Using LIDAR to Rapidly Assess Damaged Structures in 3D

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Clark Yuan
Clark Yuan
April 3, 2024
3 min

Vulnerable Infrastructure

On February 24, 2022, Russian President Vladimir Putin announced the invasion of Ukraine. A few hours later, Russian airborne troops landed an air assault attack on Antonov Airport, 6 miles outside of the capital Kyiv, with the objective of capturing or damaging the runway. This attack marked the first offensive of the invasion. Although Russian troops failed to capture the airfield, the assault did successfully damage the runway, rendering the airport inoperable for much needed reinforcement and resupplies.

Civilian and military airfields, along with other key assets such as bridges, railroads, and highways, are considered critical infrastructure in times of war. Military civil engineers must be able to rapidly assess and repair damages to key infrastructure to defend overseas bases and ensure national security. The U.S. Air Force even has a special term for this operation: RADAS, or Rapid Airfield Damage Assessment.


The objective of RADAS is to assess the depth, diameter, and volume of missile craters on a damaged runway to determine the minimum operating strip (MOS) – the length of airstrip that can be repaired in the least amount of time for fighter jets or other designated aircraft to take off and land. Sometimes, the missile craters can be as wide as 40 feet in diameter and 20 feet in depth scattered all about the runway. Currently, the U.S. Air Force’s operating procedures require the explosive ordnance disposal (EOD) team to first clear the runway of any unexploded ordnances (UXO) before civil engineers can begin to manually inspect each crater in armored vehicles. The entire process can take 6-8 hours, leaving the airbase vulnerable to follow on waves of attack.

LIDAR sensors mounted on Small Unmanned Aerial Systems (SUAS) can significantly reduce the time it takes to assess damage and plot the MOS. Using aerial LIDAR, Airmen can avoid hazardous exposure to UXOs and completely scan the entire airfield in under 30 minutes. The resulting 3D point cloud model provides critical information, such as crater depth and volume measurements, that Airfield Managers analyze to select the MOS. LIDAR data also provides object detection capability, allowing EOD teams to identify the number and type of UXO munitions before recovering the runway.

Peacetime Operations

In addition to wartime analytics, LIDAR is also a great tool for peacetime maintenance and sustainment operations. Military installations are essentially small cities faced with the same challenges that urban planners might encounter. LIDAR surveys can help military civil engineers identify flood zones, map undocumented facilities, track housing and real property development, monitor vegetation growth, and provide a 3D blueprint for base realignment and closure (BRAC) operations.

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