REPORT – Operating Drones Low Above Ground and in Complex Terrain: Unique Challenges and Innovative Solutions


Operating drones low above ground and in complex terrain presents significant challenges. Traditional drone controls, which rely on line-of-sight and uninterrupted satellite-based navigation, fall short in these demanding environments. To endure in a GNSS-contested environment and operate indoors or underground, standard drones must overcome substantial limitations. Specialized drone platforms designed for subterranean or indoor environments require unique networking, sensing, navigation, and control systems to perform effectively.

One of the primary challenges in operating drones in complex terrains is the loss of GNSS signals, which are essential for traditional navigation systems. GNSS signals can be obstructed by natural features such as mountains, forests, and urban structures, rendering many drones incapable of maintaining stable flight paths. This issue is exacerbated in subterranean environments, where GNSS signals are completely unavailable.

To navigate these challenging environments, drones must rely on alternative positioning and navigation systems. Inertial navigation systems (INS) are commonly used, but they tend to drift over time, leading to cumulative errors. Visual odometry, which uses camera systems to track movement by analyzing the motion of features in the environment, offers a solution but requires significant computational power and is susceptible to errors in low-light or featureless conditions.

Advanced sensing technologies are crucial for drones operating in these environments. LiDAR (Light Detection and Ranging) systems have become a staple in subterranean and complex terrain operations. LiDAR works by emitting laser pulses and measuring the time it takes for them to return after hitting an object, creating a detailed 3D map of the surroundings. This allows drones to navigate with high precision, avoiding obstacles and mapping unknown areas.

However, LiDAR systems have limitations, particularly in dusty or smoky environments where laser signals can be scattered. To overcome this, some drones are equipped with radar systems, which use radio waves to detect objects and are less affected by environmental conditions. Combining LiDAR and radar systems can provide more robust and reliable navigation capabilities.

Networking is another critical aspect of operating drones in complex terrains. In GNSS-contested environments, maintaining a stable communication link between the drone and its operator is challenging. Traditional radio frequency (RF) communication can be unreliable due to signal reflections, multipath interference, and obstructions. Mesh networking, where each drone acts as a node that can relay data to other drones or a central control station, offers a solution. This allows for more flexible and resilient communication networks that can adapt to the environment.

Moreover, advances in autonomous navigation and control algorithms have significantly enhanced the capabilities of drones in these challenging environments. Machine learning and artificial intelligence (AI) algorithms enable drones to interpret sensor data, make real-time decisions, and adapt to changing conditions without human intervention. These technologies are particularly useful in mission-specific roles such as autonomous mapping, where drones can explore and map an area without direct control from an operator.

FPV (First Person View) operation, where the drone pilot uses a headset to see through the drone’s camera in real-time, is another technique used in complex terrains. This approach is particularly useful in search and rescue operations, allowing the pilot to navigate through tight spaces and locate victims more effectively. FPV operation requires low-latency, high-resolution video transmission to provide the pilot with accurate situational awareness.

Drones used in these environments are often equipped with specialized payloads tailored to their specific missions. Autonomous mappers may carry high-resolution cameras, LiDAR scanners, and other sensors to create detailed maps of the environment. Lead elements in search and rescue missions may be equipped with thermal imaging cameras to detect heat signatures of trapped individuals. Armed effectors, used in military or law enforcement operations, may carry non-lethal or lethal payloads to neutralize threats.

The development and deployment of drones for complex terrains and GNSS-contested environments have seen significant advancements in recent years. For instance, the DARPA Subterranean (SubT) Challenge has driven innovation in this field by encouraging the development of autonomous systems capable of navigating underground environments. Participants in the SubT Challenge have demonstrated a range of technologies, from advanced mapping and navigation systems to collaborative multi-drone operations.

In practical applications, drones have been used in various complex terrains with notable success. In mining operations, drones equipped with LiDAR and other sensors are used to inspect tunnels and shafts, providing valuable data on structural integrity and detecting potential hazards. In disaster response scenarios, drones have been deployed to assess damage, locate survivors, and deliver supplies in areas inaccessible to ground vehicles.

