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Posted on Apr 18, 2012 in Tactics101, War College

Tactics 101 071 – Reconnaissance and Surveillance Planning

By Rick Baillergeon and John Sutherland


“Agitate the enemy and ascertain the pattern of his movement. Determine his dispositions and so ascertain the field of battle. Probe him and learn where his strength is abundant and where deficient.”


Sun Tzu


Our last article was all about setting the conditions for this month. We keyed on the following five areas:

  • The definition of reconnaissance.
  • The critical fundamentals of reconnaissance.
  • The two primary techniques that a commander may utilize in reconnaissance.
  • The four methods of reconnaissance.
  • The four forms of reconnaissance.

This background should provide you the knowledge you need to glean more out of this month’s discussion.

With the background set, we will get into more of the specifics this month. Our focus will be on the planning of recon and surveillance operations. There are three keys in recon planning. First, you must start planning early. Second, everything revolves around your information requirements. Those include your Priority Information Requirements (PIR) and your basic information requirements which enable you to answer your PIR. Finally, Reconnaissance and Surveillance (R&S) planning never stops. Since the battlefield is continually changing so will your information requirements. Thus, your R&S plan must adapt with this. In this month’s article, we will focus on these areas and much more. We will organize our efforts by focusing on the steps that you should execute during R&S planning. Let’s move out!


All reconnaissance planning begins with developing the requirements for recon operations. You have to determine what you need to know. These requirements are driven by the unit’s commander. The commander must determine what he wants to confirm, deny, or where to fill-in the gaps. This will aid him in determining the plan he wants to fight and then to enable him to make the key decisions he must make during execution.

In developing those requirements, you look at three categories. These are:

1. Information Requirements
During the planning process, it would be great if you had a complete understanding of the terrain and the enemy. However, we all know that is unfeasible. Consequently, there will be gaps in your knowledge that you would like filled to assist in mission accomplishment. These gaps can be defined as information requirements.

Information requirements are generally derived from three sources. First, you will have questions about the terrain in which you will be fighting upon. Second, you will have questions regarding the enemy you will be fighting against. Finally, there will be questions that once answered will assist you in executing your mission. Some of these information requirements will be converted to Priority Information Requirements (PIR). We will address this shortly.

In crafting your information requirements, you want to address the following five questions:

  • What is it you are looking for?
  • Where is it that you want to look? In defining the where, you will initially categorize these locations as Named Areas of Interest (NAIs) and Targeted Areas of Interest (TAIs). The best way to do this is get a map and start drawing (NAI1, NAI2, ETC…). You will refine these later. Below are definitions on each of these:

A NAI is a place on the ground, a system, or link against which information that satisfies a specific information requirement can be collected
A TAI is a place on the ground where a high-value target can be acquired and engaged by you.
The key difference in the two is that a TAI, if answered, immediately triggers some form of engagement.

  • When is it that you want to look? (Tied to this is the time the information is not needed anymore. As we have addressed in previous articles, you do not want to tie-up valuable recon assets looking for information that is no longer of value).
  • Why is this information so valuable to achieving your mission? This will assist you in determining your Priority Information Requirements.
  • Who is it that needs the information? In most cases, that should be you.

This information will pay dividends when you begin to craft the R&S Operations Order.

2. Higher Headquarters Specific Requirements
Your higher headquarters is going to dictate that you answer some of their intelligence requirements. These are specific tasks that you are not getting out of. Put them on your list and determine how you will accomplish it.

3. Requests from your Subordinates
Squared away subordinates are going to request their higher headquarters assistance in answering their intelligence requirements. This is especially true when they have a requirement which they do not possess the assets to answer. These requests must be reviewed and determined which can be supported. You are not going to be able to utilize your assets to answer all their requirements. Decisions are based on several things. These include: 1) The criticality of the info to their plan. 2) The importance of their mission in achieving your mission. 3) Availability of assets. 4) The proximity of where they want you to look to areas you plan on looking in anyway.

