Air and Land Survey

Shallow water and port surveys are vitally important for any amphibious or port logistics operations. The Royal Navy and British Army have a range of small craft and systems for this application.

Hydrographic Survey is a jewel in the Royal Navy crown.

I am not going to go into the deep water hydrography capability as it is not relevant for this subject but shallow water survey is vitally important and the Royal Navy has a range of small craft and systems for this application.

HMS Echo and HMS Enterprise are relatively new vessels and are both equipped with sophisticated sonar systems, seabed sampling and analysis equipment and a small survey launch, Sapphire and Spitfire respectively. The ships are unusual in Royal Navy service because they operate at very high utilisation with a 75 personnel crew providing 48 on board at any one time that allows the ship to operate 330 days per year. They are equipped with azimuth thrusters and a bow thruster for precise manoeuvre and station keeping.

In addition to their survey role they can embark additional personnel in the mine countermeasures command role. Their equipment includes side scan, multi beam and single beam sonar, an oceanographic and seabed profiler, bottom sampling equipment and Doppler current measuring system.

The launches allow survey equipment to be carried into very shallow waters to collect data which is then merged and referenced to complete the complete picture. Equipment carried on the 9 tonne 9m long survey launches includes a Kongsberg 2040 Multibeam Echo Sounder, Kongsberg EA400 Single Beam Echo Sounder and a GeoAcoustics (now Kongsberg) 2094 Side Scan Sonar

The EM2040 is used for high resolution mapping and inspection in shallow water. For accurate survey work and second layer detection, the EA400 single beam echo sounder is deployed in conjunction with GPS. The Sonar 2094 is a dual frequency sidescan system used for wide area sea bed scanning.

[tabs] [tab title=”HMS Enterprise”]

hms enterprise loch ewe 2013[/tab] [tab title=”HMS Echo”]

HMS Echo 2[/tab] [tab title=”SMB Spitfire”]

Survey Motor Boat Spitfire[/tab] [tab title=”2094 Sidescan Sonar”]

Kongsberg 2094 Sidescan Sonar[/tab] [tab title=”Kongsberg 2040 Multibeam Echo Sonar”]

[/tab] [tab title=”EA400 Single Beam”]

Kongsberg EA400 Single Beam Echo Sounder

[/tab] [tab title=”HMS Echo Video”]

[/tab] [/tabs]

Kongsberg produce a good introduction to hydrographic survey equipment, click here to view.

These systems and technologies are combined with RN survey expertise to produce extremely accurate surveys and charts of the seabed and water column.

[tabs] [tab title=”Misrata Port”]

Misratah-Survey [/tab] [tab title=”Seabed 1″]

Underwater-Survey[/tab] [tab title=”Seabed 2″]

Underwater-Survey1[/tab] [/tabs]

Most ports will already have some information available in the public domain or available in the Additional Military Layers (AML) data set from the UKHO Defence Maritime Geospatial Intelligence Centre, as ratified by NATO under STANAG 7170, but given the locations of likely target ports detailed information may not be available so a rapid environment assessment is the first stage in augmenting any existing information.

AML supports the following information sets;

  • Contour Line Bathymetry (CLB)
  • Environment, Seabed, and Beach (ESB)
  • Large Bottom Objects (LBO)
  • Maritime Foundation Facilities (MFF)
  • Routes, Areas, and Limits (RAL)
  • Small Bottom Objects (SBO)

In addition to AML, the Defence Maritime Geospatial Intelligence Centre provides Environmental Briefing Dockets (EBD), Strategic Port Products and Beach Intelligence and Survey Database (BISD) but they do not provide specific port capabilities information.

This additional material may be available through the wider defence geospatial information and intelligence community, the Defence Geographic Centre in Feltham for example.

Open source and commercial information can also be comprehensive, the Lloyds List, IHS Fairplay Ports and Terminals Guide or Guide to Port Entry for example. There is no reason why this information could not be exploited.


For amphibious operations the force commander will require information about beach gradients, tidal ranges, soil conditions and obstacles. There may be no alternative but to mount a covert survey operation using special forces, dive equipment and even swimmer delivery vehicles carried on SSN’s.

Chalfont SDV shelter
Chalfont SDV shelter

Beach survey is a classic SF task.

The British Army (Royal Engineers) also maintain an extensive GEOINT and survey capability that could potentially be used in a port survey task. The Future Deployable Geospatial Intelligence (FDG) Project was part of a wider programme called PICASSO that included Lockheed Martin UK, KNK, Marshall Specialist Vehicles, Polaris Consulting, Safety Assurance Services and SciSYS.

The Tactical Information and Geospatial Analysis System(TIGAS) includes 11 Mowag Duro II 6×6 vehicles that provide a two man tactical exploitation environment and 3 20ft ISO container size shelters used to house two man tactical map distribution points (TMDP).

FDG will deliver a data centric, geospatial intelligence (GEOINT) management, discovery, dissemination and exploitation capability that addresses the deployable requirements of the Intelligence Collection Group (ICG), including the provision of mobile and manoeuvrable working environments at the tactical level.

FDG essentially consolidates a number of UOR’s such as the DATAMAN servers introduced during Op HERRIC and improves capabilities across the board although the selection of DURO is an interesting choice. It will allow subject matter experts to maintain over 350 individual geo referenced layers such as CIED, medical, imagery, patrol tracks and route characteristics. Dataman is based on ESRI software that uses Dell servers housed in ruggedised cases, weighing approximately 300kg. DataMan light reduced the weight by using Helix GIS Servers based on Getac X500 rugged laptops. The front end uses a web based tool called GeoViewer that looks like the now very familiar Google maps. Layers can be switched on and off and are available based on the users profile. Where communications networks are constrained or intermittent cached data can be used and a recent contract award to iOra will enhance this important aspect. FDG achieved FOC in 2013 and has been in use since.

[tabs] [tab title=”FDG 1″]

Future Deployable GEOINT 2

[/tab] [tab title=”FDG 2″]

Future Deployable GEOINT 1[/tab] [tab title=”TMDP 1″]

Tactical Map Dissemination Point 5[/tab] [tab title=”TMDP 2″]

Tactical Map Dissemination Point 10[/tab] [tab title=”TDMP 3″]

Tactical Map Dissemination Point 7[/tab] [tab title=”TDMP 4″]

Tactical Map Dissemination Point 6[/tab] [tab title=”TDMP 5″]

Tactical Map Dissemination Point 4[/tab] [tab title=”TDMP 6″]

Tactical Map Dissemination Point 1[/tab] [/tabs]

The capability is operated by 42 Regiment Royal Engineers, comprising two Geographic Squadrons (13 Sqn and 14 Sqn) and a Support Squadron (16 Sqn). 42 Regiment also includes an Army Reserve Geo squadron, 135 Geographic

Unmanned airborne systems such as Watchkeeper, Reaper may provide high level imagery and the smaller UAV’s such as Desert Hawk and Scan Eagle would also be on hand to provide information in support of the survey.



Table of Contents


Case Studies

The Normandy Landings

The San Carlos Landings

Umm Qasr


Current Capabilities

UK amphibious Doctrine


Mine Countermeasures

Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD)

Amphibious Assault and Logistics

US Amphibious Logistics

Making a Case for Change

Increment 1


Survey and Initial Operations

Repairing and Augmenting the Port

A Summary and Final Thoughts on Increment 1

Increment 2


Existing Solutions and Studies



Shore Connector

Wave Attenuation

Closing Comments

Notify of
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Would love your thoughts, please comment.x