One of the most critical aspects of operating drones in these environments is ensuring their reliability and safety. Redundancy in critical systems, such as power supplies, sensors, and communication links, is essential to prevent failures during missions. Additionally, robust fail-safe mechanisms must be in place to ensure that drones can return to a safe location or land safely in the event of a malfunction.

The regulatory landscape for drone operations in complex terrains is also evolving. Authorities are developing guidelines and standards to ensure the safe and effective use of drones in these environments. This includes regulations on drone design, operation, and pilot certification. Compliance with these regulations is essential for the widespread adoption and integration of drones into various industries.

As technology continues to advance, the capabilities of drones operating in complex terrains and GNSS-contested environments will only improve. The integration of quantum sensing technologies, for example, could revolutionize drone navigation by providing ultra-precise measurements of physical properties such as magnetic fields, gravitational forces, and rotation rates. This would enable drones to navigate with unprecedented accuracy, even in the most challenging conditions.

The potential applications of drones in these environments are vast and varied. In addition to their current uses in mining, disaster response, and military operations, drones could play a critical role in infrastructure inspection, environmental monitoring, and agricultural management. For example, drones equipped with advanced sensors could inspect pipelines, bridges, and other critical infrastructure for signs of wear and damage, providing early warning of potential failures.

In environmental monitoring, drones could be used to track wildlife, monitor deforestation, and assess the impact of climate change on remote ecosystems. Agricultural drones could survey fields, monitor crop health, and optimize irrigation and fertilization, leading to more sustainable and efficient farming practices.

Innovations in Subterranean Drone Operations: The RAFAEL Magic Fly System

Operating drones low above the ground and in complex terrains presents unique challenges, primarily because most drone controls are limited to line-of-sight and uninterrupted satellite-based navigation. In GNSS-contested environments or indoor and underground settings, standard drones are unable to function effectively. To overcome these obstacles, specialized drone platforms are required, equipped with unique networking, sensing, navigation, and control capabilities.

RAFAEL Advanced Defense Systems has developed the Magic Fly System, a suite of drones designed for subterranean or indoor environments. This system represents a significant leap in drone technology, offering robust solutions for complex missions where traditional drones fall short.

RAFAEL’s Magic Fly System: A Technological Marvel

The RAFAEL Magic Fly System includes two primary drones: the Magic Fly Raven and the Magic Fly Nano. These drones are designed to work in tandem, providing comprehensive coverage and support for various mission types.

Magic Fly Raven

The Magic Fly Raven is a larger drone equipped with an extensive battery life, enabling it to undertake longer missions. It carries multiple sensors, allowing it to autonomously generate detailed maps of indoor spaces. As a robotic teammate, the Magic Fly Raven can operate autonomously for up to 15 minutes in any terrain, including GPS-denied environments. It serves as a pathfinder, creating a 3D map of the target area and automatically detecting potential hostile targets or weapons using its advanced Automatic Target Recognition (ATR) capabilities.

Magic Fly Nano

When the team advances, they deploy a swarm of Magic Fly Nano drones. These smaller drones can navigate through narrow passages thanks to their compact size and low acoustic signature. The Nano drones are equipped with sensors that complement the Raven’s 3D mapping by providing 2D maps and assisting the team in close-quarter battles. This capability is crucial for establishing first contact in multi-story operations.

Operational Effectiveness Demonstrated

Visuals released by the IDF special operations forces indicate that the Magic Fly System is fully developed and operational, having been utilized in recent activities. This real-world application underscores the system’s reliability and effectiveness in complex environments.

Enabling Safe Exploration of Unknown Surroundings

The Magic Fly System is a mature and highly complex technological solution designed for Close Quarters Battle (CQB) in urban and indoor operations. It combines the Magic Fly Raven and Magic Fly Nano drones with a portable Ground Control Station (GCS). This system meets ARX requirements by reducing the cognitive load on soldiers, improving decision-making processes, and offering scalable effects.

The Magic Fly System integrates RAFAEL’s advanced artificial intelligence with multiple small platforms fitted with various sensors, enabling the platforms to autonomously explore their surroundings and fuse all the information in real-time during the mission.