Prioritize and then Develop your PIRs

Once you have compiled your information requirements, determined your higher headquarters’ requirements, and received your requests from your subordinates; it is time to prioritize. Take this group and rank order them from most critical to least critical. The reason is simple – You can’t answer all of them. You just do not have the time or assets.

Once you have completed your prioritized list, you will begin to group them into categories. The first group is the essential information requirements. This is information that is vital to complete your plan, tied directly to an anticipated commander’s decision, will aid you in executing a key target, or assist you in confirming or denying an enemy course of action. We call these essential information requirements – PIRs. Based on experience, you will probably have 6 or 7 of these in a particular mission.

The second group of information requirements is those that fall below a PIR in importance, but are requirements you know you need to recon against. For example, those specific tasks that your higher headquarters told you to do would fall into this category. This is your first cut line.

The last group are those requirements you would like to have answered, but are not essential or must do’s. This group will come into play once you have doled out assets to accomplish the first two groups. After doing this, you determine what assets you have still available. You will then decide what is achievable with what is left. This is then your final cut line. Everything below this line will not be an actionable requirement. As in all things tied to reconnaissance and surveillance; this list is, and should be subject to change. Recon and surveillance is 24 hour business.


With your requirements developed and determined, it is almost time to create your Recon and Surveillance (R&S) Plan. Before you begin putting it into writing or digits, you must get some guidance from the commander. As in most aspects of guidance, there is not a format etched in stone. The format will likely be a little different in each unit. The reason is that every commander will have different thoughts on what they believe is critical to articulate.

Nevertheless, there are five specific areas which should always be addressed in R&S guidance. These are your R&S Purpose, R&S Focus, your Tempo, your Engagement Criteria, and Risk. Let’s discuss each below:

R&S Purpose
The commander’s guidance should begin with the purpose of R&S during the operation. It should be a quick articulation of why R&S is important to mission accomplishment and what the commander hopes to achieve with his R&S.

R&S Focus
As the name suggests, the R&S focus cuts through everything and provides subordinates with the meat that will drive the planning effort. Within the focus, he should emphasize several things. First, he needs to specify his reconnaissance and surveillance objectives. These could include a specific terrain feature, an area, or information about a specific enemy force. These objectives will likely correlate directly with the PIR which were defined earlier. The second thing addressed in the focus is the recon technique he wants to conduct. We discussed this in our last article. As a refresher, below you will find our discussions of the two techniques – reconnaissance push and reconnaissance pull.

Reconnaissance Push – In a reconnaissance push, the commander sends out his assets after he has decided on a plan. Thus, he is pushing his assets out in order to gain information that will assist him in fighting this plan. Within this plan, he may have some critical decision points that he will require information in order to answer. As stated earlier, this information should ultimately be tied to a commander’s decision.

Reconnaissance Pull – In a reconnaissance pull, the commander sends out his assets before he has decided on his plan. Thus, he is deploying his assets to pull information so he can craft his plan. In a reconnaissance pull, the situation is normally unclear or the situation is rapidly changing.

This is a critical piece of the guidance that subordinates must understand. This piece of the guidance affects much of the way the execution of the R&S plan will be executed. Within tempo, the commander will discuss several areas. First, he will describe completeness. Does he want a very deliberate recon or a rapid one? Second, he discusses covertness. Does he want a very stealthy recon or maybe not so much? These areas will determine such things as assets utilized, maneuver formations, maneuver rates, etc….

Engagement Criteria
As we discussed in last month’s article, recon assets who are just looking for a fight are not going to do you much good. Sometimes it may be unavoidable. Other times, a little discretion can get you out of trouble. The commander should give his engagement criteria. He should state what size force recon assets can engage. He should also articulate the level of friendly forces he will commit if the recon force gets into a fight.

R&S is risky business. Risk is simply inherent in recon operations. Within his guidance, the commander must address risk. He should not only identify the tactical risks, but the accidental risks associated in executing the plan. Just as importantly, he must specify how the unit will mitigate those risks.

