The State Department estimates the number of innocent
victims at 600 per month; the Red Cross has an estimate double that
number: 1200 civilians killed or maimed by anti-personnel mines every
month. Angola, Bosnia, Cambodia: An alphabet of 62 countries where it's
estimated that 100 million land mines lie in wait for the unwary. And
two million more are added to that number every year.
The land mine embedded in the road or field is fairly sophisticated,
with sufficient explosive power to render ineffective the heaviest armor.
But the anti-personnel device can literally be put together with little
or no skill for a couple of dollars — a thin tube of explosive
with a simple trigger hidden under an inch of dirt or vegetation.
In an unusual move, the International Red Cross began a campaign to
ban anti-personnel land mines last fall. Because they're not an advocacy
group, this step was out of character. However, as Urs Boegli, director
of the agency's campaign, says, "We've simply seen too much."
Now you're probably saying to yourself, "That's very interesting.
But what does this have to do with the electronics industry?"
It's unlikely that this deadly threat to humanity can be eliminated
other than by using electronics. Current methods for locating these
mines are costly and dangerous. Conventionally, sniffer dogs are used
to make the initial determination on whether or not the explosive material
exists. This is followed up by magnetic detection (impossible with the
often plastic homemade device) and manual probing. Experience is that
30 men with sniffer dogs can clear only about 2000 m2 per
day at an average cost of over $1000 per mine. In 1994, a U.N.-sponsored
program cleared some 85,000 mines, not even scratching the surface of
the new mines being laid.
Within Electronic Design's readership are many engineers who
specialize in technologies that could assist in this area: Various radars
(ground-penetrating, ultra-wide-bandwidth, centimetric, millimetric),
active and passive electro-optical devices, gas and vapor detectors,
radiometry, polarimetry, and acoustics. These sensor technologies, together
with sensor platforms (handheld, vehicle, airborne) and the target data
(mine databases and signatures, the effects and depolarization of signals
caused by vegetation), will be the subject of a unique conference, being
held on purely humanitarian grounds.
The international conference, called "The Detection of Abandoned
Land Mines," will be conducted by the Convention of National Societies
of Electrical Engineers of Europe (EUREL) under the sponsorship of the
U.K. Institution of Electrical Engineers (IEE) in the Edinburgh (Scotland)
International Conference Centre, October 7-9, 1996. The organizing chairman,
Roger Voles, visiting professor at the University College of London,
is ardent on the subject matter, but pragmatic to the point that he
believes no major technological "revelation" will occur at
the conference. In speaking with him, he had over 60 paper submissions
from 12 countries, with more on the way. It's too late for papers now,
but it's certainly not too late to go to Edinburgh to listen, to offer
round-table inputs, or to simply contact the organizers and learn how
you can help.
If this sounds like a commercial, it is. This is a problem that we can't
ignore — conflicts happen and, perhaps, will always happen. But
it's unconscionable that this legacy remain in place, as it were, to
kill and maim innocents. And we as an engineering community can do something
The IEE Conference Secretariat (mention conference MD96) can be reached
at fax +44 (171) 240-8830; e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. Web URL is
(Paul McGoldrick is a Chartered European Engineer and member of the
U.S. West Coast Committee of the IEE; e-mail to email@example.com.)
The Wall Street Journal
Friday, May 17, 1996
Land Mines Prove to Be Even Harder to Detect Than They Are to Ban Technological
Shortcomings In Equipment Have Some Blasting Army Funding
The 'Toe-Popper' Strategy
By John J. Fialka, Staff Reporter of The Wall Street Journal
The global campaign to rid the world of land mines has found that the
objective is as elusive as the mines themselves.
Just yesterday, President Clinton announced that the U.S. will ban the
deployment of some types of mines after 1999. The ban exempts South
Korea, where large minefields are needed to defend U.S. forces from
a North Korean invasion.
The world's major powers say it is difficult to end land mine use because
of the strategic military value. But even when the fighting ends and
peace prevails, the danger lingers: Adequate equipment doesn't exist
to ensure the safe removal of land mines.
Today, Bosnia provides the latest illustration of how high technology
hasn't played much of a role in mine detection and removal. Mines have
killed seven soldiers and wounded 40 others among the international
peacekeeping forces in the war-torn region. Since December, when the
17,500 U.S. troops who make up almost a third of the peacekeeping force
arrived, one American has been killed and another three have been wounded.
Army officials say some of the "luck" among the American forces
is attributable to intensive mine-awareness training and the fact that
in many mine blasts, U.S. troops were protected by heavily armored vehicles.
The Smallest Victims
But the toll in lives and shattered legs is likely to continue in Bosnia
and other mine- laden parts of the world, especially among civilians.
The State Department estimates that at least 25,000 people are killed
or maimed each year by mines. Often, children find the mines first.
Approximately 1.5 million to two million new mines go into the ground
in various regional disputes each year. On the political front, 38 nations
have agreed to ban the use of mines, but the major powers, including
the U.S., the United Kingdom, Russia, China and India aren't among them.
