning lateral routes.
  • Identifying the extent and depth of minefields and the types of mines employed (assessing obstacles and possible crossing points).
  • Establishing the extent of zones of NBC contamination.
  • Identifying potential communications facilities and other sites for use by their own forces.

The reconnaissance staffs, with input from other branches, must prepare a detailed reconnaissance plan on a map with explanatory notes, specifying--

  • The organization of reconnaissance activities for a specific time.
  • Goals and mission for each reconnaissance activity.
  • Completion times.
  • Reporting procedures.

Each headquarters has a zone of reconnaissance responsibility. Within its own rear area, the headquarters must be able to monitor enemy activity, particularly precision weapons strikes or airborne forces. The detailed reconnaissance zone extends out to the effective range of weapons systems commanded by the headquarters. Beyond that is a general reconnaissance zone, in which the headquarters must monitor enemy activity sufficiently to ensure that unexpected enemy moves do not disrupt its own plans. Thus, the reconnaissance information of interest to an OPFOR division commander typically involves the enemy and terrain out to a depth of 100 to 150 km. Since division tactical reconnaissance assets are not adequate to cover this entire area of responsibility, operational-level assets must provide longer-range reconnaissance support. In return, operational commanders receive information derived from tactical reconnaissance within their area of interest.

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