Novel Technology Enabled Rapid, Safe, Low-Cost Survey of Unexploded Ordnance at Formerly Used Defense Site

By Laura Mack

The unmanned aerial system (UAS) magnetometer technology enables rapid, safe, and low-cost surveys of UXO-impacted sites. Photo Source: SERDP & ESTCP

The Environmental Security Technology Certification Program (ESTCP) demonstrated a novel technology to map unexploded ordnance (UXO) in the underwater environment at the Maine Bombing Area Formerly Used Defense Site (FUDS) in Georgetown, Sagadahoc County, within the boundary of Reid State Park, to provide updated information on underwater munition debris that appeared after two severe storms in January.

As a result of past military training and weapons testing activities, military munitions exist on sites designated for Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC), on Formerly Used Defense Sites (FUDS), and other closed ranges on active installations. The Strategic Environmental Research and Development Program (SERDP) and ESTCP successfully developed the technology now used across military lands to detect where munitions are buried and classify the type of munition to enable safe, efficient, and cost-effective site remediation.

The underwater environment poses more challenges for detecting unexploded ordnance (UXO). Following a decade of investment, SERDP and ESTCP have developed emerging technologies to detect, classify, and localize UXO in the underwater environment. After testing these technologies across established demonstration sites, the programs are now transitioning to deploy them at live sites where UXO are believed to be present.

The flight operations crew preparing for another survey mission. Photo Source: SERDP & ESTCP

The team surveyed a portion of the beach and shallow water using a novel drone-based magnetometer to test its capabilities of detecting magnetic anomalies, which would indicate where UXO might be present. White River Technologies developed the magnetometer system under SERDP and demonstrated at controlled underwater UXO demonstration sites under ESTCP.

Surveying a site is the first step for UXO remediation and management, providing a picture that shows the extent of the problem. Current survey methods are conducted on-foot using a metal detector. Drone mounting the technology improves safety. It eliminates the need for personnel to walk the grounds and survey for buried UXO.

“Using drones, it’s a lighter package to take into the field. This system is more efficient and faster because we can mobilize into areas that we previously couldn’t get to,” said Dr. Gregory Schultz, Chief Technologist at White River Technologies and ESTCP project lead.

Operator control area set up on the beach for UAS surveying. Operations can be run in a variety of environments through the use of autonomous flight and surveying methods. Photo Source: SERDP & ESTCP

For harder-to-reach areas, the drone-based magnetometer eliminates the need for fixed wing aircraft, which significantly cuts operation costs. Teams can survey about 10 acres per day across difficult terrain, versus the one acre-per-day that a metal detector would accomplish.

The team surveyed about 30 acres of sand dunes and shallow water and produced a map of “hot spots.” They will conduct one more survey in the summer to capture how hot spot locations may have shifted due to currents and dune transformation over time. Then, ESTCP will demonstrate a few more technologies that will zero-in on the hot spots and classify the materials, determining whether the areas in question are actual UXO or simply debris and other clutter.

“Over the years, our munitions response technologies have saved millions of dollars by making the remediation process faster and more efficient for UXO found on former military lands,” said Dr. Kim Spangler, Executive Director of SERDP and ESTCP. “We’re excited to officially start transitioning these technologies to live underwater sites.”



The Strategic Environmental Research and Development Program (SERDP) and the Environmental Security Technology Certification Program (ESTCP) fund resilience, restoration, and conservation projects that enhance capabilities and sustain operations at Department of Defense (DoD) installations. SERDP identifies and addresses priority environmental science and technology opportunities that focus on mission requirements, and ESTCP transitions technologies out of the lab and into the field. The programs report to the Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Energy Resilience & Optimization headquartered at the Pentagon. For more information, visit