ISTAR Military Drones


Military drones UAS & UAVS for ISTAR

In the current day and age, military units understand the strategic & tactical need for unmanned aerial systems (UAS), making them an integral part of their arsenal.

Drones have been around for over 100 years now but started to be used as spy planes by the late 1950s, gathering imagery intelligence without risking any lives. Since then, military drones have undergone rapid developments leading to a wide range of different types of drones.

From drones armed with missiles, ATGMs, or bombs to so-called loitering-munition drones (also known as kamikaze drones) or last-mile transport drones, this unmanned technology fills many new challenges and opens a whole new set of possibilities for military forces worldwide.

Autonomous Military Drone in a box

Martlet military drone series

ISTAR Military drone NATO classification

The current NATO UAS/drone classification divides military drones into three classes based on their weight.

    CLASS 3 represents systems above 600 kg, categorised as High or Medium Altitude Long Endurance drones (HALE/MALE) that can reach an altitude of 10 to 20 km Above Sea Level (ASL). These systems are deployed at the strategic/national level and use satellite communications (SATCOM) for an unlimited range Beyond Line Of Sight (BLOS).

    A military drone within CLASS 2 fits between CLASS 1 and 3, deployed as a tactical tool rather than the more strategic systems in CLASS 3. Although SATCOM is a commonly used way for Command & Control (C2) communications, these systems can also use long-range directional antennas to achieve a 200+ kilometers range within Line Of Sight (LOS).

    CLASS 1 includes all military drones weighing up to 150 kg. Subdivided into three categories, Micro (<2 kg), Mini (<15 kg), and Small >15 kg), these military drone systems have a typical range (radius) of 5 to 50 kilometers using a Line Of Sight (LOS) communication link. Height Technologies focuses on the Micro and Mini Drone category, so we’ll expand on the term: “military drone” from there.

Military ISTAR drone quadcopter

Actionable aerial intelligence

Target Acquisition

CLASS-1 military drones are mostly used for gathering Intelligence in Surveillance, Reconnaissance, and Target Acquisition missions (ISTAR). The term “Target Acquisition” is used for detecting and identifying a target location in sufficient detail to support or permit the employment of lethal or non-lethal techniques.

Portable Communication Relays

CLASS-1 military drones are also deployed as autonomous drone and tethered UAV systems to act as communication relays. The SAMS-T and SAMS-H systems use a tether line that can go up an altitude of 120 meters for an unlimited flight time. This enables operators to set up a portable communication network within a couple of minutes in the most demanding environments.

Military Drone ground control station
Martlet MI-2 with GPS anti-jamming capabilities using the GPSdome GPS protection device

GPS independent flights

Dead Reckoning Capabilities

In case of loss of GNSS/GPS the system automatically initiates Dead Reckoning Mode, enabling it to fly in GPS-denied areas.

Anti-jamming Capabilities

GPSdome adds the first layer of resiliency to keep a GPS FIX during a jamming attack, it neutralizes the attack using a proprietary null-steering algorithm. This patented filtering algorithm creates a new pattern to avoid the interference of strong jamming signals by precisely targeting a “null” in the direction of these interfering signals.

Bingo Time Parameter

The BINGO parameter uses multiple sensors to calculate the remaining mission time before the point of no return. This ensures a timely flight back to the desired landing site, allowing the pilot to fully focus on the mission.

quadcopter Military ISTAR drone

Artillery support and correction

The ISTAR drone contribute to target acquisition thanks to advanced sensors and intelligence capabilities

The micro and mini-UAVs enable valuable support by providing an aerial view of the target and direct artillery fire at the target object. The Martlet military ISTAR drones determine the exact geographical coordinates of objects and calculate various distances on the map, all in real-time.

Discover more tactical capabilities
Military ISTAR drone GCS

Maps & coordinate systems

The software or Ground User Interface (GUI) allows operators to choose between MGRS (Military Grid Reference System), UTM (Universal Transverse Mercator), or GEO coordinates.

In addition, the Martlet GCS software can load custom (military) maps, giving operators better access to more actionable intelligence when interpreting their live video feed with one of their preloaded maps.


Certification: MIL-STD 810G
IP rating: IP65
Encryption: 128-bit AES / 256-bit AES
Custom encryption key: user-definable
Operating frequency: 2050 – 2700 Mhz
Max transmitting distance: 15 km
Military ISTAR Drone


Short-range tactical ISR micro-UAS



+40 minutes
(incl. EO/IR payload)




10 km (with standard datalink)




±120 meter distance



0.2 kg (1.6 kg MTOW)


Discover the Martlet MI-1

Martlet UAS drone
Long endurance Military ISTAR Drone


Long-endurance tactical ISR mini-UAS



+80 minutes
(incl. EO/IR payload)




15 km (with standard datalink)




±150 meter distance



1 kg (4 kg MTOW)


Discover the Martlet MI-2
Multi-mission Military ISTAR Drone


Multi-mission tactical ISR mini-UAS



+90 minutes
(incl. EO/IR payload)




15 km (with standard datalink)




±250 meter distance



3 kg (11 kg MTOW)


Discover the Martlet MI-3

MI-3 flight time vs payload weight


Autonomous Military Drone-in-a-box

for military usage

Smart Aerial Monitoring Systems


unlimited (tethered version)

unlimited / 45 minutes (hybrid version)

55 minutes (free flight version)




20 km (with standard datalink)




100 km/h (hybrid & free-flight version)



3.0 – 3.8 kg


Discover the drone-in-a-box


Frequently asked questions about military drones

    Military drones, also known as unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), are remotely piloted aircraft systems (RPAS) used in military operations. They can be either commercial-off-the-shelf (COTS) drones or drones specifically designed for military purposes. The different types of military drones are defined by factors like their purpose, weight class, and effective range. Military drones serve purposes such as lethal attack missions or intelligence, surveillance, target acquisition, and reconnaissance (ISTAR).