Image: MAGIC FLY – Autonomous Robotic System for Complex Environments – source RAFAEL –

Technological Innovation

The Magic Fly System is modular and scalable, incorporating cutting-edge automation, navigation, computer vision, and machine learning into its drone platforms. Key capabilities include:

  • 360° Obstacle Avoidance: Ensures the drones can navigate complex terrains without collision.
  • Day and Night Operation: Allows the drones to operate effectively in various lighting conditions.
  • Automatic Target/Human Recognition: Enhances the drones’ ability to identify and classify objects and individuals.
  • LIDAR-Based Navigation: Provides precise navigation capabilities in GPS-denied environments.
  • Sub-GHz Communication: Enables signal penetration through walls, essential for indoor missions.

Mission Management

The Ground Control Station (GCS) allows a single soldier to manage the mission through AI-based mission planning and reporting. This results in real-time feedback and helps soldiers maintain local situational awareness. Communication between the GCS and the drone platforms is continuous, but in cases where communication is interrupted, the drones save all information and transmit it once the connection is restored.

Multiple Mission Applications

RAFAEL’s Magic Fly System is versatile and can be used in various scenarios. It is ideal for military and special forces engaged in clearance or defensive operations, as well as government agencies involved in security and intelligence gathering. Beyond military applications, the system is also invaluable for humanitarian aid, disaster relief, and rescue operations following natural disasters, such as earthquakes, where locating survivors quickly is critical.

Enhancing Mission Capabilities with Advanced AI and Automation

RAFAEL’s Magic Fly System leverages advanced AI and automation to enhance mission capabilities. The integration of these technologies into the drone platforms enables them to operate with minimal human intervention, reducing the risk to soldiers and increasing the efficiency of operations.

AI-Driven Mission Planning

The AI-driven mission planning capabilities of the Magic Fly System allow for precise and efficient execution of complex missions. The system can analyze the mission parameters and autonomously plan the best course of action, taking into account various factors such as terrain, obstacles, and potential threats.

Real-Time Data Fusion and Analysis

During the mission, the Magic Fly drones continuously gather data from their sensors and fuse this information in real-time. This data fusion capability allows the system to provide a comprehensive and up-to-date situational awareness to the operators, enabling them to make informed decisions quickly.

Scalable Effects for Diverse Mission Requirements

The Magic Fly System’s scalable effects are achieved through its modular design and the integration of various sensors and payloads. This allows the system to be customized for different mission requirements, from reconnaissance and surveillance to direct engagement and support.

RAFAEL’s Magic Fly System represents a significant advancement in drone technology, offering robust solutions for subterranean and indoor operations. Its modular and scalable design, coupled with advanced AI and automation, makes it a versatile and effective tool for a wide range of applications. Whether used in military operations, security and intelligence gathering, or humanitarian aid and disaster relief, the Magic Fly System enhances mission capabilities and provides a strategic advantage in complex environments.

Elbit Systems’ Lanius: Revolutionizing Indoor Combat Drone Technology

Elbit Systems has developed a highly advanced drone sensor built specifically for indoor combat, known as Lanius. This search and attack system is packed into a single, lightweight platform that weighs just 1.25 kg and carries a payload of 150 grams. Despite its compact size, Lanius is equipped with sophisticated AI technology that enables autonomous navigation both outdoors and indoors. It excels in mapping, obstacle avoidance, and scanning buildings to identify openings, detect enemies, and classify targets. It can even handle target incrimination by humans and machines, ensuring precise lethality.- (resource data :

Deployment and Operational Capabilities

Lanius can be launched from a larger drone, allowing it to be deployed close to the target area. Once deployed, it can operate inside buildings for up to seven minutes. One of its notable features is the Ambush mode, which allows Lanius to perch and wait for hostiles to appear, ready to engage when necessary.

Drone-Based Loitering Munition for Complex Environments

Part of the Legion-X robotic and autonomous combat solution, Lanius is designed as a highly maneuverable and versatile drone-based loitering munition for short-range operations in urban environments. It can autonomously scout and map buildings and points of interest, detecting and classifying potential threats. Lanius integrates seamlessly with Elbit Systems’ Legion-X solutions, enhancing its operational effectiveness.

