ISR Sensors & Payloads

ISR Sensor and Payload manufacturers for unmanned systems, including suppliers of airborne ISR payloads for drones, UAV, UAS, and maritime ISR systems for USV and ASV
Overview ISR Sensors & Payloads
By Technology Editor Last updated: October 20th, 2023

ISR Payloads for Drones & UAV

Unmanned systems, including UAVs (unmanned aerial vehicles), UGVs (unmanned ground vehicles), USVs (uncrewed surface vessels) and UUVs (unmanned underwater vehicles), may carry a variety of sensors and payloads for the purposes of ISR (intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance).

ISR is a military battlefield practice that involves the collection and dissemination of information in order to provide situational intelligence and enable enhanced effectiveness for friendly forces. ISR may be part of or related to other military practices and doctrines such as ISTAR (intelligence, surveillance, target acquisition, and reconnaissance) and C4ISR (command, control, communications, computers, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance).

Common ISR Payloads & Sensors

UAS EO payload

Octopus ISR E175 payload camera by Edge Autonomy for long-range target detection

The most common form of ISR payload for drones and unmanned systems is the EO/IR sensors (electro-optical/infrared). Typically mounted in a stabilized gimbal, these provide functions such as mapping, target acquisition, threat detection, and object tracking both during the day and at night as well as through smoke and haze. The thermal imager may operate on different portions of the infrared spectrum, including LWIR, MWIR and SWIR (long/medium/shortwave infrared). EO/IR gimbals for ISR may also incorporate laser illuminators and rangefinders.

Other imaging payloads for airborne ISR include SAR (synthetic aperture radar) as well as long-range LiDAR scanners. These tend to be quite bulky compared to other imaging payloads, so may only be carried by larger drones with a higher SWaP (size, weight and power) budget. Non-imaging ISR payloads include signals intelligence (SIGINT) and electronic warfare (EW) systems.

Rugged Payloads

Revector Detector IMSI tracking device

IMSI Catcher Drone Payload by Revector

ISR drones and platforms often require high-precision positioning and navigation capabilities. They will thus be equipped with GNSS receivers and GNSS-aided INS (inertial navigation systems). These systems will often be designed to provide tactical-grade performance, and to withstand jamming and spoofing attacks.

ISR payloads and sensors may have to be ruggedized to withstand harsh conditions such as high levels of shock and vibration, dust and sand, and water ingress. Marine and maritime ISR payloads may also have to withstand salt spray and corrosion.

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