ISTAR stands for intelligence, surveillance, target acquisition, and reconnaissance. In its macroscopic sense, ISTAR is a practice that links several battlefield functions together to assist a combat force in employing its sensors and managing the information they gather.
Information is collected on the battlefield through systematic observation by deployed soldiers and a variety of electronic sensors. Surveillance, target acquisition and reconnaissance are methods of obtaining this information. The information is then passed to intelligence personnel for analysis, and then to the commander and their staff for the formulation of battle plans. Intelligence is processed information that is relevant and contributes to an understanding of the ground, and of enemy dispositions and intents. Intelligence failures can happen.
ISR (Intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance)
ISR is the coordinated and integrated acquisition, processing and provision of timely, accurate, relevant, coherent and assured information and intelligence to support commander's conduct of activities. Land, sea, air and space platforms have critical ISR roles in supporting operations in general. By massing ISR assets, an improved clarity and depth of knowledge can be established. ISR encompasses multiple activities related to the planning and operation of systems that collect, process, and disseminate data in support of current and future military operations.
On 28 July 2021 the NDAA budget markup by the House Armed Services Committee sought to retain ISR resources such as the RQ-4 Global Hawk, the E-8 Joint Surveillance Radar and Attack System (JSTARS) which the Air Force is seeking to divest.  Examples of ISR systems include surveillance and reconnaissance systems ranging from satellites, to crewed aircraft such as the U-2, to uncrewed aircraft systems (UAS) such as the US Air Force's Global Hawk and Predator and the US Army's Hunter and PSST Aerostats, to unmanned ocean-going vessels, to other ground-, air-, sea-, or space-based equipment, to human intelligence teams, or to AI-based ISR systems. 
The intelligence data provided by these ISR systems can take many forms, including optical, radar, or infrared images or electronic signals. Effective ISR data can provide early warning of enemy threats as well as enable military forces to increase effectiveness, coordination, and lethality, and demand for ISR capabilities to support ongoing military operations has increased. In December 2021, the US Navy began testing the usefulness and effectiveness of unmanned "saildrones" at recognizing targets of interest on the high seas.
For space-based targeting sensors, in a 2019 Broad Agency Announcement, the US government defined ISR in this case as "a capability for gathering data and information on an object or in an area of interest (AOI) on a persistent, event-driven, or scheduled basis using imagery, signals, and other collection methods. This includes warning (to include ballistic missile activity), targeting analysis, threat capability assessment, situational awareness, battle damage assessment (BDA), and characterization of the operational environment." Persistence was in turn described: "Persistent access provides predictable coverage of an area of interest (AOI). Most space-based intelligence collection capabilities consist of multiple satellites operating in concert, or supplemented by other sensors, when continuous surveillance of an area is desired. Persistent sensors must provide sufficient surveillance revisit timelines to support a weapon strike at any time."
The United States Space Force, National Reconnaissance Office (NRO), and National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA) share the satellite-based ISR task as of 2021. See Space Delta 7
NGA uses Data transformation services (DTS), a program begun in 2018, to convert raw sensor data into a format usable by its mission partners, who are government agencies whose names are classified. In light of the 2022 Russian invasion of Ukraine, NGA has taken operational control of DoD's Project Maven, the AI ISR project for area defense, to identify point targets for ISR. NGA is currently using OREN, the Odyssey GEOINT Edge Node for National System for Geospatial Intelligence, or NGS; the Joint Regional Edge Node (JREN) is on-deck for distributing nearly a petabyte to the Combatant Commands in the next year (for 2023, an increase by a factor of 10).
NRO "has a proven track record in [ISR]", insists one of the founders of the US Space Force, who defends the capability of the NRO over the ambition of the Space Force to take over the role of ISR. GMTI (ground moving target indicator) data is an objective for Space Force, NGA, and NRO.
- ISR at platoon level
Junior (3rd year) and Senior (4th year) cadets at West Point had hands-on experience building and using drones with various tactical capabilities, guided by faculty from the Electrical Engineering and Computer Science departments in tactical applications during Cadet Leadership Development Training in July 2022.
Ukraine's soldiers are using FPV drones on the battlefield, armed with munitions.
ISR concepts are also associated with certain intelligence units, for instance Task Force ODIN, ISR TF (Company+) in Bosnia, Kosovo and Afghanistan. In the United States, the similar entity is used within their Marine Corps's Surveillance, Reconnaissance, and Intelligence Group (SRIG). The SRIG modelled as a consolidated military intelligence collection agency, most of the gathered intelligence are collected from many sources (i.e. STA Sniper platoons, Marine reconnaissance assets, signal intelligence, etc.).
