Australia deploys S-100 LiDAR drones for amphibious support

The Australian Navy has successfully tested a new LiDAR geospatial mapping scanning package on one of its S-100 UAVs to support amphibious operations.
Christopher McFadden
The S100 drone and crew onboard the HMAS Adelaide during "Exercise Sea Raider."
The S100 drone and crew onboard the HMAS Adelaide during "Exercise Sea Raider."

Australian Department of Defence  

The Australian Navy has tested a new Light Detection and Ranging (LiDAR) equipped drone designed to support amphibious operations. Using the sensors, the drone, an S100 unmanned aerial vehicle, performed bathymetric and littoral light detection during this year's 'Exercise Sea Raider'. Deployed from the HMAS Adelaide, the drone projected green wavelength laser beams through the sea surface to map the seabed and beach topography, an official statement said.

Laser scanning scout

The effectiveness of the new mapping technique was also evaluated at different altitudes. The S-100 drone can fly for several hundred kilometers in most weather conditions, day or night. It can also be integrated with a mothership’s system to assist in intelligence and air traffic control missions.

“[With the new technique] we generate survey plans for landing areas, then create 3D flight profiles and gradients, either electronically or paper, which are used as a briefing tool of shallow water bathymetry, beach, back of beach topography,” Australian Amphibious Force Lieutenant Commander Thomas Lennards explained. “The surveys are used to navigate hazards, beach entry and exit points, helicopter landing zones, bridges, hinterland, and terrain," he added.

“We have overlays of nautical charts and satellite imagery used to make sure the information is current with our collection and compare anomalies with what’s scanned compared to what is charted," he continued.

Experts from the Australian Defence Science and Technology Group (DST) also tested hand-held 3D laser scanners on the HMAS Adelaide for tactical applications, including battlefield damage assessment. DST Geography Scientist Dr. Alexander Lee stressed the importance of scientific service trials like sensor demonstrations.

“We participate in major exercises to understand how the outputs of scientific research can be accelerated through the transition into operational use. This seeks to make the warfighter more effective for their missions,” Lee said. “It’s about talking to people, either day or night, to better understand how science can be used to resolve issues or identify new opportunities to enhance the effectiveness of the ADF," he added.

Dr. Lee tested portable laser scanners that offer 3D views of landscapes, including beaches and forests. These can be used for detection analysis, such as assessing battlefield damage. “The data it generates allows us to better understand the limits of the LiDAR data collected from airborne platforms like the S100,” he said.

The Defense Science and Technology Group conducts research on new capabilities and concepts through close engagement in exercises. “Pretty much everything that ADF does, there’s probably a scientist that’s looking into it,” Dr. Lee said.

High-tech amphibious warfare

Also known as the 'Camcopter', the S100 drone is built by the Austrian drone maker Schiebel Corporation that relies on helicopter-like rotors for propulsion and lift. The aircraft has a maximum take-off weight of 441 pounds (200 kg) and can fly for 6 hours. It can reach speeds of up to 137 mph (220 kph) and has a ceiling of 18,045 feet (5,500 m). Optional external AVGAS fuel tanks can extend their endurance to over 10 hours. It is operated by several navies around the world and was first introduced to the Australian Navy in 2017.

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