Infantry Drills

FM 3-21.8 – Chapter 9 – Section III – Reconnaissance Patrols

Section III – Reconnaissance Patrols

9-129.  A reconnaissance patrol collects information to confirm or disprove the accuracy of information previously gained. The intent for this type of patrol is to move stealthily, avoid enemy contact, and accomplish its tactical task without engaging in close combat. With one exception (presence patrols), reconnaissance patrols always try to accomplish their mission without being detected or observed. Because detection cannot always be avoided, a reconnaissance patrol carries the necessary arms and equipment to protect itself and break contact with the enemy. A reconnaissance patrol normally travels light, with as few personnel, arms, ammunition, and equipment as possible. This increases stealth and cross‑country mobility in close terrain. Regardless of how the patrol is armed and equipped, the leader always plans for the worst case: direct-fire contact with a hostile force. Leaders must anticipate where they may possibly be observed and control the hazard by emplacing measures to lessen their risk. If detected or unanticipated opportunities arise, reconnaissance patrols must be able to rapidly transition to combat. Types of reconnaissance patrols follow

Area Reconnaissance Patrol

9-130.  The area reconnaissance patrol focuses only on obtaining detailed information about the terrain or enemy activity within a prescribed area.  See Section IV for further details.

Route Reconnaissance Patrol

9-131.  The route reconnaissance patrol obtains detailed information about a specified route and any terrain where the enemy could influence movement along that route.  See Section V for further details.

Zone Reconnaissance Patrol

9-132.  Zone reconnaissance patrols involve a directed effort to obtain detailed information on all routes, obstacles, terrain, and enemy forces within a zone defined by boundaries.  See Section VI for further details.

Point Reconnaissance Patrol

9-133.  The point reconnaissance patrol goes straight to a specific location and determines the situation there. As soon as it does so, it either reports the information by radio or returns to the larger unit to report. This patrol can obtain, verify, confirm, or deny extremely specific information for the commander. These patrols are often used in stability or civil support operations. Normally, the patrol leader is the individual responsible for making the assigned assessment.  This may involve interacting with the local populace.  To allow this, interpreters or local civil leaders might accompany the patrol.  The patrol leader may be required to participate in lengthy discussions or inspections with individuals at the site.  During that time he is vulnerable to attack.  The assistant patrol leader should not become involved in these talks, but should remain focused on external security to prevent attack from outside and on the personal security of the patrol leader.  One or two specially-designated members of the patrol may be needed to protect the patrol leader while his attention is focused on discussions.

Leader’s Reconnaissance Patrol

9-134.  The leader’s reconnaissance patrol reconnoiters the objective just before an attack or prior to sending elements forward to locations where they will support by fire. It confirms the condition of the objective, gives each subordinate leader a clear picture of the terrain where he will move, and identifies any part of the objective he must seize or suppress. The leader’s reconnaissance patrol can consist of the unit commander or representative, the leaders of major subordinate elements, and (sometimes) security personnel and unit guides. It gets back to the main body as quickly as possible. The commander can use the aid in Figure 9-14 to help in remembering a five‑point contingency:


G             Going—where is the leader going?

O             Others—what others are going with him?

T             Time (duration)—how long will the leader be gone?

           What do we do if the leader fails to return?

            Actions—what actions do the departing reconnaissance
element and main body plan to take on contact?

                        Figure 9-14. Reconnaisance patrol five-point congengency

Contact Patrol

9-135.  A contact patrol is a special reconnaissance patrol sent from one unit to physically contact and coordinate with another. Modern technology has reduced, but not eliminated, the need for contact patrols. They are most often used today when a U.S. force must contact a non‑U.S. coalition partner who lacks compatible communications or position‑reporting equipment. Contact patrols may either go to the other unit’s position, or the units can meet at a designated contact point. The leader of a contact patrol provides the other unit with information about the location, situation, and intentions of his own unit. He obtains and reports the same information about the contacted unit back to his own unit. The contact patrol also observes and reports pertinent information about the area between the two units.

Presence Patrols

9-136.  A presence patrol is used in stability or civil support operations. It has many purposes, but should always see and be seen, but seen in a specific manner determined by the commander. Its primary goal is to gather information about the conditions in the unit’s AO. To do this, the patrol gathers critical (as determined by the commander) information, both specific and general. The patrol seeks out this information, and then observes and reports. Its secondary role is to be seen as a tangible representation of the U.S. military force, projecting an image that furthers the accomplishment of the commander’s intent.

