range of machines are designed to expose or initiate devices
mines as they work. What these all have in common is that they
engage the ground, and that none of them reliably expose or
initiate all of the devices that must be found for ground to have been "cleared" to the definition of "Clearance" given in IMAS 09.10 Clearance requirements.
"Land shall be accepted as 'cleared' when the demining organisation has ensured the removal and/or destruction of all mine and ERW hazards from the specified area to the specified depth."
developed from machines intended to work in military minefield
breaching, where complete clearance is not as important
is a powerful lobby for these machines to be more widely
used in Humanitarian Demining. This lobby appears not to
difference between "military" and "humanitarian" demining.
In the latter "all" mines and ERW must be cleared to a predetermined depth so that
the area is safe for civilian use. Clearing 80 or 90% is
not good enough - especially because the land which was avoided
will be believed safe, and so will be used. Incomplete clearance
can INCREASE the risk to civilians and must be avoided by
all those who want to call their work "humanitarian".
commercial interests behind the machines often claim that machines that cannot clear an area can be used for Area Reduction. In so far as they can provide increased confidence that an area does not need to be cleared - when there is no reason to believe that the area is hazardous anyway - this can be true. However, any land processed for this purpose cannot be recorded as "cleared". Machines
may initiate or expose some devices but they do not clear
any ground without follow-up by manual or MDD demining. Humanitarian Demining
is about clearing ground of all hazards, not just detonating some devices.
main types of ground-engaging machines are:
picture is taken from the cab of an Aardvark flail in Angola
- looking forward through the spinning flail heads.
is the same machine standing idle.
one of its "brothers" in bits, awaiting repair and
machine this size costs a lot to purchase and run (purchase
cost frequently exceeds a million US$). Supporting it logistically
is often beyond the capacity of a demining group working in
a developing country. They are frequently out of use for months
- with their support crews standing idle. This may be because
they break down (which they do often because they were not designed
for constant use) or because they damage themselves by running
over mines and ERW that the flail has failed to initiate, which also happens more frequently than the manufacturers admit.
is a Hydrema, a rather more expensive flail than the Aardvark,
after just such an "accident".
Hydrema is in Eritrea. It has just run over a shallow AT blast
mine that the flails did not initiate. An axle has been lost
and the armour of the cab compromised. The driver was injured.
The sales blurb for this machine starts by saying that this
is a "mine clearance vehicle capable of clearing all mines
which have been conventionally buried or non-directional anti-tank
mines up to 10 kg without receiving any damage". Er, yes...
another honest advertisement. And one wonders how many others
the flail missed and the wheels did not run over...?
importantly, no one even claims that these machines can detonate
or "clear" the mortars, RPGs, rockets, large bombs
and other ERW that may also litter the ground. They also miss
mines with pin-pull fuzes. Worse, their passing can completely
conceal things that were obvious before the machine passed through.
the less, some demining groups like flails because they can
allow a large land-area to be processed very
quickly and this can improve their performance figures. In some
cases, the donors bear the responsibility because they press
for better "numbers" regardless of the quality of the work.
large number of ground-engaging flails on the market
is an indication of the way that the manufacturers have perceived
a potential for profit.
is an ARMTRAK 100 flail
And here is the dust it raises in use - blocking cooling systems, blinding the driver and causing a wide range of mechanical failure.
This picture shows the chevron tracks of the flail and the dust-covered broken rocks left behind. On the bottom left is a V69 bounding fragmentation mine lying on its side and crushed into the ground. It would not be safe to step on that - so even the track-paths cannot be considered "clear" after a flail has passed. This mine was crushed into the ground. There have been other examples where flails have thrown the mines around and some have landed in the tracks behind the machine. When the flail raises dust, the entire area gets coated and exposed devices can be almost impossible to see.