With the requirements developed and prioritized and commander’s guidance provided, it is now time to synchronize the R&S Plan.


There are two key things you would to achieve during this step. First, you want to dissect your R&S assets. This will include looking at availability, capability, vulnerability, and performance history. Second, you want to decide how you will manage these assets. Let’s discuss each below.

Asset Dissection
Availability – It all starts with knowing what you have to utilize. First of all, you must know what you possess organically. In other words, what you have that you have command and control over. Second, you need to know what assets have been promised to you by your higher headquarters. Related to this is when they should be available for your use. Finally, what assets are out there that you would like to utilize and thus, must request their use.

There are several other issues you must consider in terms of availability. Such things as: What is the maintenance status of equipment and systems? When will down equipment be maintenance up? If you want to utilize manned aviation; what is the crew rest requirements for the aviators? How fatigued are your soldiers who you may utilize? Below is a good way of portraying what you have and when it may be available.


Capability – We’ve all heard the term, “You can’t put a square peg in a round hole.” This is certainly true in regards to R&S assets. You do not want to use an asset to do something it cannot do. Thus, you must know the capabilities of your available assets. The key is knowing if the asset is capable of gathering the information for the requirement.

Vulnerability – No asset is invincible. Each has vulnerabilities that an enemy can exploit if it possesses the expertise and assets. Vulnerabilities must be considered when analyzing assets. When looking at an asset’s vulnerability several things come into play. These include: Does your enemy possess the capability to track your asset from the start of the operation to the target area? Does your enemy possess the capability to destroy the asset if the opportunity arises? Is the benefit from utilizing the asset greater than the risk that it may get destroyed?

Performance History – Hey, if an asset has a proven track record in collecting information in certain environments don’t get clever. As long as your opponent has not figured out your methods, there is no need to change for change sake. Performance history must enter into the equation.

Asset Management
Now that you have determined what assets are available (always subject to change) to conduct R&S, you must decide how you will manage them. The management of assets is critical. It enables you to make the most of an extremely finite resource. The goal is collect the most vital information with the least possible resources in the shortest amount of time. This is a tall order indeed! That is why you must have a plan to manage your assets. Below are the methods you can use to do this management.

Cueing – When you conduct cueing, you first utilize one asset to collect fairly general information in a certain area. If certain information is found this then triggers (cues) another asset to go into the area and collect more specific information. Cueing is usually conducted when you have limited ground R&S assets (which are usually the case). In practice, here is how it works below.


JSTARS first reported that they identified 70 (plus) signatures at grid SLC123456 heading south. This report was clearly important to the Brigade Intelligence Officer. This ‘cued’ him to send his UAV to the location to get more definitive information.

Mixing – When you are mixing assets you are utilizing two or more different type of assets to collect information for the same information requirement. A mix system includes utilizing assets from the various ints (HUMINT – human intelligence, SIGENT – signal intelligence, MASINT– Measurement and Signature Intelligence, ELINT –electronic intelligence, IMINT – imagery intelligence, etc…).

Below is a good way to capture the difference in these areas;


Mixing is an excellent management tool if you have access to the various resources. The great thing about mixing is that it is difficult for an enemy to thwart each distinct asset. Thus, mixing is critical if you desperately need information on a specific requirement. Let’s look at an example below:


In this example, the commander has a definite concern on the enemy inside the black circle (specifically the small red circle). This enemy is planning an attack and the commander wants to disrupt the timing of the attack. Thus, he is requiring information that enables him to know when the attack is to commence. To do this, he is mixing his assets to provide this information. In the example, he is utilizing imagery intelligence, signals intelligence, electronic intelligence, and measurement and signatures intelligence.

Redundancy—Throughout this series, we have discussed the importance of redundancy as it relates to various areas. If something is clearly important, you can’t depend on one thing to accomplish the task. You must have contingencies and redundancy in assets. This is certainly true in the world of R&S. If information is clearly vital to assisting a commander in making a decision you must have redundant assets assigned to collect. In definition, redundancy is utilizing two or more like assets to collect information against the same requirement. Let’s see its’ use in the following example:


Above, the commander is interested in obtaining information on the armor brigade circled in black. To do this, he has committed two assets he has directly under his control – scouts (probably an observation post hidden in the terrain) and a UAV.

