FastCAD – A feasibility study on UAV-based scanning and 3D CAD modelling of naval ships


Department of Defence, Science and Technology (DST)’s primary role is to coordinate science and technology for national security. They provide expert support and advice for the conduct of Defence force operations, acquisition, sustainment and planning future capability through collaboration, partnerships, strategic research, and outreach.

DST and the Royal Australian Navy (RAN) were seeking a better understanding of the current technologies and capabilities of UAV-based systems in scanning and generating 3D CAD models of naval ships. These models can then be used to predict the ship’s Radar Cross Section (RCS) and support subsequent threat analysis. Fast scanning and modelling of ships is not a capability currently extant for the RAN, although other industries, such as mining, readily utilise surveying scan data to inform their decision making ‘on-the-fly’.


Shoal teamed with DST and RAN to conduct a feasibility study. It consisted of several sequential activities including:

  1. An initial industry survey to understand available technologies and suppliers
  2. Participant down-selection for trials
  3. System demonstration trials at naval base, HMAS Stirling in WA, with MV Besant, a submarine search and rescue ship
  4. Trials conducted quay side (no ship motion) and at anchor (some ship motion).

The study’s final report presented a summary of currently available technologies and their maturity levels; an assessment of the performance of the system trial participants; and a discussion of use cases / applications such as configuration change detection (see image in top right), battle damage assessment, and signature prediction. From this study, DST and RAN gained an understanding of where key aspects of this capability are already extant and where there are challenges for the technology and operators, as well as what key activities and developments are required to progress this concept to an operational capability.