9-137.  In addition to reconnaissance tasks, presence patrols demonstrate to the local populace the presence and intent of the U.S. forces. Presence patrols are intended to clearly demonstrate the determination, competency, confidence, concern, and when appropriate, the overwhelming power of the force to all who observe it, including local and national media.

9-138.  The commander always plans for the possibility that a presence patrol may make enemy contact, even though that is not his intent. Rarely should a commander use a presence patrol where enemy contact is likely.  Presence patrols work best for some types of stability operations such as peace operations, humanitarian and civic assistance, non-combatant evacuations, or shows of force. Before sending out a presence patrol, the commander should carefully consider what message he wants to convey, and then clearly describe his intent to the patrol leader.

9-139.  To accomplish the “to be seen” part of its purpose, a presence patrol reconnoiters overtly. It takes deliberate steps to visibly reinforce the impression the commander wants to convey to the populace. Where the patrol goes, what it does there, how it handles its weapons, what equipment and vehicles it uses, and how it interacts with the populace are all part of that impression. When the presence patrol returns to the main body, the commander thoroughly debriefs it; not only for hard information, but also for the patrol leader’s impressions of the effects of the patrol on the populace. This allows the commander to see to modify the actions of subsequent patrols.

Tracking Patrol

9-140.  A tracking patrol is normally a squad‑size, possibly smaller, element. It is tasked to follow the trail of a specific enemy unit in order to determine its composition, final destination, and actions en route. Members of the patrol look for subtle signs left by the enemy as he moves. As they track, they gather information about the enemy unit, the route it took, and the surrounding terrain. Normally, a tracking patrol avoids direct fire contact with the tracked unit, but not always. Tracking patrols often use tracker dog teams to help them maintain the track.

control measures

9-141.  Control measures help leaders anticipate being detected. They include:

– Rendezvous point: a location designated for an arranged meeting from which to begin an action or phase of an operation or to return to after an operation. This term is generally synonymous with linkup point.

– Release point: a location on a route where marching elements are released from centralized control (FM1-02). The release point is also used after departing the ORP.

– Linkup point: a point where two infiltrating elements in the same or different infiltration lanes are scheduled to consolidate before proceeding with their missions (FM 1-02).

9-142.  Leaders use the three fundamentals of reconnaissance to organize their patrols into two forces: a reconnaissance element, and a security element. The first fundamental of reconnaissance (gain the information required), is the patrol’s decisive action. Using the second principle (avoid detection), leaders organize this element accordingly. The remainder of the patrol is organized as a security element designed according to the third principle (employ security measures).

Reconnaissance Elements

9-143.  The task of the reconnaissance element is to obtain the information requirements for the purpose of facilitating tactical decision making. The primary means is reconnaissance (or surveillance) enabled by tactical movement and continuous, accurate reporting. The reconnaissance patrol leader decides how in depth the reconnaissance will be. A thorough and accurate reconnaissance is important. However, avoiding detection is equally important.

9-144.  Below are some of the additional tasks normally associated with a reconnaissance element:

– Reconnoiter all terrain within the assigned area, route, or zone.

– Determine trafficability routes or potential avenues of approach (based on the personnel or vehicles to be used on the route).

n   Inspect and classify all bridges, overpasses, underpasses, and culverts on the route.*

n   Locate fords or crossing sites near bridges on the route.

– Determine the time it takes to traverse the route.

– Reconnoiter to the limit of direct fire range.

n   Terrain that influences the area, route, or zone.

n   Built-up areas.

n   Lateral routes.

– Within capabilities, reconnoiter natural and man-made obstacles to ensure mobility along the route.  Locate a bypass or reduce/breach, clear, and mark—

n   Lanes.

n   Defiles and other restrictive/severely restrictive terrain.

n   Minefields.

n   Contaminated areas.

n   Log obstacles such as abatis, log cribs, stumps, and posts.

n   AT ditches.

n   Wire entanglements.

n   Fills, such as a raised railroad track.

n   Other obstacles along the route.

– Determine the size, location, and composition of society/human demographics.

– Identify key infrastructure that could influence military operations, including the following:

n   Political, government, and religious organizations and agencies.

n   Physical facilities and utilities (such as power generation, transportation, and
communications networks).

– Find all threat forces that influence movement along the area, route, or zone.

– Report information.


*NOTE: Infantry platoons typically do not have the expertise to complete a full technical inspection of bridges, roads, and culverts; this task normally requires augmentation. Infantry platoons do, however, have the ability to conduct a general assessment.