Operational Advantages

Lanius offers several operational advantages, making it a formidable tool in complex environments:

  • BLOS ISR and Attack Capabilities: Lanius combines search and attack functionalities, making it ideal for Beyond Line of Sight (BLOS) intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) missions.
  • Target Engagement: The system is equipped to engage targets with a man-in-the-loop control, ensuring precise and controlled engagement.
  • Extreme Maneuverability: Lanius’s design allows for high-speed engagement and extreme maneuverability, crucial for navigating tight indoor spaces.
  • Minimal User Interaction: The Hands-off Mission Termination (HMT) mode minimizes the need for user interaction, allowing operators to focus on mission-critical decisions.
  • Electronic Safe and Arm: This feature ensures that the drone’s weapon systems are safely armed and disarmed, reducing the risk of accidental engagements.
  • Low Collateral Damage: The precision of Lanius’s targeting systems helps minimize collateral damage during operations.

Key Features

Lanius incorporates several key features that enhance its performance and versatility:

  • Legion-X Compatibility: Lanius is fully compatible with Elbit Systems’ Legion-X solutions, enabling seamless integration into broader tactical operations.
  • Racer Quadcopter Drone Frame and Motor: This design provides the necessary speed and agility for rapid engagements.
  • Navigation and Mapping: Lanius excels in both indoor and outdoor navigation and mapping, with capabilities to transition seamlessly between the two environments.
  • Onboard Computing Power: The drone is equipped with significant onboard computing power to support advanced AI algorithms for collision avoidance, mapping, and target classification.
  • Communication: Lanius utilizes Wi-Fi or Software-Defined Radio (SDR) communication, ensuring robust and reliable connectivity during missions.
  • High Autonomy: As a highly autonomous tactical Small Unmanned Aerial System (sUAS), Lanius can operate independently, reducing the workload on human operators and enhancing mission efficiency.

Applications in Modern Warfare

Lanius’s advanced capabilities make it suitable for a wide range of applications in modern warfare. It is an invaluable tool for special forces, military units, law enforcement agencies, and homeland security operations. Its ability to scout, map, and engage threats autonomously makes it ideal for urban combat scenarios where traditional methods may falter.

Humanitarian and Civilian Applications

Beyond its military applications, Lanius can also be used in humanitarian and civilian contexts. For instance, it can assist in search and rescue operations following natural disasters, where navigating through rubble and debris is crucial for locating survivors. Its advanced mapping and obstacle avoidance capabilities ensure it can operate effectively in such challenging environments.

Elbit Systems’ Lanius represents a significant leap forward in indoor combat drone technology. Its compact size, advanced AI capabilities, and seamless integration with broader combat solutions make it a versatile and powerful tool for modern warfare. As drone technology continues to evolve, innovations like Lanius will play a crucial role in shaping the future of combat and humanitarian operations, offering new ways to approach complex and challenging environments.

Xtend’s Indoor Drones

Xtend, a specialist in indoor drones, has made significant strides in the development of unmanned aerial systems (UAS) tailored for indoor environments. Their flagship product, the Xtender, is a miniature drone that offers intuitive control through a hand controller and virtual reality (VR) goggles, which display the drone’s view to the remote operator. This advanced multirotor UAS is specifically designed for indoor use, making it a versatile tool for a variety of missions.

The Xtender’s design emphasizes adaptability and precision. As a multi-mission robot, it is equipped with high-definition cameras and other sensors that are essential for surveillance missions. These features allow the drone to capture detailed images and videos, providing operators with critical real-time information. Moreover, the Xtender can carry additional effectors, enabling operators to engage targets if necessary. This combination of surveillance and engagement capabilities makes the Xtender a valuable asset in various operational scenarios.

Central to the Xtender’s functionality is Xtend’s proprietary OSX operating system, which implements human-assisted autonomy. This system automates many aspects of drone operation, including navigation, situational awareness, hovering, and station-keeping. By reducing the need for manual control, the OSX operating system allows operators to focus on mission objectives rather than piloting the drone. Additionally, the system supports the simultaneous operation of multiple drones, displaying sensor views from each drone to provide comprehensive situational awareness.

Xtend offers several models tailored for different indoor operations. The Xtender Mini is built specifically for indoor environments, offering enhanced maneuverability and precision in confined spaces. For both indoor and outdoor use, the standard Xtender model can carry a payload of 1-1.5 kg and has lethal capabilities if required. The Scorpio model, also suitable for both indoor and outdoor use, further expands operational possibilities with its advanced features.