Alright, you have determined what your information requirements are (with emphasis on those critical pieces of information tied to a key decision, you have determined what R&S assets you have available or may be available, you have analyzed the strengths and weaknesses of those assets, and you have determined how you will manage these assets. It is now time to put it all together and develop the plan.

There are several products you can produce that will greatly assist in preparing and executing R&S. Within the 5 paragraph operations order (see the link for more detail),

you should provide a concise discussion on how your R&S plan will assist in mission accomplishment in paragraph 3 – concept of operation. This paragraph should address the following:

  • Your overall objectives for R&S.
  • Outline your R&S concept.
  • Explain how your R&S concept ties into your overall maneuver plan.
  • Discuss how R&S will contribute to overall mission accomplishment.

You will address specifics in the next products we will discuss.

R&S Annex
The R&S annex will get into far more specifics than the discussion in the five paragraph operations order. This annex will likely be one of many which will accompany the base operations order. This annex will vary depending on the size and type of the unit. Annexes at the battalion level will normally be less formal than at brigade and higher. The brigade and higher will generally have the same look and feel as a five paragraph order. The key at any level is developing a product which is understandable to subordinates and answers the specifics so they can execute your plan. Below we will show you some examples of what an annex can look like at various levels.

Brigade and Higher Level Annex

As you can see from this annex, it utilizes the same format as your basic five paragraph operations order. The example explains what you normally discuss in each of the paragraphs.

Another Technique


For us, if you can capture it all effectively on one page it is a good technique. If you can also throw in a sketch you have made it even better. In this example, the preponderance of the basics are captured here in one look. This order would be accompanied by a couple of additional documents (which we will discuss later) that will provide the details on the collection efforts at each NAI.

 Another Technique


In this example, the battalion is providing its’ subordinates with a sketch and then adds the verbiage to it. As we addressed early in the series, the graphics and the words must complement each other and have no discrepancies.

Each of the above, are products and techniques a unit can use to explain their R&S plan. As always, the products and techniques you will use all depend on what works.

Appendix to the Annex
Besides the basic plan, a unit will also product its’ subordinates with more specifics on some of the key elements. These products will be an appendix to the annex (doctrinal lingo). Normally, the critical appendix will be the R&S Matrix. Below you will find a template of what information a matrix should contain. Following the slide, we will address some of the key columns.


Of course, everything begins with the PIR. Our R&S efforts ultimately aim to provide the information that will lead to answering those PIR. Following the PIR, we focus on the information requirements that lead to the PIR. Within this discussion, we address the indicators that lead us to the requirement and the location (NAI) where we anticipate finding the information. The column LTIOV (Latest Time Information is of Value) is a crucial column. This states when the information is not needed anymore. Thus, after that time you can redirect your assets. The other columns are pretty self-explanatory. In total, this matrix provides a great deal of critical information that subordinates need for execution.

Below we will highlight some other matrix examples:



Once the R&S Order is crafted, it must get into the hands of the units who will execute it — immediately. In many instances, these assets will already be moving to locations that will enable them to collect information. As you can surmise, if movement does not occur until once the order is published; you are clearly behind the power curve.

That is why it is critical to send out instructions as soon as it’s available. If time is available, utilize it well and conduct an R&S rehearsal. This rehearsal irons out many things and can be instrumental in enabling you to make the most of your R&S assets.



