BuckEye in 2011 and Beyond: Delivering High-Resolution Terrain Data to the Warfighter

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The U.S. Army Geospatial Center’s (AGC) BuckEye program is not just another LIDAR technology program. BuckEye, named for Ohio State’s mascot, the home of America’s leading photogrammetry department, is focused on tactical warfighter needs. As a result, BuckEye has evolved through urban warfare missions in Iraq and Afghanistan to collect what warfighters need–coincidently collected 1m post-spacing terrain data with 10cm color imagery (or better, if possible) that is extremely accurate over entire operational areas, empowering maneuver commanders to get the job done. BuckEye’s goal is to provide the high-resolution 3D foundation data layer that warfighters depend on in the modern fight. While other LIDAR programs see themselves as sensor programs, often tied to specific airframes, BuckEye sees itself as a platform-agnostic data program trained on this mission need.

BuckEye data is used broadly across the U.S. defense and intelligence community, as it often represents the best available data over the area of responsibility in which it was collected. BuckEye data is a combat multiplier that is capable of providing a high-resolution spatial context to any technical or tactical challenge defined within the preparation and execution of Full Spectrum Operations (FSO). The BuckEye program comes with a proven in-theater track record in support of Major Combat Operations, counterinsurgency, counterterrorism, stability, support, transition and reconstruction, Foreign Internal Defense and Force Protection operations. BuckEye enabled the generation of human scale terrain data that plays an important role in supporting precision signals intelligence operations, persistent surveillance-based operations, reconnaissance on reconstruction projects and support of disaster response and recovery operations.

BuckEye also allows for collection against intelligence targets as well as the extraction of relevant cartographic features, supporting the commander through both the military intelligence community and the geospatial (or topographic/terrain) engineering community. BuckEye terrain data enables the rapid generation of detailed line-ofsight analysis (sniper, counter-sniper operations, threat analysis along routes / main supply routes, etc.), slope and mobility analysis, helicopter landing zone suitability analysis, precision registration of intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance resources and the characterization of buildings/obstructions within an urban terrain. BuckEye imagery data offers essential mission planning detail, intelligence context as well as aids mensuration and mobility work over complex and urban terrain. The high-resolution nature of BuckEye imagery and terrain data empowers commanders, even down to the squad level, to account for obstacles that have never before been observable and to adjust his actions on the objective accordingly.

The unclassified and foreign-releasable nature of the data has enabled mission planning and execution between US, Coalition and host country forces, articulating the complex geometry of the battle space to commanders and forces on the ground. The program comes with its own processing, exploitation and dissemination (PED) infrastructure. All terrain analysis technicians and geospatial engineers deployed across the Army are capable of aiding commanders and their military intelligence counterparts with high-resolution 3D terrain data using software and systems already available within the Army system baseline (namely the Combat Terrain Information System–CTIS capabilities that migrated into the Distributed Common Ground System–DCGS-A).

BuckEye leverages best-in-breed commercial off the shelf (COTS) capabilities including commercial platforms, sensors, and software. The program is capable of rapid expansion as it can directly draw upon the dynamic and responsive nature of the U.S. commercial geospatial marketplace for platforms, sensors, and the expansion of its PED. As a platformagnostic capability, BuckEye can also flexibly tailor its capability for deployment on government owned platforms, whether fixed- or rotary-wing, manned or unmanned.

The AGC is engaged in perpetual innovation, seeking to continually upgrade the BuckEye program’s capabilities with the best available commercial LIDAR, electrooptical, data processing and dissemination technologies. BuckEye was the operational partner in the fielding of DARPA’s High Altitude LiDAR Operational Experiment (HALOE), bringing the Army’s operational experience to the testing and fielding of this capability. The AGC is also investing heavily in R&D to enable vastly more rapid coincident collection of electro-optical and LIDAR data at the same (or even better) resolution and accuracy, leveraging similar Geiger Mode LiDAR technology, but in a much more size, weight and powerefficient, platform-agnostic pod.

Despite the drawdown of Department of Defense assets, the BuckEye program’s future looks bright. With the Joint Staff characterizing a massive, global shortfall in the availability of high-resolution 3D terrain data, BuckEye is working aggressively to address it by collecting and delivering superior data to mission owners around the globe.

Mike Hardaway is Chief of the Army Geospatial Center’s Tactical Source Branch and has served as BuckEye’s Program Manager since 2006. He holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Geography from James Madison University (1981) and a Masters Certificate in Program Management from The George Washington University (1996).

A 416Kb PDF of this article as it appeared in the magazine complete with images is available by clicking HERE