One of the most notable advancements by Xtend is the development of a new micro tactical indoor Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance (ISR) system. This system enables any operator to perform precise remote multi-mission tasks in complex environments. The Xtender can enter remote target sites, conduct reconnaissance and data collection tasks with extreme accuracy, and seamlessly exit, regardless of indoor-outdoor transition limitations and GPS-denied locations. This capability ensures that the drone can operate effectively in various environments without being hindered by traditional constraints.

The ability to control teams of drones and remotely manage payloads deployed indoors significantly enhances operational effectiveness. This feature allows operators to influence the operational scenario actively, coordinating multiple drones to achieve mission objectives. The coordination of multiple drones provides a broader view of the operational environment, enabling more informed decision-making and rapid response to dynamic situations.

Xtend’s indoor drones are designed with user-friendliness in mind. The use of VR goggles for control provides an immersive experience, allowing operators to navigate complex indoor environments with ease. The hand controller is intuitive, making it accessible to operators with varying levels of experience. This combination of advanced technology and ease of use makes Xtend’s drones a preferred choice for indoor operations across various sectors.

The versatility of Xtend’s drones extends to their applications. In law enforcement, they are used for surveillance and reconnaissance in scenarios where it is unsafe or impractical to deploy personnel. In military operations, they provide critical intelligence and can engage targets in confined spaces, enhancing operational capabilities. In industrial settings, they are used for inspection and monitoring of facilities, reducing the need for manual inspections and improving safety.

The development of Xtend’s indoor drones is a testament to the company’s commitment to innovation and excellence in the field of unmanned systems. By continually improving their technology and expanding the capabilities of their drones, Xtend is setting new standards for indoor UAS operations. The integration of advanced sensors, autonomous systems, and user-friendly controls ensures that their drones remain at the forefront of the industry, meeting the evolving needs of their customers.

In conclusion, Xtend’s indoor drones represent a significant advancement in unmanned aerial technology. The Xtender and its variants offer unparalleled capabilities for indoor operations, combining advanced technology with intuitive controls to provide operators with a powerful tool for a variety of missions. As the field of indoor UAS continues to evolve, Xtend remains a leader, pushing the boundaries of what is possible and setting new benchmarks for performance and reliability.

Robotican’s Rooster

Robotican, an Israeli company known for developing advanced robotic systems, has introduced an innovative indoor drone called the Rooster. This flying multirotor drone, encapsulated in a robust roll cage, represents a significant advancement in drone technology, particularly for subterranean and indoor operations. The Rooster’s unique design and capabilities make it a versatile tool for various applications, including search and rescue, inspection, and surveillance missions in environments where traditional drones face limitations.

The roll cage is a critical feature that sets the Rooster apart from other drones. This energy-efficient configuration enables the Rooster to move on the ground and ‘jump’ to maneuver above obstacles. The ability to switch between ground and aerial movement allows the Rooster to navigate complex environments with ease, making it particularly suitable for subterranean operations such as cave exploration, mining inspections, and tunnel reconnaissance. The roll cage protects the drone from collisions and falls, ensuring it can operate in tight and cluttered spaces without sustaining damage.

One of the most remarkable features of the Rooster is its ability to silently perch and act as an overwatch. This capability is crucial for surveillance and reconnaissance missions where maintaining a low profile is essential. By perching, the Rooster can conserve energy while providing a continuous feed of video and other sensor data. This functionality is complemented by the drone’s use of a mesh radio network, which allows it to operate efficiently in communications-denied areas. The mesh network enables seamless relay functions among all network members, ensuring robust and reliable communication even in challenging environments.

The Rooster’s endurance is another key advantage. While many mini and nano drones are limited to a few minutes or up to 15 minutes of flight, the Rooster can fly for up to 15 minutes and operate for an additional 40 minutes on the ground. This extended operational time makes it ideal for missions that require prolonged presence and extensive coverage. The Rooster’s typical mission time ranges from 8 to 90 minutes, depending on the specific operational requirements and conditions.

Developed by Robotican in collaboration with the Israeli Ministry of Defense’s Directorate of Defense Research and Development (DDR&D), the Rooster is a testament to the cutting-edge innovation in the field of unmanned systems. Robotican has also integrated the Rooster with Ghost Robotics’ V60 quadruped (legged) unmanned ground vehicle (Q-UGV). This cooperative mission system combines the strengths of a legged robot dog with the Rooster drone, creating a versatile and resilient team capable of tackling complex and dynamic environments.

