Target Spotter

"ARF! Rrrrarfarf...arf." *pantpantpant*
"Max, I'm not shooting the lieutenant's cat."

"Spotting" is a military term for relaying the coordinates of the enemy to an allied unit (usually an artillery battery or a sniper) so it can take them out from a long distance, without putting itself in danger. The spotter is usually a small mobile unit that approaches the enemy hopefully undetected, calls in a shot and moves on—but really, any unit can act as a spotter, given long range backup. A snipers' spotter also has the additional job of guarding the sniper from flanking attacks, something that is a little hard to do when they're currently focused on lining up their shot through a zoom scope.

Target spotting is often a gameplay mechanic in tactical games where some units deliberately have longer firing range than viewing range. This allows these units to target enemies even without a direct line of sight, provided another friendly unit can see them. Whether they need a direct line of fire, depends on their type: snipers usually do, artillery usually doesn't.

For handheld target designators (with which these spotters may be armed), see Puppet Gun.

May overlap with Seeing Through Another's Eyes in speculative settings.


Examples of this trope as a game mechanic:

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    Tabletop Games 
  • Classic Traveller had the Forward Observer skill. If a character with the skill could see a target, they could transmit instructions to an indirect fire weapon (such as artillery) and call in attacks on the target, improving the weapon's aim with each attack.
  • Avalon Hill's Panzerblitz World War II game. If a unit could see an enemy unit out in the open or was adjacent to an enemy unit hidden in cover, it could allow another long range unit (such as artillery or self-propelled artillery) to attack the enemy unit even if the long range unit didn't have line of sight to the target.
  • In BattleTech, units armed with Long-Range Missiles can indirect-fire them at a target in cover if it can be seen by another friendly unit.
  • Warhammer 40,000: Tau Pathfinders can use a targeting laser to fire a missile from a nearby Skyray tank, even if the Skyray doesn't have line-of-sight.
  • The Spotter is a unit in a sci-fi version of Stratego, it has a special ability where you can guess the rank of an adjacent enemy and if correct destroy it with an Orbital Bombardment.

    Action RPG 
  • In Mega Man Legends: The Misadventures of Tron Bonne, this is the job for the Servbots when they are in the Gustaff (a Mecha where Teisel and then Tron rides), curiously this is called a "Sniper" as the designated spot.
  • Recruiting Craig Boone as a follower in Fallout: New Vegas will give the player the 'Spotter' perk, causing any enemies to glow red while the player uses iron-sights aiming.

    First-Person Shooter 
  • In Battlefield 4, the "Recon" character class can use laser designation binoculars to mark enemy vehicles, enabling missiles from friendly attack jets, helicopters, and man-portable rocket launchers to lock on and hit targets far beyond their normal effective range, as long as the spotter maintains the lock-on.
  • Operatives in Brink can learn the ability to mark enemy players by iron-sighting over them for a few seconds. The marked enemies will emit a red aura that makes them visible to all friendlies for a few seconds, even through walls.

    4X 
  • In Civilization V, siege units such as catapults and cannon have a 1-hex sight range, as opposed to their 2-hex firing range, encouraging them to travel with another unit as a spotter (and to keep the enemy from directly engaging the siege, which is weak in melee). Artillery and Rocket Artillery are even more reliant on spotters as they have a 3-hex range and the Indirect Fire ability, allowing them to attack over hills and other obstructions, but only if another allied unit has the target in sight.