SISU Finnish flail
The Patria RA 140 DS
The Samson 260
The Minemill MC 2003
The Minelifta flail unit
The Scanjack 3500
is by no means all of the available large flails (mini-flails
were covered in Machines in HD: Part 1). When you see how many
there are and start to consider how much effort and money has
gone into their development instead of into the clearance of
land, it can make one despair. But commercial self-interest
is a reality and governments have always liked to give "development"
money to companies working at home... And this does not really
matter as long as no one actually uses them to "clear" ground.
you have not been there yet, go to Introduction
to HD and look
at the typical mined areas shown... These machines could not
be used in many areas even if they could clear level
ground with friable soils. Independent tests have shown that in real minefields they do not reliably process the ground to an even depth and do not detonate all pressure-sensitive devices in their path.
They do not let off all pressure mines
(even when they are in good condition) and are far more likely
to throw damaged UXO around than to initiate it. I myself have found a mine crushed into a flail's tracks... Detonating a few
mines is not always a good thing - see
Myths, Mines and Ground Clearance and does not "clear" any ground at all. This is not to say that they have no use - merely that their use must always be followed by a more reliable "clearance" procedures, and so their uses adds to the costs involved. This may be desirable when increased speed justifies the high cost...
rely on applying pressure to the ground, so detonating
pressure-sensitive devices. In practice, mined areas are
rarely level and large rollers can fail to apply even pressure,
so missing devices that would theoretically have been initiated
by the roller's weight.
attempted to get around that with segmented disc rollers,
accurately than long rollers.
order to achieve this, the undergrowth must first be
cleared AND removed. Even then, rocks,
tree stumps or large irregularities mean that the discs
do not always touch the ground.
shows a Soviet T55 bridge layer tank with KMT5
roller system mounted on the front. Tanks with the KMT5 were deployed to Angola
in the early 1990s and used to "clear" a defensive
belt of AT mines.
picture was taken when a T55 tank and KMT5 rollers "missed"
an AT mine, then drove over it. The tank's armour was breached
and an occupant killed. The system missed mines, and was
even unsafe for its operators.
fundamental problem with rollers is that they can never
let off anything but a pressure-operated device that
is orientated correctly and in good working condition.
Mines on their side or damaged, mines that are not pressure
fuzed, and all manner of unexploded ordnance will be
left behind - and may be left behind in a more damaged
state. If the ground is uneven, anything could be left
behind, even by heavy roller systems.
are ground processors - chewing or milling
the ground. Tillers are push-or-pull ploughs designed to
turn up and expose mines.
are designed so that AP mine detonations do not disrupt operations.
A few claim that even AT mine detonations cause only minimal
damage. See what happened to the tank in the previous section
- AT mines are designed to disrupt armoured vehicles so the
claim of AT immunity always relies on the device detonating
in a conveniently "harmless" position.
The FMR-2000 is one of these "miracle" machines.
is the optimistically named "Mineguzzler"...
Tillers use tines or plough blades to break
up the soil and expose any shallow buried items that may
be there. In areas where there is friable soil without
dense tree roots, this can be effective - but the effect
may be to simply turn devices over, or to bury them more
deeply than they originally were.
protect the machines, some are designed to push rather than
pull the tiller. The machine above is the Mine Clearance Cultivator
(MCC). It weighs 32 tonnes (too heavy for the road bridges
in many countries) and pushes its tiller through the ground
with immense force. Needless to say the tiller blades tend
to be broken off by the pressure, especially when there any
stones or roots for them to catch on. The only effective way
to use it is with a minimal cutting depth, so ignoring any
mines buried below 8cm. Given that its target is AT mines,
and it is normal for them to be buried more deeply, this is
a fairly significant design limitation.
the machine has been backed by huge sums of US taxpayers
money and has so far "found" two AT mines in Angola.