Security Elements

9-145.  The security element has two tasks: provide early warning of approaching enemy; and provide support by fire to the reconnaissance elements if they come in contact with the enemy. The purpose of the security element is to protect the reconnaissance element, thereby allowing them to obtain the IR. Security elements tasked to provide early warning must be able to observe avenues of approach into and out of the objective area. If the reconnaissance element is compromised, the security element must be able to quickly support them. They do so by occupying positions that enable them to observe the objective as well as cover the reconnaissance element. Soldiers in these positions must be able to engage the enemy with direct and indirect fire. They must also be able to facilitate communication to higher as well as any supporting assets. This worst-case scenario must be well rehearsed and well thought out.

Organizing the Reconnaissance Patrol

9-146.  Regardless of how the reconnaissance and security elements are organized, each element always maintains responsibility for its own local security. In a small reconnaissance patrol, the patrol headquarters may form a part of one of the subordinate elements rather than being a separate element. The number and size of the various teams and elements must be determined through the leader’s METT-TC analysis. There are three ways to organize the reconnaissance and security elements (Figure 9-15).

9-147.  The first technique is to organize the reconnaissance elements separate from security elements. This technique is used when the security element is able to support the reconnaissance element from one location. This requires the reconnaissance objective to be clearly defined and the area to be fairly open.

9-148.  The second technique is to organize the reconnaissance elements and security elements together into R&S teams. This technique is used when the reconnaissance objective is not clearly defined or the teams are not mutually supporting and each reconnaissance potentially needs its own security force. Within the R&S team, the reconnaissance can be done by one or two individuals while the rest of the element provides security. The number of Soldiers in an R&S team may vary depending on the mission. Usually a fire team (three to four Soldiers) is required for an adequate reconnaissance and still provide local security for the team.

9-149.  The third technique is to establish R&S teams with an additional, separate security element. The separate security element can also act as a reserve or as a quick reaction force.

Figure 9-15. Organization of reconnaissance patrol.

actions on the reconnaissance objective

9-150.  The actual reconnaissance begins at the designated transition point and ends with a follow-on transition to tactical movement away from the reconnaissance objective. Leaders mark the follow-on transition point with a control measure similar to the first transition point, using a linkup point, rendezvous point, a limit of advance, or a phase line. During this phase, leaders execute one of the three types of reconnaissance (area, zone, and route). These types of reconnaissance are distinguished by the scope of the reconnaissance objective. The types of reconnaissance patrols Infantry units conduct are area, zone, and route (Figure 9-16).

9-151.  An area reconnaissance is conducted to obtain information about a certain location and the area around it such as road junctions, hills, bridges, or enemy positions. The location of the objective is shown by either grid coordinates or a map overlay. A boundary line encircles the area.

9-152.  A zone reconnaissance is conducted to obtain information on all the enemy, terrain, and routes within a specific zone. The zone is defined by boundaries.

9-153.  A route reconnaissance can orient on a road, a narrow axis such as an infiltration lane, or a general direction of attack. A platoon conducts a hasty route reconnaissance when there is too little time for a detailed route reconnaissance or when the mission requires less detailed information. Information sought in a hasty route reconnaissance is restricted to the type of route (limited or unlimited), obstacle limitations (maximum weight, height, and width), and observed enemy.

Figure 9-16. Types of reconnaissance patrols.

9-154.  To plan for a reconnaissance, use the reverse planning process. The leader first determines the reconnaissance objective, an information requirement (IR) that corresponds to the terrain and or enemy in a specific area, route, or zone; it may be designated by a control measure such as an NAI, checkpoint, objective, route, phase lines, or boundaries. Once the leader has clarified the reconnaissance objective, he determines the observation plan that will enable the patrol to obtain the IR. After determining the observation plan, the leader determines the tactical movement necessary to position the patrol to achieve his observation plan.

Information Requirements

9-155.  Information requirements (IR) are the basis for the commander’s critical information requirements (CCIR) needed to make tactical decisions. It is the responsibility of the controlling headquarters to clearly define the IR they want the patrol to determine. It is the responsibility of the patrol leader to clarify these IR prior to conducting the mission. Table 9-2 illustrates an example matrix that can be used to capture the IR for the controlling headquarters’ collection plan.

Table 9-2. Example IR collection matrix.