    Real-Time Strategy 
  • In most RTS games, siege equipment with a huge range needs another unit or intel of a building being there to fire at said spot. However, when a unit fires from outside the Fog of War, it becomes visible to them. Accuracy for units detected this way is shot to hell, though, since they can move.
  • World in Conflict:
    • Infantry squads have an enormous viewing range, which is not obscured by forests, but are quite vulnerable in the open. Anti-air units and particularly tanks, on the other hand, have extremely long firing ranges but limited viewing range, so skillful players hide their infantry quietly in the woods close to the enemy position, while the tanks bombard it from safe distance, covered by hidden AA.
    • The one-shot tactical aids include airstrikes, bombs, and artillery barrages that arrive after a delay and must target a location, not a unit. Paratroopers also have an ability to call in a delayed artillery strike near their position, working similarly to the tactical aids.
  • Warzone 2100 allows you to build sensor vehicles and towers that can act as spotters for artillery and VTOLs.
  • In Command & Conquer 3: Tiberium Wars, the GDI Juggernaut can fire anywhere on the map provided a Sniper team is near the target. One campaign mission had fire support from a GDI Battleship that worked similarly. The Nod forces in the same game have a strange counterpart: their Beam Cannon can reflect its fire off the hull of a friendly Venom gunship, hitting anything within a radius around it. The relationship between the two units is thus very similar to the Juggernaut and Sniper.
  • In StarCraft the siege tank can actually fire further than it can see in its immobile siege mode. To get maximum range out of it you need a second unit acting as spotter (or use the radar scan). StarCraft I also arms Ghosts with a laser target designator for short-range ballistic missiles tipped with tactical nukes. This ability is transferred to the new Spectre unit in StarCraft II (if you chose it in the campaign).
  • Dawn of War:
    • This is a feature of every artillery unit in the game. Blind firing reduces their already less-than-stellar accuracy, though the fact that they're more useful as infantry-dispersal weapons means it doesn't matter as much. Special mention should go to the Imperial Guard's Basilisk, which has the highest range of all (there are some maps where no unit can ever be out of range), and the fact that the Guard has a radar ability that allows them to briefly remove Fog of War from any point on the map.
    • The Tau may be the only army with a unit for whom this is the specific job: Pathfinders have a special ability to mark targets, which will increase the damage done to them by any other units. Unfortunately the Pathfinders themselves are rather weak and the target-marking ability requires them to get within grenade range, so getting them back out of harm's way can be tricky.
    • This becomes a plot point in the IG stronghold mission of Soulstorm. They will occasionally send cloaked spotters that order a barrage on their position as soon as they're seen.
  • In Company of Heroes, indirect fire units, off map artillery strikes, and offensive air support runs cannot target anything in the fog of war, requiring the use of a unit or ability to reveal it.

    Simulation Games 
  • In X3: Terran Conflict and Albion Prelude missile frigates' Macross Missile Massacre has a maximum range of about 80 km, but scanner range is limited to under 30. The solution, of course, is to use another ship (or a spy satellite, or some other player-owned object) as spotter.
  • M 1 Tank Platoon. If any of the NATO commander's units can see an enemy unit, he can call in an OB (off board) artillery bombardment on that unit.
  • This is the role of light tanks in World of Tanks. They lack armor and heavy weaponry, so they are forced to use their speed to protect themselves while they spot enemy tanks for the big guns.
  • A variety of spotting mechanics exist in MechWarrior Living Legends. C3 computers share your Enemy Detecting Radar with all allies within 1km, the Target Acquisition Gear fires an infrared laser to guide in allied missiles, and the NARC launcher fires a magnetic missile homing beacon. Using C3 is critical for the Long Tom Artillery tank, as its cannon's range exceeds the tank's own radar range. TAG and NARCs allow Arrow IV cruise missiles to attack targets from far beyond the normal Missile Lock On range; additionally, by dumbfiring a missile and having an ally then engage the spotting mechanism a few seconds later, missiles can be brought down at odd angles (such as straight above) to get around cover.

    Stealth-Based Games 
  • StarCraft: Ghost, the infamously vaporware stealth shooter title, was to include a laser target designator by which Nova could call in nuclear attacks.

    Turn-Based Strategy 
  • In the X-COM series, you can target aliens outside of a soldier's sight range as long as there are no obstacles between them and you know where to target, and the latter is usually achieved via a soldier/tank/mind-controlled alien who acts a "spotter".
  • A level two perk of the Sniper class called "Squadsight" in XCOM: Enemy Unknown allows the sniper to target any enemy that any of the Sniper's squadmates sees, as long the Sniper has a direct line of fire (but is not necessarily in visual range). It's also extremely handy when combined with a suit of flying Powered Armor.
  • Nintendo Wars uses this as part of its Fog of War mechanic, which features on many of its maps. Under Fog of War conditions, only visible enemies can be targeted by units note  (the AI of the earlier games notwithstanding), so the otherwise weak Recon units become invaluable for scoping out enemy troops. Additionally, infantry-type units gain a significant boost to their vision range when they stop on a mountain space. Lastly, ground units in forested areas and naval units atop reefs are hidden unless either discovered by an enemy unit on an adjacent space or if Sonja activates her CO Power. Given that ranged units can't move and fire on the same turn in this game series, all of this is vital if the player uses them on a Fog of War map, and they'll likely need to.
  • Steel Panthers adds yet another layer of complexity by restricting who can call in fire: an average rifle squad sergeant isn't typically trained in adjusting fire, for instance, so very often it's not enough to see your target: you need someone who's trained to do so call in fire. One common tactic is to use specially-trained (and expensive) spotters to call in the initial strike in the general vicinity of the target, then use platoon and company commanders who can see the shell splash radio in corrections. Note that using a trained spotter instead of a random company leader typically results in a faster response from the artillery or air units.


