Reconnaissance, surveillance, and target acquisition (RSTA) refers to a joint doctrine of reconnaissance, surveillance and target acquisition conducted by the United States Armed Forces. RSTA operations are designed to support military operations at a strategic (national defense policy), operational (theater level), or tactical (individual unit) level, either by dedicated RSTA forces or those which possess the capability.[1]

Additionally, an RSTA squadron is a type of unit in the United States Army. These are small reconnaissance units based on cavalry squadrons, and act at the squadron (battalion) level as a reconnaissance unit for their parent Brigade Combat Teams.

Doctrine Overview

RSTA operations are concerned not only with the collection of military intelligence, but ensuring that it is accurate, relevant, and distributed in a timely manner to the appropriate user. This includes maintaining Operational Security (OPSEC) so that critical information cannot be exploited by an opposing force. Likewise, RSTA can play a role in Operational Deception (OPDEC) operations to confuse opposing forces.[1]

Across the strategic, operational and tactical level, RSTA operations fall within three areas:

Indications and Warning (I&W)

Indications and Warnings (I&W) are "intelligence activities intended to detect and report time-sensitive intelligence information on foreign developments that could involve a threat to the United States or allied and/or coalition military, political, or economic interests or to US citizens abroad." On a strategic and operational level, RSTA operations may provide continuous surveillance or as-required reconnaissance, in order to provide warnings of impending threats or attacks, as well as to monitor compliance with international agreements.[1]

Planning and Employment

Strategically, RSTA Planning and Employment operations are used to support the planning of military operations, by monitoring foreign nations' centers of warmaking capability, and providing information on enemy system capabilities, locations, and installations for the National Target Base and other target lists. This information is used to assist in formulation of the U.S. military's Single Integrated Operational Plan, Limited Attack Option plan, Unified Command Plan, and Joint Strategic Capabilities Plans.[1]

Operationally, RSTA operations are similar to both the strategic and tactical levels, in that they provide commanders with data on areas such as environment, organization, infrastructure, and enemy forces to assist in planning theater wide operations.[1]

Tactically, RSTA operations provide detailed information about enemy orders of battle, movement plans, offensive and defensive capabilities, terrain, and enemy disposition. RSTA units provide target detection and acquisition ( and in some cases, elimination), and real-time intelligence and surveillance.[1]


At all three levels of command, RSTA units provide combat assessment before, during and after military operations. This includes tasks such as bomb damage assessment or determining if an OPDEC mission has succeeded. RSTA assessment can help to decide if a military operation was successful in achieving its objectives, whether additional resources need to be directed to complete the objectives or if they can be redirected to another operation.[1]

The RSTA Squadron

As part of its current modernization and reorganization plan, the US Army has transitioned to the use of a modular Brigade Combat Team (BCT) scheme. For each of its three main types of BCTs, whether it's an Infantry Brigade Combat Team (IBCT), Armored Brigade Combat Team (ABCT), or Stryker Brigade Combat Team (SBCT), there is a reconnaissance squadron which is tasked with performing reconnaissance and security missions for the BCT.[2] Related to these units are Reconnaissance & Surveillance Squadrons which operate as part of Battlefield Surveillance Brigades.

The primary task of the RSTA squadron is to carry out reconnaissance and security missions for its parent BCT or for higher commands, whether as part of offensive or defensive operations. Reconnaissance missions can include area, route, zone, and reconnaissance-in-force. Security missions can include screening (whether stationary or mobile), guard, cover, area security and local security. When necessary, the squadron can be augmented with additional forces to help in carrying out its missions.[2]

ABCT Squadron

The ABCT Cavalry squadron is composed of a headquarters troop, two cavalry troops (transitioning to three cavalry troops), an armored company, and a forward support company attached from the brigade support battalion.[3]

The ABCT Cavalry squadron can fight against comparable armor forces, including tanks and other armored fighting vehicles, in order to conduct its missions. However it has significant logistical and maintenance requirements and the use of different vehicle types creates a mix in survivability between platforms. The limited number of scout platoons reduces the size of the area the troop can operate in.[3]

IBCT Squadron

The IBCT Cavalry squadron includes a headquarters troop, two mounted cavalry troops, and a dismounted cavalry troop. A forward support company will also be attached from the brigade support battalion for sustainment purposes.[3]

The IBCT Cavalry squadron is able to support its parent unit through the combination of the firepower and mobility offered by its mounted forces and the ability to operate in complex and difficult terrain with its dismounted forces. However the mix of mounted and dismounted troops creates a mismatch in maneuvering ability and may require augmentation with additional transportation resources.[3]

SBCT Squadron

The SBCT Cavalry squadron includes a headquarters troop and three cavalry troops, along with a forward support company attached from the brigade support battalion.[3]

The SBCT Cavalry squadron can cover a large area thanks to its three cavalry troops equipped with extremely mobile Stryker vehicles. The squadron is limited though in its ability to conduct dismounted reconnaissance or engage enemy armor units. The four-vehicle cavalry troops also face additional risks during route reconnaissance as individual Strykers are forced to reconnoiter lateral routes and terrain adjacent to the route.[3]


RSTA line troops are a mix of 19D (cavalry scout) and 11B (Infantryman) MOS's, which serve as scouts and snipers. Also included are 11C (Indirect Fire Infantryman), which operate a 60 mm M224 Mortar Section, as well as various intelligence and communications soldiers. The MTOE of the infantry troop includes organic Combat Rubber Raiding Craft (Zodiac F470) to insert the infantry. The infantry troop (being in a cavalry squadron, makes it a "troop", not a company) has few wheeled vehicles which directly belong to the troop. The operational cycle for the infantry troop is plan, insert, infiltrate, execute, exfiltrate, extract, and finally debrief.

In squadrons supporting an airborne brigade combat team, 100% of the RSTA soldiers are qualified paratroopers.

RSTA units in the United States Army

Active Component RSTA Cavalry Units

Army National Guard RSTA Cavalry Units

See also


  1. ^ a b c d e f g "JP 3–55 Doctrine for Reconnaissance, Surveillance and Target Acquisition Support for Joint Operations ( Full PDF)" (PDF).
  2. ^ a b FM 3–20.96 Reconnaissance and Cavalry Squadron. Department of the Army. May 2016. Ch. 1 Sec. 1
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n FM 3–20.96 Reconnaissance and Cavalry Squadron. Department of the Army. May 2016. Ch. 1 Sec. 3
  4. ^ a b c The U.S. Military’s Force Structure: A Primer. Congressional Budget Office. June 2016. Chapter 2 - Army Armored Brigade Combat Teams
  5. ^ a b c The U.S. Military’s Force Structure: A Primer. Congressional Budget Office. June 2016. Chapter 2 - Army Infantry Brigade Combat Teams
  6. ^ a b The U.S. Military’s Force Structure: A Primer. Congressional Budget Office. June 2016. Chapter 2 - Army Stryker Brigade Combat Teams
  7. ^ John Pike. "1st Battalion - 263rd Armor Regiment". Archived from the original on 18 September 2015. Retrieved 11 November 2015.