Political solutions to the mine problem have faltered, as
recent international negotiations in Geneva on the issue accomplish
In terms of removal, the U.S. is a world leader in mine-detection equipment
and techniques, but critics say the efforts come up short because of
years of inadequate military funding combined with insufficient high-level
Army attention. U.S. troops in Bosnia have missiles that knock other
missiles out of the air, tanks that hit moving targets in the dead of
night and helicopters that pinpoint distant enemies with lasers. But
what lies two inches below the ground remains a mystery to be solved
one explosive charge at a time.
Brig. Gen. Roy E. Beauchamp, who oversees the countermine program for
the Army's Materiel Command, says past problems were caused by a dwindling
military budget combined with heavy competition for research and development
money. "Perhaps we could have brought along some of these technologies
quicker," he says.
The explosive situation in Bosnia, however, has launched a crash program
at the Pentagon on detection and removal. "We took information
from any source we could get," the general says. His office is
studying some 40 devices that may have some immediate application in
Bosnia. Yesterday, his unit showed off some new gear at Fort Belvoir,
Va., including radar-detection systems that use ground-penetrating radars
and infrared detectors. Though in the experimental stage, a few of the
devices may arrive in Bosnia before December, when U.S. troops are to
The Army has had a long, bloody history with mines. In Vietnam, from
1967 through 1969, 31,509 U.S. soldiers, or 14% of all those wounded,
were mine victims.
Since that time — including in the Gulf War and now Bosnia —
soldiers have carried the same basic antimine equipment their grandfathers
used in World War II: metal detectors and stick-like probes. But today's
more sophisticated mines are much harder to detect because they are
mostly plastic and lie buried amid shrapnel, bullets and other debris
that trigger plenty of false alarms.
To say the least, the dated equipment concerns U.S. lawmakers. "Have
you looked in the cockpit of an F-15E?" asks Rep. Norman Sisisky,
referring to the Air Force's top jet fighter. "There's some unbelievable
stuff in there.
"We can do that, but we can't develop something that's satisfactory
against mines," says the Virginia Democrat, who has spent a dozen
years prodding the military to give soldiers better mine protection.
"A Matter of Interest"
Though the Army has devoted between $30 million and $50 million a year
to mine-countermeasure research, that is small change in it's $64 billion
budget. (Largely because of pushing from Rep. Sisisky, Vermont Democratic
Sen. Patrick J. Leahy and others, the 1996 budget is about $70 million.)
Richard Johnson, a former Army colonel who directed mine-countermeasure
efforts until retiring in 1993, said the program has traditionally been
underfunded and has always moved in fits and starts. There was a surge
of interest in antimine technology after the Gulf War, he says, but
it quickly waned.
"I think it's a matter of interest," he says. "Somebody
has to stand up three months later and say: 'General, are you still
interested?' There were other things that they always found to be more
sexy, like tanks and helicopters."
Interest shot up again after the first U.S. troops were injured in Bosnia.
Army officials appointed a special task force led by Gen. Beauchamp
and Maj. Gen. Clair F. Gill, the Army's top engineer.
"We're attempting to pull all the players together in an integrated
process to make sure we get a focus and move this technology out in
the very shortest time," Gen. Beauchamp says.
But the mission isn't easy. In September, the congressional General
Accounting Office found no one agency specifically in charge of mine
countermeasures, even though 20 different government agencies are involved
in such research. The GAO report said many of the agencies don't talk
to each other, even those within the Army. The Pentagon acknowledged
that the program was "fragmented."
Mines That Maim
Robert J. Mauer, vice president of Metratek, Inc., a Reston, Va., company
working on high-tech mine detection says, "I don't think anybody
has much of anything that's ready to go." A funding shortage, he
says, has stymied the development of ground-penetrating radars and infrared
sensors with the potential of finding "toe poppers" —
nearly all-plastic mines designed to maim rather than kill.
But Gen. Beauchamp showed off several experimental vehicles yesterday
that used both systems to find simulated plastic mines buried at the
Fort Belvoir test site. They used computers to measure tiny differences,
including variations in soil temperature, to spot the mines. And Army
engineers are struggling to develop a common computer database that
merges come 8,000 maps of Bosnia minefields.
The general said more months of development are needed before the Army
will risk using the new devices on real mine fields. "Anything
can be a mine-detection system once," he said.
Some inventors grumble that until recently the Army hasn't been looking
all that hard. A California inventor, Bill Wattenburg, developed a crawling,
all-terrain robot that hunts for mines and explodes them. It is the
second antimine device developed by Mr. Wattenburg, a former hydrogen-bomb
designer and now a consultant at the Department of Energy's Lawrence
Livermore National Laboratory. The lab says foreign governments and
the U.S. Air Force have expressed interest in the robot.
(continued on page A8)
Critics Blast Land-Mine Detection Efforts
The Army hasn't expressed interest in Mr. Wattenburg's device, but
Gen. Beauchamp says there is a rush to push robot-controlled vehicles
into Bosnia. He showed off a remote-controlled jeep that was maneuvered
by an engineer watching a video screen in a nearby tent.
