Enhancing the Capability and Efficiency of DoD Land Management by Using Commercial Unmanned Aerial Vehicles to Assess the Impacts of Fires and Coastal Storms
David Johnston | Duke University
Department of Defense (DoD) land management benefits from having the capability to collect, process, and interpret on-demand high-resolution remotely- sensed data. These data are critical in DoD coastal-zone and forest management because of frequent impacts by severe storms, inundation, or management activities, such as prescribed burns. The main goal of this project was to implement reliable Unoccupied Aircraft Systems (UAS) in Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune environmental management, thereby increasing the speed, ease, and safety of obtaining useful, highly accurate, and detailed monitoring products for a fraction of the cost of manned operations. The three primary objectives included: 1. Train environmental management personnel to conduct UAS operations legally and safely in DoD airspace, 2. Equip the base with a standardized UAS kit containing all of the equipment and supplies necessary for conducting operations, and 3. Demonstrate UAS applications for managing barrier island beaches and forests by generating proof-of-concept data sets and provide frequent opportunities for communication with Environmental Management Division and Marine Corps personnel.
State-of-the-art aircraft (multirotor Parrot Anafi and fixed wing eBee X), sensors (Red-Green-Blue and thermal infrared), and photogrammetric software (Pix4Dmapper version 4.6.4) were used for this project. The project team piloted the eBee X for coastal- and forest-management demonstrations and the Parrot Anafi for demonstrating increased safety and productivity during prescribed burns.
The project team used both quantitative and qualitative approaches for assessing UAS performance as a tool for coastal- zone and forest management. To demonstrate improved efficiency, accuracy, resolution and cost of coastal mapping using a UAS versus ground-based and manned-aircraft methods the project team compared beach volume measured using the UAS with ground surveying, terrestrial Light Detection and Ranging (LiDAR), and airplane LiDAR. Beach volume measured using the UAS was the same as terrestrial LiDAR and more accurate than airplane LiDAR and ground surveys. The reduced time needed to collect UAS data made pre- and post-storm surveys of a barrier island easier to obtain and the high-resolution images allowed 100% detection of potential sea turtle nest areas. While integrating UAS in forest management activities, the project team developed a pathway for quantitatively assessing burn efficacy that was previously unachievable including live visual feed for area assessment, geospatial analyses of images obtained before and after fires, accurate detection of hot spots and increased situational awareness. The costs associated with fire and coastal monitoring (US$/hour) were less for UAS than occupied systems (air and ground). UAS are most beneficial in smaller survey areas (< ~200 ha) where high resolution orthomosaics, detailed digital elevation models, and real-time data are needed.
Cybersecurity concerns, international relations, and trade wars made transferring a UAS to end-users difficult. Due to numerous changes in DoD cyber-security policy, the mission kit aircraft became prohibited several times. The final policy bans all Chinese components, which forced the project team to continue searching for an acceptable replacement that meets the natural resources management mission set.