Drone and Robotic Support for CBRN EOD Missions


By Maj. Günter Povoden, Head of the Chemistry and Development Section, Austrian Armed Forces’ CBRN Defense Center

Drones or UAVs (unmanned aerial vehicles) can be very supportive for CBRN EOD operations for various reasons. Generally, a UAV is much quicker on-site than people when it comes to conducting initial reconnaissance. The UAV can be enhanced with specific sensors to check if any CBRN hazard is present. This works very well for radiological threats and, with some limitations, for chemical hazards. As soon as a robotic system or a UGV (unmanned ground vehicle) is on site, the aerial view of the UAV together with the UGV operator’s view and information is a big advantage compared to conventional robot-only based operations. With UAV guidance, the UGV operator can manoeuvre the robot more accurately, which is especially relevant when the UGV is able to take samples or has the capacity for chemical detection of small-scale contamination.


General aspects regarding UAVs for EOD missions


A crucial point in an EOD operation is the reconnaissance part. A UAV is capable of the detection of suspicious movements and behaviour of individuals, which might include a spotter or the triggerman for the activation of the IED (improvised explosive devices). Specific sensors such as thermal imaging cameras will support the detection of such individuals, apart from early warning capabilities regarding the detection of ground signs using other sensors such as multi-spectral image cameras.


When it comes to IEDs with a radiological payload, it is easy to detect such a “dirty bomb” with an appropriate gamma detector. Modern devices are light and small enough to be mounted even on micro-drones in the 1 kg range. Additionally, these drones can carry chemical detectors in case the IED had already released a chemical agent.


Practical tests show it would be more useful to use several drones carrying different sensors instead of one big, heaving drone carrying all the required sensors. Additionally, a drone swarm can be used to create 3D models of the environment in a very short period. This is important for early warning in the sense of changedetection.



Figure 1: UGC Taurob

The following sensors and systems have been integrated into the UGV Taurob:


  • Thermal imaging camera
  • Gamma detection and identification FLIR R300 NanoRaider
  • RAMAN Spectrometer FirstDefender RMX (for explosives and chemical agents)
  • AP4C detector (flame spectroscopy for chemical warfare agents and precursors)
  • Air sampling pump
  • Developed by the Polish Military University of Technology:

o Ion mobility spectrometer including laser heating of the sample

o Stand-off (50 cm) RAMAN spectrometer (Developed by the Polish military university of technology)

o Array of chemical sensors

  • Sampling system for solids and liquids, which also make rapid explosive tests on-site

UAV support for CBRN-EOD operations - combined UAV/UGV missions


UAVs are able to support the UGV operator with an aerial view covering different angles. Additionally, the UAV can guide the robot to designated locations for further reconnaissance, detection or sampling. In advanced systems, the UAV might feed only the coordinates or the aerial picture and the UGV is guided autonomously to the target location.


Another useful outcome is the photo and video documentation from the UAV, supporting the chain of custody. With various sensors mounted, the UAV might guide a sampling team or a robot capable of sampling to relevant and identified sampling locations. At the same time, additional hazards such as armed individuals, chemical or radiological hazards are detectable by the UAV.

Series of fig. 2, 3 and 4 -

Sampling system of the

UGV TAUROB

In a post-blast scenario, the UAV might also detect debris, fragments and craters, e.g. with the support of a 3D LIDAR (Light Detection and Ranging) sensor. An ideal tool would be the combination of UAV and UGV in a joint approach, as this sensor requires medium sized drones. On the other hand, smaller drones are more useful in an urban area, in the woods or in special locations such as culverts or indoor environs. A cage protecting the drone allows operation in such an situations.

Fig.5: UAV with an electrochemical sensor for the detection of chemical hazards

In a post-blast scenario, the UAV might also detect debris, fragments and craters, e.g. with the support of a 3D LIDAR (Light Detection and Ranging) sensor. An ideal tool would be the combination of UAV and UGV in a joint approach, as this sensor requires medium sized drones. On the other hand, smaller drones are more useful in an urban area, in the woods or in special locations such as culverts or indoor environs. A cage protecting the drone allows operation in such an situations.

Fig.6: Micro drone with a cage

UAVs – suitable models for CBRN-EOD support


Here is an overview of recommended drone models:

The medium-sized drone should have a payload of about 7,5 kg and an operational time of 15-45 minutes.

Recommended sensors are:

Thermal imaging camera | Multispectral camera | 3D LIDAR | Installed magnetometer for the detection of UXOs and IEDs (MagDrone SENSYS offering complete systems) | Additional sensors for the detection of chemical or radiological hazards

Fig.7: Medium sized UAV

Micro drones with around 1 kg payload and an operational time of 10-30 mins are very useful, as are multiple UAVs of this type formed in a swarm operation, which is highly recommendable. Even with this size, individual sensors can be useful, such as thermal imaging cameras, a gamma detector or a chemical detector. Employing several UAVs of this type carrying different sensors increases flexibility for different mission requirements.


Large UAVs with around 25-50 kg payload and several hours of operation are covering a wide area and are especially suited for early warning at a strategic level. UAVs like this are out of range of small arms fire – including smooth-bore – which are nowadays often used to damage or destroy UAVs.


Summary: Concept to use UGVs and UAVs to support CBRN EOD missions


Using UAVs and UGVs in combination is highly recommendable, as multiple angles and an additional aerial view delivered by the UAV is supporting the UGV operator considerably. Especially in cases where high accuracy in manoeuvring is required, e.g. for sampling or the location and the detection of small-scale contamination.


It is advisable to consider different UAV sizes to fit the purpose – the choice regarding the type and the number of drones required will depend on the mission type. Three-dimensional modelling of an area might be better achieved using a UAV drone swarm or a larger drone with a 3D LIDAR payload.


The combination of robot and drone-based sensor platforms including thermal and spectral imaging, gamma detection, chemical detection, the use of magnetometers as well as 3D modelling will considerably improve CBRN EOD operations. Additionally, the chain of custody can be better assured by including a UAV with video and photo documentation.

Fig.8: Large UAV for CBRN EOD operations