Reconnaissance (also scouting) is a military and medical term denoting exploration conducted to gain information. Militarily, its shorthand Australian, Canadian, and British form is recce its American U.S.A. and U.S.M.C. usage form is recon (). The associated, linguistic forms are the verb reconnoitre in British spelling, and reconnoiter in American spelling; informally, recce and recon are used as a verb.
Militarily, reconnaissance is the active seeking to determine a foe's intentions by collecting and gathering information about an enemy's composition and capabilities along with pertinent environmental conditions, via direct observation, usually by scouts or military intelligence soldiers especially trained in critical surveillance.
Reconnaissance is part of combat intelligence, and contributes to, and is managed by, the government-level intelligence cycle management. Compare to counterintelligence and surveillance, which are the passive gathering of data and information. Special reconnaissance is the reconnaissance sub-activity of clandestinely collecting data and information by people and with technology behind enemy lines.
Civil uses of the term reconnaissance occur in geology, the "examination or survey of the general geological characteristics of a region", and in computer networking and security it is an "exploration or enumeration of network infrastructure including network addresses, available communication ports, and available services."
Examples of military reconnaissance include patrolling by troops, ships, submarines, or aircraft, or by setting up covert observation posts. Reconnaissance may also be carried out by satellites or unmanned aircraft.
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.
U.S. military reconnaissance acronyms are: SALT (size, activity, location, and time), SALUTE (size, activity, location, unit, time, equipment), SAM & DOC (strength, armament, movement, deployment, organization, communications).
Reconnaissance mission are characterized by accordance to the depth of penetration they are required in having an impact, in terms of time, risk coordination, and its support requirements.
Airborne reconnaissance goes back to the early era of ballooning, and forward to the latest reconnaissance satellites and unmanned aerial vehicles(UAV). After the French Revolution, the new rulers became interested in using the balloon to observe enemy manoeuvres and appointed scientist Charles Coutelle to conduct studies using L'Entreprenant, the first reconnaissance airplane. The balloon found its first use in the 1794 conflict with Austria, where in the Battle of Fleurus the gathered information and the demoralizing effect on the Austrian troops ensured victory for the French troops.
The first use of airplanes in combat missions was by the Italian Air Force during the Italo-Turkish War of 1911-1912. On 23 October 1911, an Italian pilot flew over the Turkish lines in Libya to conduct history's first aerial reconnaissance mission, and on 1 November 1911, the first ever aerial bomb was dropped on the Turkish troops in Libya.
On 16 October 1912 a Bulgarian Albatros aircraft was used to perform Europe's first reconnaissance flight in combat conditions, against the Turkish lines on the Balkan peninsula, during the Balkan Wars of 1912-1913.
During the First World War, photo reconnaissance, now called IMINT, was one of the early uses of the aeroplane. Aviators such as Fred Zinn evolved an entire range of new flying and photography techniques to use the new technology in the equally new environment of trench warfare.
Before the Second World War the conventional wisdom was to use converted bomber types for airborne photo reconnaissance. These bombers retained their defensive armament, which was vital since they were unable to avoid interception. Later it was found that day bombers required a fighter escort.
In 1939 Sidney Cotton and Flying Officer Maurice Longbottom of the RAF were among the first to suggest that airborne reconnaissance may be a task better suited to fast, small aircraft which would use their speed and high service ceiling to avoid detection and interception. Although this seems obvious now, with modern reconnaissance tasks performed by fast, high flying aircraft, at the time it was radical thinking. They proposed the use of Spitfires with their armament and radios removed and replaced with extra fuel and cameras. This led to the development of the Spitfire PR variants. Spitfires proved to be extremely successful in their reconnaissance role and there were many variants built specifically for that purpose. Later De Havilland Mosquitos were also used.
The reconnaissance plane that had the earliest and greatest influence for the Americans in WWII was the F-4, a factory modification of the P-38E which replaced the four guns and cannon with four high-quality K-17 cameras. Some 120 F-4 and F-4As were hurriedly made available by March 1942, reaching the 8th Photographic Squadron in Australia by April (the first P-38s to see action.) The F-4 had an early advantage of long range and high speed combined with the ability to fly at high altitude; a potent combination for reconnaissance. In the last half of 1942, Lockheed would produce 96 F-5As, based on the P-38G. The Lightning in its reconnaissance role was so well-liked by military strategists that hundreds of gun-equipped P-38s were field modified into camera-toting F-5 variants. Later in the war, the Mustang F-6 arrived, eventually becoming the dominant reconnaissance model flown by the US in the ETO.
