ISIS surveillance drone is only an amateurish remote-controlled quad-copter

Drones used by ISIS militants are remotely-controlled products you can buy online for about 500 USD rather than something comparable to real UAVs (Unmanned Aerial Vehicles).

Even though some media outlets reported that ISIS have acquired unmanned capabilities, after a video posted on Youtube showed Islamic militants using a “surveillance drone” in Syria, the technology used by the terrorist organization is something quite amateurish.

Indeed, the footage was filmed by a Phantom FC40, a famous commercial remote-controlled quad-copter that, according to the vendor DJI Innovations, comes with a smart camera, which supports 720p/30fps HD video and can be controlled (and maybe hacked) through an iOS or Android app running over a 2.4G Wi-Fi connection.


Image credit: DIJ

The Phantom FC40 is not a professional system: it is in the “For Everyone” category, meaning that it is ready to fly and almost everyone can safely fly it.

ISIS used this type of UAS to film Tabqa airfield that they later captured.

Even though they probably found the imagery from the Phantom useful to get a rough idea of the enemy positions before the attack, this commercial drone does not enable the militants to scout details out from long distance in real time nor wait for hours until relevant people appears on the scene as real UAVs can do.

In other words, a Phantom FC40 is far from being the sophisticated UAS (Unmanned Air System) that would give ISIS at least a basic unmanned capability as that owned by Hamas. But it gave the militants some exposure and most probably worked for their propaganda purposes.

In July, the military wing of Islamic Resistance Movement Hamas, Al Qassam Brigades, showed footage of an Ababil A1B over Gaza Strip.

H/T to Giuliano Ranieri for the link to the video


About David Cenciotti
David Cenciotti is a journalist based in Rome, Italy. He is the Founder and Editor of “The Aviationist”, one of the world’s most famous and read military aviation blogs. Since 1996, he has written for major worldwide magazines, including Air Forces Monthly, Combat Aircraft, and many others, covering aviation, defense, war, industry, intelligence, crime and cyberwar. He has reported from the U.S., Europe, Australia and Syria, and flown several combat planes with different air forces. He is a former 2nd Lt. of the Italian Air Force, a private pilot and a graduate in Computer Engineering. He has written five books and contributed to many more ones.


  1. How much would the US army have paid for this in ’60 or ’70? I wouldn’t down play the importance of cheap aerial reconnaissance.

  2. Well…

    With a Nikon d800 you have a 36 megapixel image burst gps referenced from a low cost drone. Resolution good enough to pick the single soldier and all you need to strike either mortar and artillery.

    Take on air a 4k camera like the GH4 and again you have high definition video very usable.

    Use a gps programmable drone with autopilot and you have a full reconnaissance system, hard to spot and with almost no IR signature that comes back and lands automatically after the flight.

    Attach a 5kg explosive and you have a flying bomb ready to free fall precisely on the most fortified compound or the most controlled public event.

    All you need is freeware to download, parts on Alibaba, is classified as toy and there is no embargo or arms control that will stop you.

    The press is loosing time on the stupid issue of printed guns (While you need to print a gun when there is no limit in buying a real one?) while in the field drones are getting more and more dangerous.

    • The solution to this problem (in Iraq, not LA) is sigint. These 2.4 ghz transmitters are ridiculously easy to locate even for amateurs.

      I know for a fact that NSA has a program to find and map fixed wifi access points down to meters, and I know from wardriving that I can get almost as close with a moving antenna and $5 worth of hardware.

  3. A UAV is a UAV. I don’t really get all this downplaying… Obviously it’s not military-class equipment, we can all see that, but wouldn’t you think the info it provides could improve ISIS tactics? I think that’s a far more interesting question than whether or not the equipment is “professional”.

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