Integrating commercial Unoccupied Aircraft System (UAS) platform and sensor technology into Department of Defense (DoD) installation natural resource management has the potential to dramatically improve the way natural resources are managed. UAS provides access to real-time information from a broader field of view, reducing the need for ‘boots on the ground’ and creating opportunities to monitor and manage resources with high-resolution data over time. The United States Marine Corps Installations East (MCIEAST) leadership provided an opportunity to demonstrate the goal of a regional, standardized approach for integrating UAS technology, led by installation natural resource managers, to address a broad set of environmental challenges. 

Technology Description

The project met three objectives: 1) developing accepted pathways for pilot certification through Basic Unmanned Aircraft Systems Qualification (BUQ) II training and program protocols, 2) the creation and delivery of UAS mission kits and training, and 3) demonstrations for environmental applications. Project UAS mission kits were designed around environmental uses including aerial mapping for habitat characterization, monitoring and tracking change over time, and situational awareness via real-time video. Demonstrations were designed to showcase uses, execute flights for monitoring airfields or wetlands, review mission planning and data processing training, and bring the MCIEAST UAS community together.

Demonstration Results

This project is the first of its kind in DoD. While individual installations across services use UASs, this regional approach codifies protocols that eliminate one-off approvals and facilitates UAS use in workflows and on-demand. The project created regionally accepted guidelines and dynamic training that promotes fundamental skills that can be applied to a host of environmental challenges. The creation of a MCIEAST Order was the result of this program, presenting the leadership at MCIEAST both a viable pathway for safe UAS flights on installations, and demonstrating the clear utility of UASs. The leadership acceptance of the BUQ II level pilot training certificates is a critical step for sustaining programs. An active UAS program is constrained by the cost of UASs and associated sensors, analysis and processing components, and continued training. Demonstrating and filling installation data gaps and cost savings by incorporating UASs into workflows should incentivize this portion of installation UAS programs. 

Implementation Issues

Covid-19, enforcement of the 2020 National Defense Authorization Act regarding cyber secure UAS (also called Blue UAS) requirements created implementation challenges, execution delays, and loss of momentum. Demonstrations initially planned for the final year - to create multiple opportunities to bring pilots together to reinforce skills, create community, and transition the program- were filled by remote events. However, ‘boots-on-the-ground’ flying is the only way to really socialize these programs. Despite the challenges, the project successfully demonstrated the value and effectiveness of deploying UAS programs on regional levels with the flexibility to meet installation needs and missions. The partner installations are prepared to use UASs in their environmental departments and are working to implement the programs.