It has blown itself up with both.
cost of the repairs alone would have paid for many months
of real clearance by a real demining team. The
report of this accident.
millers and tillers are on a smaller scale - usually
as attachments to fit on a multi-purpose
As usual, multi-purpose machines rarely perform any action
as efficiently as a dedicated item, and some...
contrive to look absurdly amateur despite vast sums of
R&D money being spent.
machines could really locate and break up the range of unexploded
ordnance common in mined areas, (which includes ordnance with
an armour piercing capability) they would blow themselves
to bits in the process regularly. What happened with the MCC
illustrates what can happen with simple blast devices. If
they reliably exposed everything that must be found in HD,
commercial demining groups might find them commercially viable
to purchase, and they do not.
ground tends to look smooth despite the original irregularities
- so items can be missed and buried more deeply than they
were before. Bed-rock, fibrous tree roots and soft ground
all lead to failures of coverage that means the whole area
must be covered again to achieve Humanitarian clearance standards.
If the machine has disrupted mine patterns or left damaged
devices behind, this can be slower and more expensive than
it would have been without the machine being involved. In
any case, the cost of using the machine must be added to the
cost of manual clearance - so it can never be cheaper than
manual clearance would be.
Sifters range from large machines that mill the ground, then
pick it and sift it, to smaller improvised methods.
is the MineBuster, deployed on the Zimbabwe/Mozambique border
had a toothed roller than mills the ground...
nylon toothed sifting system...
a conveyor belt rack to "riddle" the output. Intact mines were
meant to be deposited on the surface behind
by tree roots and rocky ground, it left smoothly processed
ground that was once "lumpy", so must have concealed some of
the mines in the dense minebelt at a depth beyond the reach
a metal-detector. Some of the mines deposited on the surface
detonated spontaneously as deminers approached (in several
broke regularly and had lengthy downtimes, and could only be
used in carefully selected areas of the minebelt. While less
critical than I am, those who used it did accept that its purchase
and use was not at all cost-effective.
similar method is used by the Amtrak sifter attachment shown
sifters use a "drum" that can be used to pick up suspect soil
and sift" out the loose content before spreading what is left
for manual inspection.
Although this is expensive, its reliance on manual
clearance makes the method a kind of mechanised mine-detection
rather than mechanised clearance.
a smaller scale, the ill-conceived "Berm-sifter" was developed
to help clear mounds of earth left by bulldozer
"clearance". With a very narrow and short wheelbase, the
machine was too unstable to be deployed over any unsurfaced area,
so was not used.
was being used was a "bucket" and grid...
bucket dumped the spoil on the grid, then shook it (spilling
some of the content over the sides).
unprotected men moved in to sift through the items too big to
have fallen through the grid. This illustrates how a commitment
to a mechanical method that does not work can lead to dangerous
improvisation. The work was hailed as a triumph by the US government
who paid for it - and seem likely to have been unaware of what
was really happening.
There are other methods of collecting and sifting topsoil with manual inspection of the results that may be effective in terms of clearance - but must be very expensive and destructive of the environment.
Dozers and graders
may seem strange to think of bulldozers as mine clearance vehicles
- but they have often been used as such.
all they can do is move the problem from one place to another
- but sometimes the "client" is happy
with that. If you want access to power lines, for example, you
may not worry about the local people who will climb the spoil
heaps when you have gone. This is not Humanitarian Demining.
road grader is really just a bulldozer - although its use on
dirt-roads does make it more likely that the disturbed earth
where something is deeply buried may be spotted. Graders have
missed mines and blown off their own wheels as a result - so
they should never be considered a "clearance" machine.
can assist demining in many ways - and I wholeheartedly support
their use when it does not reduce the efficiency of the clearance
and so put the end users of the land at increased risk. Mine
"clearance" machines invariably do this - because
the range of devices and the context in which they are found
are never fully addressed in the design aims. There are no mine clearance machines, just machines used in demining, or "demining machines".
all the failings of the above machines, this multitool mine-clearance
machine takes first prize for being ill-conceived
and downright dangerous for its driver, never mind the end-users
of the land. It has a spiked roller (long nails) and a small excavation bucket. That said, in an AP blast minefield with the operator wearing armour, it could be an effective breaching tool.....
demining is slow - but it can be really thorough... and, compared
to the real costs of most mechanical methods, rather cheap. Even if manual demining were more expensive, the money spent
on manual deminers goes into the local economy and promotes
stability and peace in a post-conflict region, which can be a significant incidental benefit.