Information Requirement

Location/ Description



1. Enemy forces within small arms range of intersection NV12349875

road intersection

From: 201700Nov

To: 210600Nov

Facilitate the company’s passage through the area

9-156.  IR can be enemy oriented, terrain oriented, civil oriented, or a combination. It is important for the leader to clarify the requirement prior to conducting the reconnaissance. Knowing this orientation enables the leader to demonstrate the initiative required to meet the higher leader’s IR.

9-157.  Terrain-oriented IR focus on determining information on the terrain of a particular area, route, or zone. While the unit will certainly look for the enemy presence, the overall intent is to determine the terrain’s usefulness for friendly purposes. For example, the company commander may send out a squad-sized reconnaissance patrol to identify a location for the company’s future assembly area. The patrol leader may send out a squad-sized reconnaissance patrol to obtain information about a bridge on a proposed infiltration route.

9-158.  Enemy-oriented IR focus on finding a particular enemy force. The purpose of enemy-oriented reconnaissance is to confirm or deny planning assumptions. While the unit may be given a terrain feature as a reference point, the overall intent is to find the enemy. This means that if the enemy is not in the location referenced, it is usually necessary for the leader to demonstrate the initiative to find the enemy force within his given parameters.

9-159.  Civil-oriented IR focus on determining information on the human environment in a particular area, route, or zone. Civil-oriented IR is a larger, vaguer category that requires more clarification than the other two categories. Examples of IR that are civil-oriented are the physical infrastructure; service infrastructures such as sewer, water, electric, and trash; the political situation; demographics; and refugees.

Observation Plan

9-160.  Once the patrol leader understands the IR, he then determines how it is that he will obtain it by developing an observation plan. The leader captures the observation plan as part of the patrol leader’s course of action sketch.  This is done through asking two basic questions:

(1)     What is the best location(s) to obtain the information required?

(2)     How can I best obtain the information without compromising the patrol?

9-161.  The answer to the first question is: all vantage points and observation posts from which the patrol can best obtain the IR. A vantage point is a temporary position that enables observation of the enemy. It is meant to be occupied only until the IR is confirmed or denied. The answer to the second question is: use the routes and number of teams necessary to occupy the vantage points and OPs. An OP is a position from where military observations can be made and fire can be directed and adjusted. OPs must possesses appropriate communications. The OP can either be short term (12 hours or less) or long term, depending on guidance from higher. Unlike a vantage point, the OP is normally occupied and surveillance is conducted for a specified period of time. The patrol views the reconnaissance objective from as many perspectives as possible, using whatever combinations of OPs and vantage points are necessary. The leader selects the tentative locations for the patrol’s vantage points, OPs, and movement after analyzing METT-TC factors. These locations are proposed and must be confirmed and adjusted as necessary by the actual leader on the ground. From his analysis, he determines how many vantage points and OPs he must establish and where to position them. Once he decides on these general locations, he designs the routes for necessary movement between these and other control measures (such as the release points and linkup points). Positions should have the following characteristics:

– Covered and concealed routes to and from each position.

– Unobstructed observation of the assigned area, route, or zone. Ideally, the fields of observation of adjacent positions overlap to ensure full coverage.

– Effective cover and concealment. Leaders select positions with cover and concealment to reduce their vulnerability on the battlefield. Leaders may need to pass up a position with favorable observation capability but no cover and concealment to select a position that affords better survivability.

– A location that will not attract attention. Positions should not be sited in such locations as a water tower, an isolated grove of trees, or a lone building or tree. These positions draw enemy attention and may be used as enemy artillery TRPs.

– A location that does not skyline the observers. Avoid hilltops. Locate positions farther down the slope of the hill or on the side, provided there are covered and concealed routes into and out of the position.

9-162.  The locations selected by the patrol are either long range or short range. Long-range positions must be far enough from the objective to be outside enemy’s small-arms weapons, sensors, and other local security measures. Long-range positions are the most desirable method for executing a reconnaissance because the patrol does not come in close enough to be detected. If detected, the patrol is able to employ direct and indirect fires. Therefore, it is used whenever METT-TC permits the required information to be gathered from a distance. Security must be maintained by:

– Selecting covered and concealed OPs.

– Using covered and concealed routes in and around the objective area.

– Deploying security elements, including sensors, to give early warning, and providing covering fire if required.

9-163.  Short-range positions are within the range of enemy local security measures and small-arms fire. When information required cannot be obtained by a long-range position, reconnaissance elements move closer to the objective. The vantage points and routes used during short-range observation should be carefully planned out and verified prior to using them. Doing so prevents detection by the enemy or friendly units from stumbling into one another or covering ground already passed over by another element.

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