Chuck Colby

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  First Low Cost Co-Axial Helicopter

Chuck with the First Low-Cost Co-Axial Helicopter
article: Heli-Expo Attendees speak their minds

First Low-Cost Co-Axial Helicopter

 
 

Electronic Design, June 10, 1996
Technology Briefing: EEs And Anti-Personnel Mines
Paul McGoldrick, West Coast Editor

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 about it.

The IEE Conference Secretariat (mention conference MD96) can be reached at fax +44 (171) 240-8830; e-mail: conference@iee.org.uk. Web URL is http://www.iee.org.uk.

(Paul McGoldrick is a Chartered European Engineer and member of the U.S. West Coast Committee of the IEE; e-mail to 102447.346@compuserve.com.)

 
 
 

The Wall Street Journal
Friday, May 17, 1996


Killing Fields
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 very little.

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.

New Gear

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 leave.

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."

'Line Charges'

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 given corridor.

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 more safely.

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.

Economic Dilemma

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."