The specifications of the Rooster highlight its advanced design and capabilities. Weighing 1450 grams with a payload option of 300 grams, the Rooster strikes a balance between lightweight construction and functional versatility. It has a maximum roll time of 45 minutes and a maximum hovering time of 12 minutes, providing ample operational flexibility. The Rooster’s communication frequency ranges from 2.1 to 2.5 GHz, with specific bands at 2.3, 2.4, and 2.5 GHz. The mesh communication topology supports three platforms, ensuring effective coordination and data sharing among multiple units.

The Rooster is equipped with a camera system that offers multiple modes: day, low light, and near-infrared (NIR). This versatility allows the drone to operate effectively in various lighting conditions, enhancing its surveillance and reconnaissance capabilities. The video format and resolution options include 1080p, 720p, and 480p, catering to different operational needs and data requirements. The camera lens provides a 130° horizontal field of view (HFOV) and a 90° vertical field of view (VFOV), ensuring a comprehensive visual coverage of the operational area.

The integration of the Rooster with Ghost Robotics’ V60 quadruped UGV exemplifies the innovative approach to unmanned systems. The V60, a highly mobile and agile legged robot, can navigate rough and uneven terrain that traditional wheeled or tracked robots might find challenging. When paired with the Rooster, the V60 can extend its operational capabilities by providing aerial reconnaissance and surveillance, thus creating a synergistic effect that enhances the overall mission effectiveness.

The combination of the Rooster and the V60 in a cooperative mission system offers several strategic advantages. First, it allows for a comprehensive approach to mission planning and execution, where the strengths of each platform are leveraged to overcome the limitations of the other. For instance, the V60 can carry the Rooster to a strategic location, from where the drone can take off and provide aerial support. This combined operation is particularly useful in complex environments such as urban areas, disaster zones, and battlefield scenarios.

Moreover, the integration of aerial and ground capabilities provides a layered approach to intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) missions. The Rooster can offer a bird’s-eye view of the area, identifying threats, obstacles, and points of interest, while the V60 can navigate through the terrain to investigate further or engage with targets. This layered ISR capability enhances situational awareness and decision-making, providing operators with real-time data from multiple perspectives.

The Rooster’s ability to operate in communications-denied environments is a significant asset for military and defense applications. In many operational scenarios, maintaining reliable communication links is a challenge due to jamming, terrain obstacles, or infrastructure damage. The mesh radio network utilized by the Rooster ensures that communication remains intact by allowing each unit to act as a relay, thus extending the overall communication range and robustness. This capability is particularly valuable in search and rescue operations, where maintaining contact with the rescue team and the command center is critical.

In addition to its military applications, the Rooster has significant potential in commercial and civilian sectors. For instance, in the field of industrial inspection, the Rooster can navigate through confined spaces such as pipelines, tanks, and machinery to perform detailed inspections and gather data. Its ability to perch and provide continuous monitoring makes it an ideal tool for structural inspections, maintenance assessments, and safety checks. In the context of disaster response, the Rooster can be deployed to assess damage, locate survivors, and provide real-time information to first responders, thus enhancing the efficiency and effectiveness of rescue efforts.

The development of the Rooster is a reflection of the broader trends in the unmanned systems industry, where there is a growing emphasis on versatility, autonomy, and operational resilience. As technology continues to advance, we can expect to see further innovations in drone design and capabilities, leading to even more sophisticated and effective unmanned systems.

Robotican’s Rooster stands out as a prime example of how innovative engineering and strategic collaboration can lead to the creation of cutting-edge technologies that address real-world challenges. Its unique design, advanced capabilities, and versatile applications make it a valuable asset for a wide range of missions, from military operations to industrial inspections and disaster response. As the field of unmanned systems continues to evolve, the Rooster represents a significant step forward in the quest for more capable, reliable, and adaptable drones.

APPENDIX 1 – Comprehensive Overview of Advanced Military Drones for Subterranean and Indoor Environments

The development of military drones for use in subterranean and indoor environments has seen significant advancements. Here is a detailed look at various state-of-the-art drone platforms, their capabilities, and technical specifications.