Non-mechanical examples:

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    Anime and Manga 
  • The Lyrical Nanoha series has a spell called Area Search that seeks out remote targets and transmits its coordinates to the caster's Device, allowing for long range, no line of sight aiming. In StrikerS, this is how Nanoha finds and defeats the Smug Snake Quattro, who believed herself safe by hiding on the deepest levels of the Cradle: the moment the AS found her, Nanoha simply blasted through the entire installation separating them.
  • Pain from Naruto has six bodies, each with a pair of Rinnegan; among its functions is sharing one body's sight to another. This gives them, among other things, awareness of each other's locations, elimination of blind spots, and easier targeting.
  • In Aldnoah.Zero, after Inaho and friends blind Trillram's surveillance drones with smoke grenades, Slaine has to act as a spotter in his sky carrier and direct him where to move, since the Nilokeras's dimensional barrier renders him completely blind to the world outside his cockpit.
  • In the Dressrosa arc of One Piece, Viola acts as this for Usopp, using her Magical Eye Devil Fruit powers to give him the exact location of a target so far away and behind walls Usopp can't hope to see her himself. It's thanks to this, his own prodigious sharpshooter skills, and the spontaneous development of Color of Observation Haki that Usopp is able to make the shot.

    Fan Works 
  • Bait and Switch (STO): Ens. Kate McMillan to sniper JG K'lak during an away mission in chapter seven. Played for laughs during the second firefight of the chapter, where McMillan's overheard giving the following instruction to K'lak:
    "Reference, large stump that looks like your—" (K'lak shoots)

    Film 
  • Used in a couple ways by the humans in the Transformers film series:
    • In Transformers, a communications officer on foot marks a target for an AC-130 Specter gunship, which is the first time humans damage a Transformer in the film.
    • Later in the same film, the same officer marks a Decepticon via a laser for a fighter jet for missile bombardment.
    • In Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen Simmons phones a railgun-armed Navy destroyer in the Persian Gulf to have them triangulate his cell phone signal and destroy Devastator. As part of its formation Devastator had absorbed a pair of wrecking ball-equipped cranes and left the wrecking balls dangling, leading to the unforgettable line:
    Simmons: I'm directly beneath ... the enemy's scrotum.
  • Wesley Snipes' character, The Painter, from The Marksman gets his nickname from his skills in infiltrating hardened locations and painting them for Death from Above.

    Literature 
  • Ciaphas Cain's first assignment was to an artillery regiment, where the Colonel took barely-disguised joy in sending him to the advanced observation posts miles away from the base and other hotspots in the hopes of proving him a coward. Cain once levels a Chaos cult by frantically ordering a full barrage on his own position.

    Video Games 
  • In Mass Effect 3 Shepard uses a targeting laser to paint a landed Reaper destroyer as a target for the Normandy and the Quarian Migrant Fleet, letting them destroy it with Orbital Bombardment.
  • Star Trek Online: Episode "Romulan Mystery", mission "Cutting the Cord". An optional objective in this mission has you marking locations so that your ship can take them out from orbit. The resulting accolade is titled "Death from Above". The mission's final objective has you call in another orbital strike to take out an Iconian gate.
  • Crysis has a few instances where Nomad has to paint targets for airstrikes. One example is a North Korean cruiser parked in the island's harbor whose ack-ack and ECM are preventing the Marines' VTOLs from landing.

    Webcomics 
  • In one strip of Turn Signals on a Land Raider an allied Imperial Guard spotter calls in an artillery barrage. Unfortunately, when they launch a spotting round:
    Guardsman: Battery Bravo, this is Alpha Charlie Kilo Four Niner Niner. Uh, direct hit on our allies' Land Raider. Adjust scatter and fire for effect.
    Kren and Frep: (walking past, smoking) See you on the shelf!
  • The first chapter of Terra shows a ground battle between UEC and Azatoth forces, with Friendly Sniper Grey O'Shea's spotter calling out targets for him, mainly Azatoth officers. Unfortunately they're flanked and an Azatoth shoots the spotter in the back of the head.