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by CPT Samuel D. White, Jr., Observer/Controller, National Training Center

The planning and execution of the brigade reconnaissance and surveillance (R&S) plan is singularly the most significant event that takes place in the lifecycle of a tactical mission. It is the "glass ball" that absolutely cannot be dropped. Effective R&S will allow the commander to make decisions, execute his plan, and take the fight to the enemy, while the commander who does not have effective R&S is blind, indecisive, and reacts to events on the battlefield that he cannot predict or influence.

Commanders and staffs will all acknowledge the importance and criticality of executing the R&S plan, but precious few of these consumers of intelligence understand a methodology and the level of detail required for R&S planning and execution. These brief notes do not rehash FM 34-2-1. Rather, they outline some tactics, techniques, and procedures (TTP) for R&S planning and execution, following a step-by-step methodology.


Asset Assessment

Prior to planning, the commander and his staff must take stock of the R & S assets available, and even more importantly, they must completely understand the capabilities of these assets and the equipment they employ. The planners must know what the assets are and are not capable of executing. The most important features to understand are the ranges at which the asset can acquire a particular target, the resolution of the acquisition, and the accuracy with which the target can be reported.

EXAMPLE: A dismounted observation post (OP) equipped with AN/PVS-7Bs, binoculars, a compass, and map can acquire a T-12 anti-tank gun at a maximum range of 2,000 meters during good visibility. The OP will be able to determine if the enemy is dug in or not at a maximum range of about 1,500 meters, and the OP will be able to report their grid to an accuracy of about 250 meters. At night, the maximum acquisition range falls to about 250 meters.

Various field manuals (FM 34-2-1, FM 34-130) and technical manuals outline planning ranges for equipment. Certainly, the planner must include these planning factors in the planning process. The extra step that the planner should take is to be personally familiar with the equipment.

  • Take the ground vehicular laser location device (GVLLD) night sight out and determine the maximum range to differentiate a T-72 from a BMP or BRDM.

  • How far can an unoccupied tank fighting position be acquired with binoculars, a GVLLD, or the naked eye?

  • At what range can a GSR acquire armored vehicles during a light rain?

The easiest way to answer these questions is for the planner to have operated the equipment himself.


STEP 1. Determine the Need for R&S (or an Observation Post).

This obviously is the first place to start. These requirements will be identified during the planning. Of critical importance is the determination of what is to be done at the specific Named Area of Interest (NAI) or Targeted Area of Interest (TAI), because this will drive your selection of the asset to task. Give consideration to the degree of resolution and accuracy required of the report at the NAI/TAI.

STEP 2. Conduct Terrain Analysis.

This step analyzes the terrain to identify possible OPs. Using TERRA-BASE is an effective tool in this process, but this is time intensive. A good technique is to run TERRA-BASE from the NAI backwards. That is, in the computer, select the NAI as the OP grid. The resultant printout will show all of the possible positions from which to observe the NAI. To save time, select several NAIs and get a printout of visibility from several NAIs. Where the rays cross indicates an OP that can observe multiple NAIs.

STEP 3. Allocate the Asset.

Choose the asset to perform the reconnaissance or surveillance based upon the mission performed by the OP. Here, a clear understanding and appreciation of the capabilities of all assets are absolutely vital. If COPPERHEAD is to be executed from the OP, this requires a GVLLD-equipped observer. Use a sapper as the best asset to perform obstacle reconnaissance. A scout can perform surveillance of an NAI to report a change in direction of an attacking Motorized Rifle Battalion (MRB). Whatever the degree of resolution and accuracy required, allocate a suitable asset.

STEP 4. Select the OP.

Select the OP from the possible OPs identified during terrain analysis. The mission and capabilities of the OP should be considered as part of the selection process:

  • Angle T for COPPERHEAD
  • limited visibility ranges for equipment
  • effects of weather and terrain
  • the enemy situation
  • survivability of the OP

Also, plan alternate OPs should the assets not arrive at their primary position, or if the primary position is untenable.

STEP 5. Plan the Insertion/Infiltration.

Plan the insertion or infiltration as if it is a maneuver operation. First, determine the method used, whether by air, mounted, or dismounted. The OP's mission and the enemy situation should drive this decision. Additionally, plan to include routes, checkpoints, dismount points, pickup zones, landing zones, rally points, air corridors, air coordination points, and all other control and coordination measures required for the mission. Create an extraction plan with routes into and out of the positions.

STEP 6. Make Necessary Coordination.

If the asset must pass through friendly forces, coordinate the passage. Coordinate for additional assets, if required for the OP mission (e.g., aircraft, trucks, etc.). Coordinate terrain use for the assets to ensure no terrain use conflicts occur.

STEP 7. Support the Insertion/Infiltration.

This is the critical step. The insertion is certain to fail if not fully supported. Some areas to cover:

Indirect Fire Support: Plan fires along the insertion routes for use by the asset as it moves. Cancel the targets when the insertion is complete. Suppression of Enemy Air Defense (SEAD) should be planned to support air insertions. Defensive fires must be planned by the OP to support their survivability and extraction if necessary. Design Firefinder radar coverage to support the insertion, and to protect the asset once in position.

IEW Support: IEW assets can monitor the enemy's reconnaissance nets during insertion to determine if the insertion has been detected, and to provide early warning to the personnel if they have been compromised. IEW assets can also jam enemy reconnaissance or air defense nets to facilitate insertion.

Logistics Support: Develop and resource a resupply and medical plan. Too often units send assets forward with little thought made to sustain them. Establish caches and stock them with critical supplies. Medical support may need to accompany the asset, or centralized medical support positioned to provide care for a number of our R&S assets.


a. Execution begins with the preparation of the assets to execute the mission. Thoroughly brief, inspect, and rehearse your R&S assets, like all members of your organization. This is often the downfall of the plan. Develop a benchmark for these actions, to include a standard briefing form that gives the R&S assets the required information. Develop pre-combat inspection (PCI) checklists based on the type of mission and the method of asset insertion. The PCI checklist for air insertion may be different for dismounted insertion. A technique may be to develop a number of standard loads depending on the insertion method, mission, and distance to travel.

b. The insertion, occupation, and survivability of the position are all tasks in which the skills and training of soldiers will pay off. There are a number of very good references that provide techniques for these actions (ST 21-75-3, and the Ranger Handbook). The critical aspect is the soldier training. Our soldiers must have the necessary skills to execute their mission before they arrive on the battlefield.


While commanders and staffs agree that successful R&S execution is essential for tactical success, few follow a systematic methodology to increase their probability of success. The TTPs outlined in this article provide a step-by-step methodology for the brigade staff to use during the command decision process to focus R&S planning, preparing, and execution. It ensures the R&S effort is synchronized across the brigade so that it can achieve its purpose, and so provide the commander with the intelligence information he needs to make decisions, execute his plan, and take the fight to the enemy.

Understanding Our Business: Synchronizing Fires and Maneuver
Clearance of Fires

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