The former Yugoslavia was one of the world's largest mine producers.
Though the explosives come in many varieties, the most widely proliferated
is the hockey-puck size toe-popper, which can blow off a soldier's foot.
In a combat situation, such a wound poses a strategic problem for an
Army unit because it forces other troops to carry the victim to medics,
removing three soldiers from the battlefield.
Minefields are carefully mapped in traditional wars. That isn't the
case in Bosnia, where warring factions hastily scattered mines off of
the backs of trucks as battle lines were moved. The Army estimates there
are more than 7,000 minefields in the U.S. sector of Bosnia, and at
least 3.2 million mines planted in Bosnia, Croatia and Serbia. According
to United Nations surveys, one of every 10 houses in some areas contains
a mine victim.
Casualties probably will mount this summer as refugees and soldiers
of the international force spend more time in former battle areas. Burrus
Carnahan, a mine expert at Science Applications International Corp.,
a San Diego defense-research firm, says: "None of the sides know
where even half of the mines are. There will be a bigger problem over
the long term if certain groups decide they don't want NATO there. ...
They'll start putting mines clandestinely on roads already thought to
be cleared. Then U.S. forces will be taking casualties."
Most of the U.S. mine-removing equipment in Bosnia is designed for
conventional wars in which the Army cuts paths through minefields and
then leaves the dicey job of clearing the rest to someone else. The
gear includes heavy rollers, tank-propelled plows and "line charges"
— long, explosive-impregnated ropes that blast all mines in a
But peacekeeping missions are different, as the Army discovered in Somalia.
Local authorities don't want village roads plowed or exploded. Moreover,
the Somalis (like Bosnians today) wanted to learn how to clear the mines
Twenty vehicles that project the magnetic image of a tank have arrived
in Bosnia. The image sets off some antitank mines prematurely, but so
far NATO forces haven't found such mines.
Army planners, desperate for something new and ready to go, scraped
up two robot-driven flails that pound the ground and six explosive-sniffing
dogs, requisitioned from an experiment to see why dogs can find mines
and humans can't.
For civilians, it has provided a machine that prints T-shirts for children,
showing drawings of the most common types of mines, which are often
mistaken for toys.
Gen. Beauchamp says high technology will provide computer-drawn maps
— using U.S. navigation satellites — that will locate minefields
to aid cleanup efforts by civilians. But, the general concedes, such
marvels may be months, if not years away.
In the meantime, soldiers and civilians must cope with what they have.
Metal detectors — like those used for hunting coins on a beach
— deliver a screech when they sense an object. Then the soldier
takes a fiberglass rod, and carefully pokes at an angle into the soil
just ahead. If lucky, he will find the mine by hitting the side of it.
If not, or if the mine is tipped, as they sometimes are, the probe will
hit the top, setting it off in his face.
Sgt. Donald A. Dugan, the only U.S. soldier to die in a mine blast,
was killed in February while trying to disarm a mine with a pocket tool.
The Army says he made a "judgment error" by entering a known
minefield that was off limits. The first American to hit a Bosnian mine
escaped death because his jeep had an armored floor. The other soldiers
were seriously injured after they triggered toe-poppers on roads supposedly
cleared by Serbian units and then "proofed" by Army engineers
pulling big steel rollers. Others were only shaken because they were
riding in armored Bradleys and tanks.
After the Gulf War, the government of Kuwait spent $1 billion on contractors
who equipped foreign workers with metal detectors and sticks to clear
mines from the Iraq War in 1991. Contractors involved say at least 85
workers were killed.
In Bosnia, where no warring party has that kind of money, the costs
of living with mines must be endured. Croatia has told the U.N. it is
losing $230 million a year because sizeable areas of it's farmland are
mine-infested and can't be tilled.
Since the cost of spreading mines is cheap — sometimes less than
$5 each — and clearance can cost more than $1,000 a mine, demining
presents an economic dilemma, says Tore Skedsmo, a Norwegian who heads
U.N. demining efforts. In Bosnia, Angola, Cambodia and other mine-plagued
areas, some 6,000 U.N. workers dig up nearly 100,000 mines a year. They
have at least one accident a week. "All of them are serious,"
Mr. Skedsmo says.
Members of the House National Security Committee, which has been exploring
the issue, find the Army's traditional view of mines frustrating.
"U.S. forces have a complete 'toolbox' to deal with the landmine
threat in Bosnia," Maj. Gen Gill, the Army's top engineer, insisted
before a House national-security sub-committee earlier this year.
That caused Republican Rep. Curt Weldon of Pennsylvania, chairman of
the panel, to shake his head, grumbling: "It seems like we're always
facing this issue when it occurs."
Since the Gulf War, Henry Kendall, a Nobel Prize-winning physicist
at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, has made a thorough examination
of that toolbox. He remains unimpressed, "We've had 51 years since
World War II and now they want a quick fix," Dr. Kendall says,
"It's, in a sense, a scandal."