Tactical Grade MEMS IMUs

Tactical grade inertial measurement units (IMUs) are compact and precise sensors used in defense applications to determine an object's orientation, acceleration, and velocity. Deployed in various platforms such as aircraft, unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), and ground vehicles, tactical IMUs provide essential navigation and guidance capabilities, enabling precise maneuvering, target tracking, and situational awareness in challenging environments.
Overview Tactical Grade MEMS IMUs
By Dr Thomas Withington Last updated: May 5th, 2024

Widely employed in military aircraft, ships, spacecraft and vehicles, tactical-grade Inertial Measurement Units (IMU) are used extensively to sense, measure and record motion in a moving body.

IMUs are typically utilized to sense an array of motions including acceleration and gravitational force, angle (roll, pitch and yaw) and orientation. Their reliability, low cost, and compact size make them integral components of modern defense systems.

Military-grade IMUs comprise gyroscopes, accelerometers and magnetometers:

  • Gyroscopes measure orientation
  • Accelerometers measure acceleration and gravitational force
  • Magnetometers calculate magnetic field strength to determine orientation with compasses being widely used.
IMU-P MEMS IMU with external GNSS capability by Inertial Labs

IMU-P MEMS IMU with external GNSS capability by Inertial Labs

Output from these systems is fed into a central processing unit which computes the behaviour of the body equipped with the IMU with the output then displayed as data.

By combining gyroscopes, accelerometers and magnetometers into a single inertial measurement unit it is possible to obtain significant information about a moving body’s behaviour; ascertaining angle, speed and position relative to north.

An IMU is not a navigation system, but may form an important part of an Inertial Navigation System (INS).

Inertial measurement unit technology is continually improving. Evolutions throughout the 20th Century were propelled by the exploration of space and the corresponding development of ballistic missiles. For example, fibre optic and laser technology has been incorporated in gyroscope design.

Military Grade MEMS IMUs

IMUs typically utilize microelectromechanical systems (MEMS) technology, which allows for miniaturization without compromising accuracy.

IMU miniaturisation has helped ensure systems can be used in weight and space-constrained platforms like unmanned aerial vehicles, munitions and ordnance.

Advances in computing have also been essential in continually improving the speed and quality of the calculations derived from an IMU and the information that it presents.

Inertial Measurement Units (IMUs) play a pivotal role in various military and defense applications, offering unparalleled precision and reliability in navigation, guidance, and stabilization systems. These compact and robust devices incorporate a combination of gyroscopes and accelerometers to

Defense Applications

Military IMUs continuously measure and track an object’s orientation, velocity, and gravitational forces in real-time, independent of external references such as GPS signals.

3DM-CX5-IMU Embeddable high-performance OEM IMU by MicroStrain HBK

3DM-CX5-IMU Embeddable high-performance OEM IMU by MicroStrain HBK

Military Aircraft & Unmanned Aerial Systems
In military aircraft, IMUs serve as critical components in inertial navigation systems (INS), enabling precise positioning and trajectory calculations even in GPS-denied environments or during electronic warfare scenarios. This capability is essential for both manned and unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), allowing them to navigate with accuracy over long distances, evade threats, and execute complex missions with minimal reliance on external aids.

Guidance Systems
IMUs are integral to the guidance systems of missiles, torpedoes, and other munitions, providing the necessary inertial data for course correction, target tracking, and terminal homing. By continuously monitoring acceleration and rotation rates, IMUs enable these weapons to maintain their intended flight paths, compensate for disturbances, and deliver payloads with exceptional accuracy.

Military Vehicles
In military vehicles MEMS IMUs enhance navigation capabilities and enable precise positioning for reconnaissance, surveillance, and target acquisition missions. Mounted on tanks, armored vehicles, and infantry platforms, IMUs contribute to situational awareness by providing reliable heading, attitude, and velocity information, enabling commanders to make informed decisions and effectively coordinate tactical maneuvers in dynamic battlefield environments.

Stabilization of Military Platforms
As well as navigation and guidance, IMUs play a crucial role in stabilizing various military platforms, such as cameras, radars, and communication antennas, to ensure steady operation and accurate targeting under challenging conditions such as high-speed maneuvers, rough terrain, or turbulent seas.

By compensating for motion-induced disturbances, IMUs help maintain the integrity of sensor data and enhance the overall performance of military systems across land, air, and sea domains.


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