Munitions and explosives of concern (MEC) contamination is a high priority problem for the Department of Defense (DoD). Recent DoD estimates of UXO contamination across approximately 1,400 DoD sites indicate that 10 million acres are suspected of containing MEC. Because many sites are large in size (greater than 10,000 acres), the investigation and remediation of these sites could cost billions of dollars. However, on many of these sites only a small percentage of the site may in fact contain MEC contamination. Therefore, determining applicable technologies to define the contaminated areas requiring further investigation and munitions response actions could provide significant cost savings. Therefore, the Defense Science Board (DSB) has recommended further investigation and use of wide area assessment (WAA) technologies to address the potential these technologies offer in terms of determining the actual extent of MEC contamination on DoD sites.

In response to the DSB Task Force report and recent Congressional interest, ESTCP designed a WAA pilot program that consists of demonstrations at multiple sites to validate the application of a number of recently developed and validated technologies as a comprehensive approach to WAA. These demonstrations of WAA technologies include deployment of high airborne sensors, helicopterborne magnetometry arrays and ground surveys.


The purpose of the demonstrations was to survey WAA demonstration sites in areas amenable to low-altitude helicopter flight. Specific objectives of the demonstrations included:

  • Identify areas of concentrated munitions, including the known and suspected target areas;
  • Bound the target areas;
  • Estimate density and distribution of munitions types and sizes;
  • Characterize site conditions to support future investigation, prioritization, remediation, and cost estimation tasks.

Demonstration Results

This project demonstrated Helicopter Multisensor Towed Array Detection System (MTADS) Magnetometry (HeliMag) technology at WAA pilot program demonstration sites. These demonstrations included the following:

  • Former Pueblo Precision Bombing Range (PBR) #2, La Junta, Colorado
  • Former Kirtland PBRs N2, N3, and New Demolitions Impact Area, Albuquerque, New MexicoVictorville PBRs Y and 15, Landers, California
  • Former Camp Beale, Marysville, California
  • Former Erie Army Depot Lake Erie Impact Area and Toussaint River, Ohio

HeliMag provides efficient low-altitude digital geophysical mapping (DGM) capabilities for metal detection and feature discrimination at a resolution approaching that of typical ground survey methods, limited primarily by terrain, vegetation, and structural inhibitions to safe low altitude flight. The magnetometer data can be analyzed to extract either distributions of magnetic anomalies (which can be further used to locate and bound targets, aim points, and open burn/open detonation (OB/OD) sites), or individual anomaly parameters such as location, depth, and size estimate. The individual parameters can be used in conjunction with target remediation to validate the results of the magnetometer survey.

HeliMag technology can be used to help define the areas of concentrated munitions contamination. It is less important for the system to be used to detect individual munitions. Restrictions on the use of the technology can include some site restrictions, including topography, vegetation and geologic interference. The system performed best in terms of detection and production on large open sites without geologic interference.

Implementation Issues

The primary benefit of this technology is in rapid characterization of large open areas, commonly referred to as footprint reduction. LiDAR and orthophotography data, if collected, should be analyzed prior to deployment of helicopter technology for topography and vegetation impediments to low altitude flight. In addition, expected geologic conditions should be evaluated. Last, it should be understood that as a WAA technology, the goal of utilizing helicopter magnetometry technology is to identify areas of elevated concentrations of MEC and not individual target detection. As a WAA technology, the most cost effective use of this technology is for the characterization of larger sites (i.e. sites thousands of acres in size).