You can collect all the information you require, but if there is no plan to get it to the right people at the right time to make a crucial decision – it is fairly useless. You must have a plan to disseminate this info throughout the organization. There are several things that enter into the equation. First, you must determine how information is coming to you (or your staff). You must have a plan to receive information from the various assets you have working your R&S. That information will come in through various cells within your command post. As this info comes in, it must go through some type of clearing house to transfer the information to where it needs to go. There are several places it should go. First, it will go back out to the various cells in the command post that requires the information. Second, it will be provided to the group that assists the commander in making his critical decisions. They will make assessments on the information (we will discuss this in the following step). Third, it will go out to any of your subordinate units which require the information. Finally, you will send some of your information to your higher headquarters if they have asked for it or you believe they need it. The system a unit has in place to execute this must be solid and rehearsed. Misplaced information or untimely information can be the difference in accomplishing your mission. Key in ensuring these things do not become a bad habit is having an audit trail on information. A trail that tracks information from the time it comes in until the time it gets to the right destination.


Step 6, Assessments, is conducted almost as soon as information starts coming in. In regards to assessments, there are several things that must be assessed. Obviously, the first is the information itself. In regards to information, we want to collect information that enables us to ultimately answer our Priority Intelligence Requirements (PIR) which then assists the commander in making those few key decisions he will make in the fight.

It is imperative that you have a system to track your information and its’ tie to the PIR. Below we have provided you a pretty simple technique to do this. Basically, you highlight your PIR; the information requirements which will assist you in answering the PIR; and the assets assigned to collect on the information requirements. Within this tool, there is one key area that must be continually updated. You must continually assess how you are coming on answering the information requirements. In this case, you use a simple green, yellow, red system. Each time you assess, make sure you update the date/time group in the lower right hand corner.

This assessment tool does several things for you. First, and most critical, it assists you in decision-making. Second, if a PIR is answered, you can retask your R&S assets to look for other things (we will expand on this in our next step). Third, if you are having difficulty collecting information with the assets you currently have assigned; you may make changes in your use of assets.


Your work on assessments flows perfectly into our final step …

A big difference in people that understand R&S and those that don’t is that they know that an R&S plan must continually be revamped and changes must occur quickly or valuable time is lost. Consequently, you must have a system in place to continual update the R&S plan.

There are many things that should result in you updating your R&S plan. Of course, they should revolve around answering the Commander’s Critical Information Requirement (CCIR). Again, these requirements are tied directly to a commander’s decision. Things that should generate updating your plan are:

  • The CCIR has been answered. Thus, you can utilize your precious assets elsewhere on new requirements.
  • Events on the ground have caused the commander to develop new CCIR. This can come about for a number of reasons. First, the enemy is executing an entirely new course of action than anticipated. This requires you to refine your plan. Second, you have decided to develop a new course of action because of your success or lack of success. This will require you to develop a new plan and obviously, new CCIR and a revamped R&S.
  • Your original plan for your management of assets can change. Perhaps, you were using mixing or redundancy of assets and one asset is being able to collect the information you need. This frees up other assets to collect information in other locations, thus requiring you to tweak your plan.
  • During the course of a mission, there may be types of information that may require confirmation. If this is the case, this may result in you making some changes to the R&S plan.
  • Timing is everything in the R&S world. If the information you originally wanted is now no longer of importance; then you must retask your assets. Having them collect on something that has no value is a waste of a valuable asset.
  • The last thing that may change your R&S plan is your higher headquarters. If they order you to collect on a certain area that you were not collecting on; then you will have to adapt your plan.

So what if one of the above things occur? How do you update your plan? Well, basically you should conduct a very abbreviated form of what we have discussed this month.

The planning of R&S operations is tough business. In this article, we provided you the steps which should enable you to develop, disseminate and update an R&S plan. This plan will assist you in acquiring the information you need to win on the battlefield. Remember; don’t be wedded to your plan. Things change and so should your R&S plan.

Our next article will begin a mini-series on heavy/light and light/heavy operations. For those unfamiliar with the terms, these relate to the interaction of light infantry units working with mechanized/armor units on the battlefield. Those types of units clearly provide different strengths and capabilities. A good commander can pair these units together and consequently, make each unit stronger. The ineffective commander will not attempt to capitalize on this relationship. We will ensure you become that good commander.