International Air Forces Demand Smaller, Lighter Sensors for ISR


FLIR Systems' Star SAFIRE 380-HDPARIS -- International militaries and border partrols want smaller, lighter and more resilient sensors that can fit on aircraft most wouldn't consider traditional intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) aircraft, said a FLIR Systems official here at the Paris Air Show at Le Bourget airport.

FLIR Systems showed off their Star SAFIRE 380 HDC sensor pod at Le Bourget, which is designed to fit on helicopters and other aircraft with a small amount of ground clearance.

Andrew Saxton, FLIR's director of marketing for surveillance systems, said he has seen a significant boost in the number of countries looking to mount sensors onto a wide range of aircraft much like the U.S. has done to increase their amount of ISR coverage.

To boost the amount of ISR coverage that U.S. generals requested in Iraq and Afghanistan, the U.S. Air Force introduced a program called Project Liberty in which the service turned MC-12 turbo prop into ISR aircraft in a matter months.

Another trend Saxton said he's seen is the demand to shrink sensors to as small as a thumb nail. Air forces are exploring the utility of nano drones to fly into buildings and swarms targets. Those nano drones need sensors small enough to fit onto a system as small as a human hand.

In fact, FLIR has developed a thermal imagery sensor called Lepton that is no larger than a human finger nail.

It's not just international air forces. International navies are also requesting more ISR coverage especially in the Pacific. China's aggressive movements in the South China Sea has led to an increased demand for maritime ISR aircraft and corresponding sensors.

Saxton pointed out that a maritime environment poses significant challenges, especially when those drones like the Navy's MQ-8 Fire Scout operate off the deck of a ship.

"You're dealing with the corrosion from the salt and then also the sea spray hitting the aircraft," Saxton said.


Michael Hoffman can be reached at

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