Army researchers are developing sophisticated battlespace mapping technologies that allow soldiers to predict wave patterns for beach assaults and create instant 3-D models of urban areas — with resolution high enough to identify sniper hideouts.
Researchers with the Army’s Engineer Research and Development Center are at distinct phases on multiple projects to meet battlespace mapping needs at the individual soldier and small unit leader level.
A few of those efforts were presented at the Association of the U.S. Army’s Annual Meeting and Exposition this week.
One such program is evaluating drone surveillance, combined with sophisticated cameras and a hefty dose of mathematics and modeling, to see through waves and create underwater maps so that leaders can forecast beach assault conditions and even the integrity of sand bars and dunes for such assaults, researchers said.
Katherine Brodie, a research oceanographer with ERDC, told attendees that they are developing three types of drone capabilities to confront the complex problems of beach and surf reconnaissance.
One is a hovering drone that has a range of one kilometer and stays aloft for 30 minutes. It would likely launch from the ship and view into contested beach zones.
Another is a more mobile drone with a 10-kilometer range that sweeps the beach area to map the breadth of the landing space.
The third would be a tethered drone for commanders to view one kilometer out so that they can collect longer-term, detailed mapping information for better equipment staging and to adjust landing sites as tides shift and beach erosion changes the underwater topography.
The tethered model is “basically looking through the water and waves,” Brodie said.
While some of the basic information can be processed in a few hours, detailed maps with high-resolution mapping would take more time, unless commanders can “ship” the data to more powerful computers off-site to process the information, Brodie said.
A lower resolution but quick-hit item that could give on-the-assault commanders a snapshot of water depths is the LIS-Swift System. U.S. Army Corps of Engineers research oceanographer Jesse McNinch said the small, inexpensive unit can be launched from an Amphibious Assault Vehicle or two-person boat team to do a quick, 10-minute surveillance and bring back data in a few minutes.
The Swift System uses a low powered radar that can give commanders depth across surf zones for landing planning, McNinch said.
On the land side, ERDC researchers Ricky Massaro and John Anderson Sr. shared developments on scanning, full-motion video and 3-D model mapping that can be done on the battlefield with equipment ranging from 1.5 pound disposable drones to tethered systems that can find clusters in cities and create detailed models.
Soldiers with 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 101st Airborne Division used the smaller drone to map urban training facilities, flying six sorties to collected hundreds of images. Those were processed on-site and created a quick real-time “snapshot” of the urban terrain that included building elevations.
The device was also used during the battle for Mosul, Iraq, flying 56 sorties over four areas and capturing 300 images to help with base defense and planning during the battle, Anderson said.
Massaro showed a tethered system that uses video recordings, combined with open source software, to create a “3-D cloud” model that allows soldiers to view the picture from any angle and identify threat points such as potential sniper hides not available with strictly overhead view provided by most drones.