- Commercial ISR
ISTAR is the process of integrating the intelligence process with surveillance, target acquisition and reconnaissance tasks in order to improve a commander's situational awareness and consequently their decision making. The inclusion of the "I" is important as it recognizes the importance of taking the information from all the sensors and processing it into useful knowledge.
ISTAR can also refer to:
- a unit or sub unit with ISTAR as a task (e.g.: an ISTAR squadron)
- equipment required to support the task
Variations of ISTAR
There are several variations on the "ISTAR" acronym. Some variations reflect specific emphasis on certain aspects of ISTAR.
Surveillance, target acquisition, and reconnaissance (STAR)
A term used when emphasis is to be placed on the sensing component of ISTAR.
Reconnaissance, surveillance and target acquisition (RSTA)
RSTA is used by the US Army in place of STAR or ISTAR. Also, a term used to identify certain US Army units: for instance, 3rd Squadron, 153rd RSTA. These units serve a similar role to the below mentioned US Marine Corps STA platoons, but on a larger scale.
Surveillance and target acquisition (STA)
Used to designate one of the following:
- A US Military Occupational Specialty (MOS) - specifically a STA United States Marine Corps Scout Sniper
- The role of a unit (e.g. STA patrol) or equipment
- A doctrine similar to ISTAR; for the US, and its allies and partners, its basis is the US National Defense Space Architecture (NDSA) as realized by layered constellations of Earth satellites and Earth stations
ISTAR units and formations
- Space Delta 7 (U.S. Space Force)
- Reconnaissance Surveillance and Target Acquisition (RSTA) Units (U.S. Army)
- Long-Range Surveillance (LRS) Units (U.S. Army)
- Northrop Grumman E-8 Joint STARS, Raytheon Sentinel, Alliance Ground Surveillance Aircraft
- Sayeret Matkal (Israeli Army)
- Shaldag Unit (Israeli Air Force)
- Brigade de renseignement (French Army)
- 13th Parachute Dragoon Regiment (French Army)
- [Intelligence battalion Norwegian Army)
- Jegerkompaniet (Norwegian Army)
- Kystjegerkommandoen (Norwegian Coastal Ranger Command)
- Artillerijeger (Norwegian Army)
- Garnisonen i Sør-Varanger (Borderguard, Norwegian Army)
- ISTAR battalion (Norwegian Army)
- ISTAR HQ platoon (Norwegian Army)
- Joint ISTAR Command (Dutch Army)
- 103 ISTAR battalion (Dutch Army)
- Cavalry Corps (Irish Army)
- Jagers te Paard Battalion (Belgian Army)
- ISTAR Battalion (Portuguese Army)
- NBG ISTAR TF (EU Nordic Battle Group)
- ISTAR (Canadian Army)
- 62nd Svarzochna Brigada (Bulgarian Armed Forces)
- Särskilda Inhämtningsgruppen (SIG) (Swedish Armed Forces)
- 61 Special Reconnaissance Regiment (Jordan Royal Guard, Jordanian Armed Forces)
- Strategic Reconnaissance Company (28th Ranger Brigade, Jordanian Armed Forces)
- Acquisition and Survey Regiment (Jordanian Armed Forces)
- Special Support & Reconnaissance Company - SSR (Danish Defence)
- ISTAR Bat TF 11 ad hoc] (Swiss Armed Forces)
- 350. military intelligence battalion ( 350. vojnoobavještajna bojna ) (Croatian Army)
- Razuznavacki bataljon na ARM, Republika Makedonija
- 5. obveščevalno-izvidniški bataljon, 5th Intelligence-Reconnaissance Btn, Military of Slovenia
- ISTAR battalion (Slovakian army)
- Regimiento de Inteligencia 1 (1st Intelligence Regiment, Spanish Army)
- 32nd Regiment Royal Artillery UAS Regiment (British Army)
- 47th Regiment Royal Artillery UAS Regiment (British Army)
- 30 Commando Information Exploitation Group (Royal Marines)
- 21 SAS and 23 SAS (British Army), now part of 1st Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance Brigade
- Special Reconnaissance Regiment (British Army)
- Honourable Artillery Company (British Army)
- Surveillance, Reconnaissance, Intelligence Group (SRIG) U.S. Marine Corps
- STA Sniper U.S. Marine Corps
- 6th Brigade (Australia)
- Intelligence Center (Croatian: Središnjica za obavještajno djelovanje) (Croatia)
- Fernspäher (German Bundeswehr)
- Meritiedustelupataljoona (Coastal Brigade, Finnish Defence Forces)
- After-action review
- Battlefield surveillance brigades in the United States Army
- C4ISTAR, a broader concept that also includes Command, Control, Communications and Computers.
