The international Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) estimates that the casualty rate from landmines exceeds 26,000 persons every year. Landmines and other explosive remnants of war (ERW) affect over 70 countries.

In the past four years a vast number of IEDs (improvised explosive devices) and mines were emplaced by the most heavily armed terrorist group in recent times, Daesh, purloined from dozens of military sites around Iraq containing huge amounts of raw explosives material and ready munitions. Mines and IEDs litter fields and abandoned buildings. Boko Haram in Nigeria and Cameroun and the Taliban in Afghanistan deploy hundreds of victim-operated land mines.

Humanitarian Demining

Martin Dumond, training instructor with the U.S. Humanitarian Demining Training Center located at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri discusses demining with a s soldier from the Engineering Companies of the Armenian Peacekeeping Brigade during a simulated one-man demining drill as part of a training course taught by soldiers of the Kansas National Guard and Dumond. Kansas National Guardsmen and the HDTC representative are instructing Armenian peacekeepers and engineer battalions on international demining standards as part of the Humanitarian Mine Action program and will assist the Armenian government in developing a national standard operating procedure for demining.

By August 2017 78.7% of the area contaminated by minefields had been cleared according to Mine Action Programme of Afghanistan (MAPA). Out of the remainder, Afghanistan is one of the worst affected countries.

Mine clearance is either military or humanitarian. Military mine clearance – breaching – means clearing a safe path for troops to advance during conflict and clears only mines that block their strategic pathways during advance or retreat: limited casualties may occur. However, the UN Mine Action Service (UNMAS) is now addressing IEDs as well as landmines as part of ‘mine action’. Route clearance missions are often ambushed by insurgents close to sites where IEDs have been placed. Units in ‘clearance-in-zone operations’ must clear the area of enemies before route clearance can be conducted and the local safety and economy restored.

Unexploded ordnance in the form of legacy munitions and minefields have to be cleared to enable civilians to reoccupy highly dangerous areas. Mines last much longer than IEDs as they have more reliable casing and detonation and are less likely to degrade. They are often more plentiful, with hundreds in an area making it impassable and uninhabitable..

Humanitarian demining demands that all the landmines, especially antipersonnel (AP) mines, and ERW affecting the places where ordinary people live must be cleared, and their safety in areas that have been cleared must be guaranteed.

Landmines are all explosive devices, concealed under or on the ground and designed to destroy or disable enemy targets as they pass over or near the device, as anti-personnel and anti-vehicle weapons, including anti-tank (AT) mines. IEDs technically classified as landmines are improvised assembled by paramilitary, insurgent, or terrorist groups, rather than factory made devices – although some resemble conveyor-belt mines.

Equipment for demining

A fork to fit to the front of the Armtrac 20T has also been designed to lift pressure-plate IEDs that have been fitted with anti-lift devices, thus separating the operator from the threat. Armtrac Ltd manufacture armoured mechanical manned and UGVs for demining, removal of UXOs and countering IEDs, as well as unmanned survey.

AP mines are destroyed by the force of impact of the flail tool attachment – a hardened steel shaft with hammers attached at the end of the chains. During mine clearance, the shaft rotates and the hammers strike the ground and shatter or activate embedded mines. The force of the flail hammers are calculated to enable cutting through dense vegetation and digging into soil. The chains and hammers can be replaced quickly when damaged.

The clearing systems must be cost-effective for hard-pressed governments, agencies, NGOs and commercial companies. Mechanical humanitarian demining provides significant savings over manual demining, which is perilous. A range of different tool attachments are purposely built for mine clearance for optimal performance in the most dangerous conditions.

Remote unmanned platforms

The use of any machine for mine clearance increases productivity and remote unmanned platforms remove the operator from the threat. Controlled from a safe distance, they are effective for manipulation and neutralizing or disrupting suspect devices – but are not always easy to deploy in difficult terrain. A manipulator arm can be attached for excavating and manipulating suspect devices, a tiller or flail for mine clearance, and a roller for route-proving.

The MV-4 from Croatian company DOK-ING is an example of a custom-designed humanitarian demining system – primarily for clearance of AP mines, but will also withstand AT mine detonations, with a claim of no mine accidents recorded in over 15 years. Remotely controlled by an operator up to 2000 m away, the MV-4 boasts high manoeuvrability, engine power, and low track-ground pressure enabling the MV-4 system to work year round in most conditions. The clearing productivity goes up to 2200 sq m per hour. Hardox steel plates make the MV-4 highly resistant to fragmentation.

The working tool is raised, lowered, extended and retracted over difficult terrain such as rocky roads, canals and ditches 50 cm wide and 30 cm deep and vertical obstacles 30 cm high. It can self-recover from a ditch by using its hydraulic arms in extend and retract positions. MV-4 can drive and work on highly inclined terrain both transversely and longitudinally clearing transverse slopes 35° up and down, driving on transversal slopes of 45° up and down, and clearing longitudinal slopes of 20° on longitudinal slopes of 35°.

It can drive through water 45 cm deep without any special actions taken by the operator and can turn 360° on a single point. Most repairs can be carried out by the operator and mechanic in the field, with blast-damaged sections easily replaced.

In January the Ecuadorian Ministry of National Defence acquired from the Austrian mine detection equipment manufacturer Schiebel, 35 ATMIDTM All Terrain Mine Detectors, which feature dynamic continuous wave detection while retaining the design of the AN-19/2, a widely used mine detector for both humanitarian and military use.

Suitable for fast, accurate demining in all climates and terrains, the ATMIDTM can detect minimum metal-content land mines – including in ground with a high content of metallic iron or aluminium oxides.

Training – the US HDTC

The Humanitarian Demining Training Center (HDTC) run by the US Department of Defense at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri trains US military personnel to International Mine Action Standards for the US Humanitarian Mine Action (HMA) Program, set up to assist mine-affected countries in building a self-sustained, indigenous HMA capacity. Training covers both HMA and EOD (explosives ordnance disposal) with special emphasis on mine clearance, mine risk education, management of mine action, and the UN-approved Information Management System for Mine Action (IMSMA).

The HDTC’s extensive training areas host a large collection of inert landmines, mine detectors, personal protective equipment and educational displays. Realistic practical landmine surveys and field exercises are held in built-up and rural areas and simulated landmine-hazard areas among housing, on school grounds, and similar vital infrastructures. Extensive hands-on training includes demining training lanes, metal-free detector lanes, mine and UXO identification lanes, a full-scale mine clearance demonstration area and a functioning Regional Mine Action Center that directly supports mine action situational training exercises.

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Andy Oppenheimer AIExpE MIABTI is Editor-in-Chief of CBNW (Chemical, Biological & Nuclear Warfare) and CBNW Xplosive journals, a consultant in CBRNE and counter-terrorism, and author of IRA: The Bombs and the Bullets (Irish Academic Press, 2008).