    Both COTS and military off-the-shelf (MOTS) drones are equipped with advanced technologies like sensors, high-resolution cameras, and adapted weapon systems. They are operated remotely from secure locations, minimizing risks for military personnel. COTS drones are commercial drones modified for military use. They typically have day and night cameras and may be modified to carry small projectiles, enabling these systems to deliver payloads or transform into explosive projectiles themselves.

    In contrast, MOTS military drones are purpose-built for military applications. These systems have advanced sensors, and high-performance cameras, and may be equipped with specialized weapon systems, enabling them to handle complex missions in challenging environments. MOTS military drones undergo rigorous testing to ensure reliability, durability, and compatibility with military operations. Additionally, MOTS military drones feature more advanced communication systems (radios) that offer the user more robust communications in contested areas. These advanced radios provide increased resilience against electronic warfare and jamming, ensuring continuous and secure communication channels for military personnel.

    Both COTS and MOTS military drones offer advantages to modern military forces, enhancing efficiency, and precision, and reducing risks. The advanced sensors and cameras provide real-time situational awareness, aiding decision-making and improving the effectiveness of military operations. Furthermore, the more advanced communication systems of MOTS military drones provide a critical advantage in contested areas, enabling reliable and uninterrupted communication between the drone operator and military command, even in the presence of hostile interference.

    Military drones, including both commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) and military off-the-shelf (MOTS) variants, play a vital role in modern warfare, providing real-time intelligence, reducing risks to human life, and enabling precise operations. These military drones are utilized in training exercises to enhance military personnel skills and prove invaluable in search and rescue missions, particularly in disaster-stricken areas where human intervention can be hazardous.

    It is noteworthy that MOTS drones, specifically designed for military applications, offer distinct advantages over COTS drones. MOTS military drones incorporate advanced technologies, including high-performance cameras with optical zoom and high-resolution night-vision capabilities, allowing these systems to capture detailed information from larger distances. This grants enhanced situational awareness and intelligence-gathering capabilities. In contrast, COTS drones, equipped with less sophisticated cameras, may have limitations in capturing fine details from significant distances.

    To summarize, military drones, whether COTS or MOTS, significantly contribute to modern warfare by providing crucial real-time intelligence. They enhance operational efficiency, enabling precise and accurate mission execution. Additionally, they serve as valuable tools in training exercises and offer essential support in search and rescue operations, highlighting their pivotal role in military activities. The technological advancements in MOTS military drones, such as optical zoom capabilities, further amplify their ability to gather detailed information from extended distances, providing military forces with a distinct advantage in intelligence gathering and situational awareness.

    It is also important to mention that both MOTS and COTS military drones can be utilized in a lethal capacity by carrying and deploying explosives. This includes the use of loitering munition drones, which are designed to autonomously locate and engage targets, as well as drones that can drop explosives with precision. These capabilities provide military forces with additional options for conducting offensive operations with increased accuracy and reduced risk to personnel.

    Military drones rely on a combination of remote-control systems, autonomous features, and Command, Control, Communications, Computers, Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance (C4ISR) capabilities. Military drone operators use a ground control station (GCS) equipped with consoles, screens, and communication systems to remotely pilot the drones. The GCS facilitates real-time video and data transmission to the operator and enables command issuance, playing a vital role in C4ISR operations.

    The autonomous capabilities of military drones, such as pre-programmed flight paths, significantly reduce the workload of operators. These drones are equipped with advanced artificial intelligence and machine learning algorithms that analyze data and make critical decisions. These capabilities include target acquisition for fire support and real-time flight adjustments, enhancing the efficiency and effectiveness of military operations.

    A notable feature of military drones is the “silent mode,” where military drones can be preconfigured to fly a certain route without continuous communication with the ground control system. This mode reduces vulnerability to communication-jamming attempts, making the drones more effective in contested areas. However, it also increases the risk of losing the drone due to the inability of the pilot/operator to intervene during GNSS jamming attacks, which can disrupt the Global Navigation Satellite System (GNSS) used for positioning and navigation.

    In addition, MOTS drones, unlike COTS drones, feature more advanced communication systems, often Software Defined Radios (SDR). These SDRs provide several benefits, including the ability to hop between frequencies in case of communication-jamming attacks. By dynamically changing frequencies, MOTS drones can mitigate the impact of jamming attempts, ensuring that communication channels remain open and operational. The use of SDRs in MOTS drones demonstrates their adaptability and resilience in contested environments.

    In summary, military drones combine human and machine intelligence with C4ISR capabilities for effective and safe operation. The integration of remote-control systems, autonomous features, and C4ISR enables seamless communication, real-time data analysis, and informed decision-making. The “silent mode” feature enhances the resilience of military drones against communication interference, and the implementation of advanced communication systems, such as SDRs in MOTS drones, further strengthens their ability to maintain robust communications in contested areas. However, it is important to address the risk of GNSS jamming attacks to ensure the reliability and effectiveness of military drone operations.

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Gijsbert [GB] Thijsen

Tech Consultant