- CARVER matrix
- Kill chain
- Justin Katz (2 Aug 2022) After RIMPAC, sailor feedback shows evolving view of unmanned vessels: Officials
- Megan Eckstein (8 Aug 2022) US Navy injects first-of-kind unmanned experiments into multinational exercise 30 unmanned platforms in RIMPAC 2022
- Joseph Trevithick (4 Feb 2019) Navy's Sea Hunter Drone Ship Has Sailed Autonomously To Hawaii And Back Amid Talk Of New Roles
- Graham Jenkins (14 July 2021) SAILORS, SAILORS EVERYWHERE AND NOT A BERTH TO SLEEP: THE ILLUSION OF FORWARD POSTURE IN THE WESTERN PACIFIC
- Trevor Prouty (2 July 2021) FREEDOM OF NAVIGATION OPERATIONS: A MISSION FOR UNMANNED SYSTEMS
- StrategyPage Freedom Of Navigation Operations (21 Mar 2021) Strategy talk: Freedom of navigation operations (FONOPS) audio clip, 38:10
- Heather Mongilio (8 Aug 2022) U.S. Will Continue Taiwan Strait Transits, FONOPs in Western Pacific Despite Growing Tension with China In the wake of high-level visit to Taiwan by Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi
- Caitlin M. Kenney (30 Aug 3022) Iranian Navy Tries To Steal US Unmanned Vessel At Sea
- Justin Katz (29 Sep 2022) Saildrone CEO says Iranian interference was valuable experience, not a surprise "If someone takes it, good luck. Keep it, it's worthless. We’ve got hundreds of them," said Richard Jenkins, chief executive officer of Saildrone."
- Ukrainska Pravda (30 OCT 2022) Sevastopol: Unmanned surface vehicles hit Admiral Makarov, flagship of Russian Black Sea Fleet
- Nancy A. Youssef, Michael R. Gordon (6 Sep 2023) Pentagon Plans Vast AI Fleet to Counter China Threat
- Rear Admiral Patrick Piercey, U.S. Navy (Retired) (Sep 2023) Planning for the Next War Must Be a Mixture of Art & Science "In recent decades, military planning has leaned more heavily on science than art, but success in a peer-level fight will depend on commander’s intent and the art of warfare". Proceedings of US Naval Institute vol 149 (9) #1,447
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- Breaking Defense (14 Sep 2023) Earth's a big world with secrets to reveal to those who can sense and make sense of it See 'before and after' images of camp in Belarus (since dismantled after Prigozhin's death)
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- THERESA HITCHENS and SYDNEY J. FREEDBERG JR. (4 May 2021) Exclusive: Army Plan May Loosen IC Grip On Sat-Based ISR Tactical Satellite Layer (TSL) experiment
- Andrew Eversden (6 Sep 2022) Army’s testbed ISR business jets are opening doors to new mission possibilities "With the prototypes, we're able to launch from one area and very quickly get to another area that is much further away in distance. So it opens up the aperture from a mission perspective".
- Lauren Williams (19 Oct 2022) The U.S. Army Is Testing A Data Platform Just For Intel Officers "We are testing an Army Intelligence Data Platform. So essentially a system that will ingest all of the Army's intel data—data from the intel community, commercial data, whatever data sources our intel professionals may need or want" —Mark Kitz PEO Intelligence, Electronic Warfare and Sensors (IEWS)
- Theresa Hitchens Theresa Hitchens (28 Jul 2021) Lawmakers Throw Wrench Into Air Force ISR Divestment Plan
- Marcus Weisgerber (15 Dec 2022) Inside the Army’s Newest Spy Plane Artemis by Leidos, cf: Ares by L3Harris
- Theresa Hitchens (19 Dec 2022) SES launches O3b mPower satellites, eyeing government, defense sectors Satellite uses 5000 digitally formed beams, each tuned to a different sovereign user. 2 satellites launched into MEO, 11 satellites planned
- Theresa Hitchens (28 Jul 2021) Space Force Vice Argues Value Of Embattled Analysis Center
- Joseph Trevithick (16 Dec 2022) Mayhem Hypersonic Strike-Recon Jet Contract Awarded To Leidos "Mayhem air vehicle to demonstrate strike and intelligence-gathering capabilities"
- Frederik Pleitgen, CNN (7 Apr 2022) Drone video team turns the tables on hiding Russian vehicle a dedicated team of drone enthusiasts perform ISR, pass coordinates to the Army, who interdict Russian tank
- Alia Shoaib (20 Mar 2022) An elite Ukrainian drone unit on quad bikes ambushed Russian forces, helping to defeat Putin's plan to capture Kyiv, report says
- Jomana Karadsheh, CNN (8 Apr 2022) Turkish drone is so effective, Ukrainian troops are singing about it after ISR, Bayraktar drone documents strikes as Information operation for consumers
- Sky News (10 Mar 2022) Ukraine War: Dramatic drone footage shows Russian convoy 'ambush' ISR sample
- Sakshi Tiwari (18 Sep 2023) US Navy's 'Ghost Fleet' Reaches Japan Amid Growing Tensions With China; Experts Call It 'Rare Visit' unmanned surface vehicles voyage takes from 1 May 2023 to 18 Sep 2023
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- Sandra Erwin (February 17, 2019). "Pentagon seeking proposals for how to use sensors in space to quickly target enemy missiles". SpaceNews.