Immediately after World War II, long range aerial reconnaissance was taken up by adapted jet bombers – such as the English Electric Canberra, and its American development, the Martin B-57 – capable of flying higher or faster than the enemy. After the Korean War, RB-47 aircraft were used. These were at first converted B-47 jet bombers, but later these were purposely built RB-47 reconnaissance planes. They did not carry any bombs. They had large cameras mounted in the belly of the plane, and with a truncated bomb bay used for carrying flash bombs.
The onset of the Cold War led the development of highly specialized and secretive strategic reconnaissance aircraft, or spy planes, such as the Lockheed U-2 and its successor, the SR-71 Blackbird (both from the United States). Flying these aircraft became an exceptionally demanding task, as much because of the aircraft's extreme speed and altitude as it was because of the risk of being captured as spies. As a result, the crews of these aircraft were invariably specially selected and trained.
Although much of this type of intelligence can now be gathered by satellite photography and unmanned aerial vehicles, manned reconnaissance aircraft still play a vital role on the modern battlefield. All three -- satellites, UAVs, and manned aircraft -- collect IMINT,SIGINT, and MASINT.
Reconnaissance in force (RIF) is a type of military operation 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. In modern warfare, 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. The RIF commander retains the option to fall back with the data or expand the conflict into a full engagement.
Reconnaissance by fire (or speculative fire, 'spec fire') is a tactic which applies a similar principle. When not trying to be stealthy, reconnaissance units may fire on likely enemy positions to provoke a reaction. 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.
Special reconnaissance (SR) is defined, by the US, to be conducted by special operations troops, most commonly United States Army Special Forces, United States Marine Corps Force Reconnaissance and Navy SEALs, who operate deep behind enemy lines, usually but not always in uniform. The British equivalents, including the Special Air Service, Special Boat Service, and Special Reconnaissance Regiment. Soviet and Russian equivalents include Spetsnaz. Israeli "reconnaissance units" such as Sayeret Matkal are often more associated with direct action than reconnaissance, but they obviously have that capability. SR units can reach the area of operations by numerous means, including parachuting, infiltration by foot or tactical vehicles, helicopters, and surface and subsurface access from water.
SR is a strategic mission, responsible to regional or national commands. In both cases, the reconnaissance asset, to the maximum extent possible, remains clandestine, in enemy territory, or, when long-range sensors can be used, outside it. SR does have a Direct Action capability if required. It is not unusual for their troops to operate 250km forward of FEBA.
Long-range reconnaissance, also called Long Range Surveillance (LRS), is defined as in small groups, in uniform, moderately far behind the enemy lines. While LRS units may direct air or artillery strikes against enemy positions, they strive to be unobserved, and have only self-defense, not DA, capability. They may use unorthodox means of entry, such as swimming in from a submarine or specialized parachuting techniques (e.g., HAHO and HALO, High-Altitude High-Opening and High-Altitude Low-Opening, respectively). These troops may operate 100km forward of FEBA. Units designated to carry out this role include: LRSU (US Army); 4/73 Sphinx Special Observation Battery and the Honourable Artillery Company(UK Army); and Fernspähkompanie German Army.
Dedicated ground reconnaissance units (known in the US Army as Cavalry) provide both an information gathering and a screening force service to the other Arms and Services engaged in combat. Specialist scout units may operate as far as 25-50km forward of the FEBA.
While almost every frontline military unit is sometimes assigned to do limited patrolling or surveillance of one kind or another, this kind of stealthy scouting far from friendly bases is a particularly dangerous mission. Light cavalry often served this purpose in the past, and modern militaries make this a special forces mission. When the recon team is unfamiliar with the terrain, recruitment of local guides can be very desirable for these kind of missions.
In US practice, combat battalions have reconnaissance or scouting platoons, forces typically of 20-40 men, but sometimes twice that size, that can probe beyond the main line of the unit. Brigades and divisions have separate Long Range Surveillance units, which can go deeper beyond the front line; the structure of such units is changing as the US Army reorganizes into a Brigade combat team model with enhanced reconnaissance. As of 2007 though the Scout specialists were being removed from some US brigades such as the Stryker Brigade Team. Dedicated scouts serving with infantry, tank, artillery, engineer, or logistics units will generally position themselves about 5km in advance of the forward units where possible. Different Arms and Service scouts have different tasks to perform for their higher echelons of command. 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.