DARPA Subterranean Challenge

The DARPA Subterranean Challenge has driven innovation in subterranean operations, resulting in advanced autonomous systems designed for mapping and navigating underground environments like caves and tunnels. These technologies enhance the operational capabilities of warfighters in challenging underground scenarios​ .

Xtend’s Skylord Xtender

This drone is specifically designed for indoor and urban environments. It features 3D video, AI, and gesture control, making it suitable for Close Quarters Battle (CQB) and counter-IED missions. It is highly maneuverable and capable of operating in GPS-denied environments​ ​.

Performance Drone Works (PDW) C100

The C100 is a heavy-lift quadcopter capable of over 80 minutes of flight with a payload of up to 30 lbs. It features a modular open architecture and AES-256 encrypted data links, making it suitable for ISR and cargo delivery in contested environments​ ​.

Skydio Drones

Skydio offers drones with AI-driven obstacle avoidance, thermal cameras, and capabilities for GPS-denied environments. These drones are portable and can provide significant situational awareness advantages in both urban and complex terrains​ ​.

Sky-Hero LOKI Mk2US

This indoor tactical drone is NDAA-compliant and optimized for close-quarter scouting missions. It features a Day-Night + IR sensor camera and can fly in complete darkness. It is capable of rapid deployment and is highly maneuverable indoors​ ​.

Easy Aerial Osprey

A robust hexacopter with carbon composite construction, the Osprey can carry up to 6.6 lbs of payload with a flight time of 55 minutes. It is designed to operate in all weather conditions and supports a range of payloads including thermal cameras and radar​ ​.

Flightwave Edge 130

A military-grade tricopter with a 125-minute flight time, the Edge 130 is designed for long-range mapping and reconnaissance. It features VTOL capabilities and can withstand wind speeds up to 40 mph, making it versatile for various mission requirements​ ​.

Simrex X300C Mini Drone

A small, affordable indoor drone with a 10-minute flight time and a 1920 x 1080 camera. It is ideal for basic reconnaissance and training in indoor environments​ .

DJI Mini 3 Pro

This lightweight drone offers high-quality 4K video and is equipped with collision sensors. It is suitable for both indoor and outdoor use, providing high-resolution imaging and raw photography capabilities​ ​.

MQ-9 Reaper

A well-known military drone with a 14-hour endurance, capable of high-altitude and long-endurance missions. It is widely used by various branches of the U.S. military for surveillance and targeted strikes​ ​.

MQ-1 Predator

An older model, now replaced by the MQ-9 Reaper, this drone was used extensively for reconnaissance and combat missions. It has a 24-hour endurance and a range of 777 miles​.

MQ-8 Fire Scout

A versatile drone used by the U.S. Navy for reconnaissance, fire support, and precision targeting. It features a four-blade rotor system and has an endurance of 8 hours​ ​.

Bayraktar TB2

A Turkish MALE UCAV used for various combat operations worldwide. It has found applications in conflicts such as the Second Nagorno-Karabakh War and the Russian invasion of Ukraine​.

Sukhoi S-70 Okhotnik-B

A Russian stealth combat drone with a range of 6,000 kilometers and a payload capacity of almost three tons. It is designed to operate in tandem with the Su-57 jet fighter​ ​.

XQ-58A Valkyrie

An advanced UAV designed for collaborative missions with manned aircraft. It offers stealth capabilities and high maneuverability for combat scenarios​​.

Bayraktar Kizilema

Another Turkish UAV, this stealth drone is designed for high-altitude operations with a combat radius of 500 nautical miles and a payload capacity of 1,500 kg​.

Hongdu GJ-11

A Chinese stealth UAV known for its high-speed maneuvers and internal weapons bay. It has a range of 4,000 km and a top speed of 621 mph​ .

Alta X

A high-performance drone from Freefly Systems, known for its payload capacity and adaptability. It is suitable for a range of professional and industrial applications​.

Sky-Drones NELK 4

Designed for indoor reconnaissance, the NELK 4 offers advanced navigation and mapping capabilities in confined spaces. It is equipped with sophisticated sensors and AI for enhanced situational awareness​​.

