The process of demining or mine clearance is one used around the world to detect and remove mines and unexploded ordnance most often buried beneath the ground. Generally, it falls into two categories – military and humanitarian. Both types have benefited greatly from the development of new demining machine equipment that helps improve safety and detection.
Military and humanitarian differences
For the military, the process is known as minefield breaching and is done as quickly as possible in order to create safe passage for troops or even for ships. The aim is, therefore, to clear a specific path as quickly as possible and not to remove all the mines in the area to make the area totally safe. Often mine breachingtakes place underenemy fire and therefore the troops who perform the activity, known as sappers, are under enormous pressure.Depending on how wide the breach is, it will either allow a path for follow-on infantry or armoured vehicles to pass through the minefield.
On the other hand, humanitarian mine clearance or mine action is known as demining and is a time intensive and thorough process. The aim of this is to clear an entire area of land or sea to reduce the threat to As Low as Reasonably Practicable (ALARP) and ensure anyone can use the area without concern. The process is known as “Land Release” which takes a lot of time and although it is inherentlydangerous, the risks are reduced to the minimum by the use of thorough training, well established procedures and the use of personal protective equipment. Of course humanitarian demining does not have the element of live enemy fire that the military mayexperience. Demining is conducted for a variety of reasons – to clear former battle areas for economic development, to make areas safe for general use and also to remove unexploded ordnance or UXO from sites.
Currently, the largest amount of demining work takes place in Afghanistan (24.8% of global spending on demining) and Iraq (15.1% of global spending on demining)
How demining works
Some approaches to demining have been around for generations and can still serve a purpose. Then there is the modern demining machine that offers a range of addition benefits, mostly in the safety area.
One of the traditionalways to demine an area is with a metal detector. This was first used by a Polish officer JózefKosacki who used a device to clear the minefields during the Second Battle of El Alamein. Metal detectors are used to survey an area but there is a high rate of false positives. Additionally in recent years, the majority ofmines are made with a minimal amount of metal and this makes detectingthem much more difficult.
Animals have also been used to detect mines and other UXO. Dogs are the most well known and are trained to sniff out chemicals used in mines and bombs such as TNT. This still requires a manual handler to accompany them so there is still risk involved. In countries such as Mozambique and Tanzania, a breed of rat called the Giant Pouched Rat is also being taught to hunt out the mines and their small body weight makes them less likely to set off the mine.
Modern demining machine equipment
Modern demining equipment has itself evolved in recent times as companies begin to specialise in its development and creation. Mine rollers and mine flails were the systems used back in World War Ii and are still used in some situations, but the efficiency of clearance can be as low as 60%. Often mechanical demining equipment is used in conjunction with manual detection techniques or canine detection to remove the vegetation first before the other techniques can be employed. Alternatively, if mines are completely undetectable, a machine can be used to mechanically processthe ground to make manual excavation that much quicker.
The best modern demining equipment is designed specifically for the job. Armtrac Ltd is one company who produce a number of specialist demining machines that are aimed at different threats and terrain. The Armtrac 20T Robot, for example, can be lifted into a location by helicopter and can be remote controlled to protect the operator. The largest of the demining equipment can clear 2400 square meters an hour and can withstand anti-tank mines up to 10kg while being remotely controlled.
Demining is an ongoing process in many parts of the world. By using the latest in demining machinery, safety is increased, and accuracy is at its highest, making it easier to accomplish complete demining more efficiently.