Optics aren’t needed just for spotting concealed units, but also for seeing across open ground. For non-recon units we’re usually choosing between medium and poor optics. The difference is that against units with no stealth and no concealment, poor optics see out to 2.1km, while medium go as far as 2.8km. This means that poor optics units must rely on some other ally to spot for them, or they’ll perform..poorly. Without optics you’ll often miss enemy movements performed in plain sight.
What about the recon tab? Here we have choices going from good to exceptional optics. Without going into details, ground optics maxes out at 3.5km, which even good optics achieve provided no stealth and concealment are involved. Very good and exceptional ground optics help with spotting stuff in forests as well as units with inherent stealth, but don’t extend past that 3.5km cap. The cap is 5km when it comes to helo recon, with good optics maxing out at 4.2km.
But this isn’t a mechanics post, it’s a basic tactics post. Here’s the guidance – with optics, coverage is everything. It’s more important to have a good optics vehicle on every flank and every back route to your base, than to have an exceptional radar in mid. Keep that 3.5km figure in mind and place the good optics accordingly. 10pt unarmed good recon is fine; 25pt cannon or autocannon recon is even better, as it can repel half-hearted attacks and insertions without requiring your attention (in doubt, choose autocannon over cannon, as autocannons can kill helos defensively).
Wheeled good optics recon is also good for escorting opener forces – it tells you where the opposing force is and what it contains before you start losing units, and it spots targets for your wheeled tanks and ATGM jeeps if you brought any. Add being useful for cheaply testing forests for enemy presence, for attacking flanks, and for chasing retreating AA after tank breakthroughs. The conclusion is that good optics recon is a very versatile unit type that can be employed anywhere.
Recon helos, as expected, are another decent flank scout. They’re a bit more expensive and the lack of armament means you’ll need to notice and send units against any attacks that do get spotted, but they can be placed over water or other otherwise inconvenient ground. Frontline scouting is possible but riskier than alternatives due to the inherent fragility of helos; as mentioned, the helo view range cap is 5km as opposed to the 3.5km of ground scouts.
If good optics spots far enough in the open, what’s the use of the higher levels? Forest penetration. Most units will be spotted just fine when they fire from a forest, even by the medium optics of infantry. Recon units however are a bit stealthier, adding one more use to the already long list of virtues of armed recon vehicles – they can kill advancing infantry without exposing themselves to return fire, unless very good or exceptional recon is present.
Recon infantry is currently the best source of very good optics, as it costs just as much as normal infantry, giving you the optics for free. Let’s try that same push with recon infantry:
Way better, the stealthy recon defense is spotted immediately. Recon infantry is great for offensive recon like this, as it comes with both better stealth than vehicles and the inherent resilience of infantry, buying maximum time for fire support to mop up whatever it spots.
Recon infantry is also great for defending cities in the same way recon vehicles are – they stay hidden much longer, and in the case of recon SF they put out so much damage that they can erase pushing squads without being spotted at all. Here, too, the best way to counter is to push with recon infantry of your own. Failing that, smoke the entry point.
Finally, let’s go back to passively spotting across open spaces for a second. We have three options here. Good optics vehicles are cheap, usually fast, and usually armed to provide decent fire support. Fighting recon infantry is convenient – coherent forest defense starts with an infantry squad, so having that infantry squad be recon costs you nothing.
The last option is non-fighting infantry, either a sniper team or a border guard squad. Border guards are cheap, but useless at anything but spotting, making them little better than an even cheaper 10pt unarmed recon jeep. Sniper teams are more expensive but have exceptional stealth, meaning they’ll frequently keep spotting even as the frontline collapses all around them; just put them in a bush that enemy units are unlikely to drive directly into.
To sum it up: recon has three uses. Passively, you use good optics to spot across vast swathes of open ground. Defensively, you use armed recon to stealthily kill attacking forces, ignoring any armor advantage the opponent may have. Offensively, you use very good or exceptional recon to spot stealthy defenders, be they recon units or ATGM squads, and you also use mobile autocannon recon to punish a lack of flank defenses.
EDIT: Since the Israel DLC, ground exceptional optics recon has had its spotting cap increased from 3.5km to 4.2km. All other ground optics are still capped at 3.5km. This doesn’t seriously change the tactics described above.