UK’s Shotgun-Armed Drone Prototype

Developed for indoor fighting, this hexacopter is armed with a shotgun for tactical operations in confined environments. It is a joint project by the UK’s MoD’s Strategic Command and an unidentified company​.

These drones represent the forefront of military technology, designed to operate in the most challenging environments while providing critical support for a wide range of missions.

FeatureDARPA Subterranean ChallengeXtend Skylord XtenderPDW C100Skydio DronesSky-Hero LOKI Mk2USEasy Aerial OspreyFlightwave Edge 130Simrex X300C Mini DroneDJI Mini 3 ProMQ-9 ReaperMQ-1 PredatorMQ-8 Fire ScoutBayraktar TB2Sukhoi S-70 Okhotnik-BXQ-58A ValkyrieBayraktar KizilemaHongdu GJ-11Alta XSky-Drones NELK 4UK’s Shotgun-Armed Drone
Primary UseSubterranean mapping & navigationIndoor urban operationsHeavy-lift cargo, ISRISR, situational awarenessIndoor tactical scoutingVersatile missionsLong-range mapping & reconBasic reconnaissanceHigh-quality imagingHigh-altitude, long-enduranceAerial reconnaissance & combatReconnaissance, fire supportCombat operationsStealth combat operationsCollaborative missionsHigh-altitude operationsHigh-speed maneuversProfessional & industrial useIndoor reconnaissanceIndoor tactical operations
NavigationAutonomous systems, AI3D video, AI, gesture controlModular open architectureAI-driven obstacle avoidanceDay-Night + IR sensor cameraDual quick-attach fittingsVTOL, long enduranceWi-FiRadio ControlHigh altitudeMedium-altitude, long-enduranceFour-blade main rotorAdvanced sensor packageStealth technologyAI-driven autonomyStealth technologyStealth technologyPayload capacityAdvanced navigation & mappingTactical navigation
CommunicationSecure data linksNot specifiedAES-256 encrypted data linkSecure multi-bandNDAA-compliant componentsRobust communicationRobust communicationWi-FiRadio ControlSecure data linksSecure data linksSecure data linksSecure data linksSecure data linksSecure data linksSecure data linksSecure data linksSecure communicationSecure communicationSecure communication
Payload CapacityN/ALight payloadsUp to 30 lbsLight payloadsSmall, lightweightUp to 6.6 lbsLight payloadsSmall payloadLightweight, 249gHigh payload capacityHigh payload capacityHigh payload capacityHigh payload capacityHigh payload capacityMedium payload capacityHigh payload capacityHigh payload capacityHigh payload capacityMedium payload capacityArmed with a shotgun
Flight TimeN/AApproximately 10 minutesOver 80 minutesExtended flight timesApproximately 10 minutes55 minutes125 minutes10 minutes31 minutes14 hours24 hours8 hours24 hoursExtended flight timesExtended flight times5 hoursExtended flight timesExtended flight timesExtended flight timesShort flight times
Operational EnvironmentUnderground, GPS-denied, dark environmentsIndoor, GPS-denied, urban environmentsHarsh weather, contested environmentsLow-altitude, complex environmentsIndoor, GPS-denied environmentsAll-weather, contested environmentsVaried environmentsIndoor environmentsIndoor and outdoor environmentsAll-weatherAll-weatherAll-weatherAll-weatherAll-weatherAll-weatherAll-weatherAll-weatherAll-weatherIndoor environmentsIndoor environments
DeploymentRapid deployment in challenging environmentsEasy control with minimal trainingMan-packable, quick deploymentPortable, rapid integrationRapid deploymentEasy deploymentEasy transport and deploymentEasy deploymentPortable, easy deploymentDeployed by multiple branchesDeployed by multiple branchesDeployed by multiple branchesDeployed by multiple branchesDeployed by multiple branchesDeployed by multiple branchesDeployed by multiple branchesDeployed by multiple branchesEasy deploymentEasy deploymentEasy deployment

The summarized table provides a comprehensive comparison of various advanced military drones designed for subterranean and indoor environments. These drones exhibit a range of capabilities, from high-endurance flight and heavy payload capacity to advanced navigation and secure communication systems. This diversity allows for a wide array of tactical applications, ensuring that military forces can maintain operational efficiency in even the most challenging environments.

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