The objective of this project is to evaluate a new technology to detect and identify military munitions at shallow (0 – 5 meter) underwater sites. Many sites of interest have proud munitions in depths less than 5 meters that range from small projectiles and mortars to large bombs. Standard techniques of sensors, systems, and platforms are challenged by the shallow waters which often are dynamic, unnavigable, and of high risk to equipment and personnel. A technical objective is to demonstrate the utility of an above-water, drone-based – Light Detection and Ranging (LiDAR) system for three-dimensional (3D) mapping of a region’s bathymetry and underwater objects. The technology for this project will address two specific ESTCP topics 1) Wide Area and/or Detailed Survey Techniques, and 2) Geophysical Description of Live Sites.

Technology Description

The technology is a novel scanning topographic/bathymetric LiDAR capable of centimeter-level precision. When placed on a moving drone platform, the generated 3D LiDAR point cloud can map an area and identify objects on the seafloor. Two field sites have been selected to document the capability and assess the technology. A field campaign at the ESTCP Panama City, FL site will serve as a control site where inert munitions, surrogates, and clutter objects will be deployed and the drone-based LiDAR will map the region and identify these placed objects. A second field site will be at the Vieques Puerto Rico Naval Training Range where several candidate live munitions sites have been identified.

The project will assess performance based on metrics, measurements, and success criteria. Key metrics include a true positive detection probability for objects on the seafloor, a false positive detection probability, location accuracy, areal coverage, and ease, cost, and applicability of use. The technology objective is to generate high-resolution 3D point clouds of bathymetric scenes containing munitions and determine if the analysis to extract the performance metrics can meet the proposed success criteria.


This work will provide expanded capability to characterize military munitions in the shallow underwater environment and to demonstrate an above-water LiDAR technology applicable to a wide array of sites. This research is of great interest to the Department of Defense and scientific communities due to its ability to observe, at high spatial resolution (centimeter-level precision), a variety of shallow-water aquatic environments that have previously been inaccessible due to limited technologies. The results of this highly enabling activity will prove the technology is a cost-effective means to survey, in detail, the nature and extent of munitions contamination in a region.