What is armoured reconnaissance good for?

The Think Defence blog recently asked "What is a scout used for anyway?", in context of the recent UK decision to buy FRES Scout Vehicle (the UK is being ripped off with a modified ASCOD IFV project).

That's an excellent question.
Armoured recce doctrine varies a lot between countries, even within NATO.

There are roughly three categories of missions
for armoured recce units (above the level of battalion scouts):

(I) The undisputed armoured recce core missions
(II) Combat missions as auxiliary combat troops or at low force density
(III) "As you're already there..."

(Sequence is irrelevant.)

Category I
(The undisputed armoured recce core missions):

(a) Inform manoeuvre commanders about the situation out of the recce radius of his combat troops (& his own recce element).
This is the biggest chunk and gets the most attention. It's well-documented, therefore I don't delve into its details.

(b) Cooperate with air power and long range artillery (detection, tracking, identification, target designation, battle damage assessment).

(c) Probing in order to detect gaps or weak spots.

Category II
(Combat missions as auxiliary combat troops or at low force density):

(a) Defeat hostile recce elements when encountered (possibly hunt them down).

(b) Coups de main against establishing defensive positions, airfields, bridges, depots, combat (service) support troops, headquarters, SAM sites and radars.

(c) Flank security

(d) Advance guard / vanguard

(e) Deception (attacks) - this is especially an option if armoured recce vehicles look similar to the combat troops' vehicles.

(f) Rear guard action

(g) Convoy escort

(h) (Last ditch) reserve in crisis (in a defensive battle) together with engineers.

(i) Assault gun-like support of otherwise imbalanced (combined arms minus armour) efforts.

(j) Skirmishing combat force for fighting in & control of terrain in low force density (Americans call this an "economy of force" mission).

(k) Engage (with surprise effect) not battle-ready hostile combat troops.

Category III
("As you're already there..."):

(a) Report air situation far forward (passive ground/air sensors).

(b) Pick up air crews who crashed or ejected.

(c) Infiltrate/exfiltrate LRS teams and agents.

(d) Radio relay function

(e) Capture OPFOR equipment for technical analysis (especially rear unit's equipment).

(f) Disable infrastructure (rail lines, land lines, dams, civilian radio towers, bridges, tunnels, power lines, fuel stations).

(g) Emplace/retrieve unattended sensors.

(h) Destruction of crashed or emergency-landed aircraft (especially helicopters)

(i) Ambush hostile (hopefully unsuspecting) helicopters.

(j) Intercept hostile supply convoys.

(I certainly forgot several small missions.)

- - - - -

There's probably not a single army in the world that assigns all these missions officially to its armoured reconnaissance troops.

Such a complete set of missions and corresponding capabilities is nevertheless desirable, at least for a part of the armoured recce forces.

An armoured recce organisation that focuses on the employment of long-range sensors only would be enticed to restrict itself (if higher level commanders don't do it) to a kind of risk-averse forward (artillery) observer organisation. Fire support coordination teams and reconnaissance are different missions, though - the organisation, training and equipment should reflect this!

It's pointless to strive for risk-free scouting. Small scout teams are to be sent forward into traps in order to avoid that the whole formation walks into that trap.

- - - - -

An army review that looks into armoured recce should do something similar to this:

a) Get a reasonable idea about future conflict.
b) Establish mission requirements (pick missions from the list).
c) Address the organisation issue (especially the status; is armoured recce an army, corps, division and/or brigade asset?).
d) Think about adequate tactical principles.
e) Address the equipment issue (with budget in mind).
f) Write down the recommendations.



  1. Cheers Sven,

    this is something i have been struggling with, your post helps and thus you have my thanks.



  2. So, Sven; my question would be, if the recon MTO&E looks very like the heavy forces, where do you draw the line between "fighting for intel" and using them as line units?

    This seems very applicable to the U.S. cav units, whose M3's are fairly indistinguishable from the heavy infantry M2's less the number of dismounts. Having never been in the heavy/armored side of the house I can't be sure, but I suspect that the recon unit commanders are likely to have to fight against the higher element commander's tendency to use them as regular infantry.

  3. That's a looong story.
    Drop me an e-mail to lastdingo@gmx.de and we could discuss this in private.

  4. rather belated response here. As a Cav guy, we would fight only as a Economy of Force or Covering Force mission. Conducting a Deliberate attack was not in our Profile. The H series and J series Armored Cav Regiment were designed from the ground up as a fighting organization. It was a Corp level organization and designed to attrit the OPFOR (USSR) as the OPFOR advanced to contact with the Main Force. Divisional Cav was stripped of its fighting capacity in the J Series TOE and required augmentation if given a Fighting Role. 2/4 Cav in 1st Desert Storm received a Tank Coy, Mech Infantry Coy, and a SP M109 Battery as a result of its Covering force mission.

    1. The late Cold War ACRs were forces for delaying actions, but poorly structured to maintain a security screen on all possible routes in the quite large area of responsibility. There were simply not enough dismounted scouts, particularly not if one ignored the M3's dismounts or assumes that the M3s would be filled with dismounts at the expense of other units (the nominal personnel strength is never available at war).

      I think the U.S. Army focused too much on tracked AFVs and helicopters for scouting, and had too few LRRPs. A two-battalion regiment of LRRP teams (each one bulletproofed & silenced HMMWV and one silenced motorcycle per team) could have plugged the holes in the screening.