- (11 Feb 2021) SDA to launch several demonstration satellites in 2021
- ESRI app, Satellite Map
- Theresa Hitchens (1 Apr 2021) Theater Commands OK SDA’s Sat Plans: EXCLUSIVE
- (8 Oct 2020) SATELLITE SYSTEMS, SATCOM AND SPACE SYSTEMS UPDATE
- Nate Turkin (28 Apr 2021) What focus areas are key to America’s future space capabilities?
- Theresa Hitchens (21 May 2021) Army Sat Ops Brigade Transfers To Space Force: Karbler
- Theresa Hitchens (22 Oct 2021) EXCLUSIVE: Imagery Industry Seeking Direct DoD Sales In Wake Of Tiny NRO Bid FY2022 NRO bid
- Colin Clark (24 Aug 2021) NRO, NGA, SPACECOM, Space Force Hammer Out Boundaries
- Theresa Hitchens (29 Apr 2022) NATO considers buying commercial imagery, irking US spy sat agencies: Sources NGA, NRO, ...
- Therese Hitchens (15 Dec 2022) 'Huge, huge problem': DoD space policy chief says over-classification harming allied advantage —John Plumb
- Theresa Hitchens (14 Jun 2021) NGA Seeks Upgraded Software To Speed Analysis: Processing, exploitation, and dissemination (PED) in support of the Concept of Operations (CONOPS) of the mission partners.
- Patrick Tucker (25 Apr 2022) NGA Will Take Over Pentagon’s Flagship AI Program
- Courtney Albon (21 Dec 2022) Geospatial-intelligence agency to expand capacity amid ‘data deluge’ using Joint Regional Edge Node, or JREN for distributing nearly a petabyte to the Combatant Commands; NGA is currently using OREN, the Odyssey GEOINT Edge Node for National System for Geospatial Intelligence, or NGS.
- Courtney Albon (8 Feb 2023) Maxar wins contract to provide satellite imagery to US allies
- Emma Poole (31 Aug 2023) The US Satellite Intelligence Agency is not so silent about the new "Silent Barker" mission is NRO's GSSAP maneuverable replacement, will keep custody of tracked vehicles.
- Theresa Hitchens (31 Aug 2023) SilentBarker 'watchdog' to be 'exponential' leap in DoD monitoring of Chinese, Russian sats in geosynchronous orbits
- Theresa Hitchens (17 Jun 2021) Key Lawmaker Warns Off Space Force On Tactical ISR ' "I think before you hand off the ball, let's make sure there won't be a fumble -- and the Space Force has a lot on it's [sic] plate right now," Rep. Jim Cooper says. '
- Theresa Hitchens (19 Jul 2021) Exclusive: NRO Erects Buy American Barriers Against Allied Satellite Data Authorities: conflicted
- Theresa Hitchens (27 Apr 2022) After Ukraine success, NRO says electro-optical imagery contracts due this summer EO and SAR imagery
- Theresa Hitchens (21 Sep 2023) Space industry shakeups: Aerospace consolidates, Maxar breaks up Has NRO mission
- Theresa Hitchens (28 Apr 2022) Space Force team asks warfighters: What do you need from space ISR? GMTI (ground moving target indicator) data is an objective for Space Force, NGA, and NRO
- Jorge Garcia, Pointer View Staff Writer (3 Aug 2022) Cadets enhance tactical skills through drone training
- Johnny Harris (30 Nov 2023) DIY Drones: War Will Never be the Same Ukraine grass-roots supply of FPV drones. 10,000 per month, independent of government. US is following this trend.
- NHK World-Japan (15 Jul 2022) Ukraine: The New Satellite War - Digital Eye video clip, 49:06
- KATERYNA TYSHCHENKO Ukrainska Pravda (20 Jul 2022) Russia stockpiles equipment near border with Kharkiv region media "The Russian military might use this equipment, and particularly on the Izium and Sloviansk fronts"
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