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DoD Aids Global Demining Efforts

By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service

FORT BELVOIR, Va., Feb. 9, 2000, Feb. 9, 2000 – Thousands of people worldwide die each year from land mines. Thousands more are maimed.

DoD is working to eliminate that threat.

"We're in a mad dash to get to the field with a new capability," said Beverly Briggs, head of DoD's Humanitarian Demining Research and Development Program office here. Her group examines and adapts existing commercial off-the-shelf technologies and equipment that will help detect, neutralize and clear mines, mark and map minefields, and protect individual deminers.

And that equipment is needed, she said. A look around the world gives an idea of the scope of the problem: "Hidden Killers" a State Department publication says there are 60 million mines worldwide. Officials estimate there are 500,000 mines still buried in Angola. At the end of the civil war in Nicaragua there were 132,000 mines. There are between 4 million and 6 million land mines in Cambodia, where one out of every 236 people is an amputee because of mine blasts.

"We aim to eliminate the threat posed to civilians by antipersonnel land mines," Briggs said. "In the last year alone we've deployed some eight major mine detection/mine clearance systems into Bosnia, Kosovo, Jordan, Cambodia and Guantanamo Bay." This mission does not include anti-tank mines or other ordnance that may be in areas, such as unexploded cluster bombs and artillery rounds.

The United States has taken the lead to assist countries that are experiencing the problems of uncleared land mines. In May 1996, President Clinton directed the Department of Defense to significantly expand its humanitarian demining program, to develop improved mine detection and clearing technology and to share this new technology with the international community. The assistant secretary of defense for special operations and low intensity conflict oversees the DoD Humanitarian Demining Program.

The DoD program is a critical component of the overall U.S. program. DoD's program concentrates on training host nations in the procedures of land mine clearance, mine awareness, and victims' assistance, as well as the development of leadership and organizational skills necessary to sustain the programs after American military trainers have redeployed. Currently the U.S. Humanitarian Demining program includes 33 countries of which DoD has conducted operations in 27.

So, the research and development effort is just one part of the total U.S. government effort, but it is significant. The fiscal 2000 budget for Humanitarian Demining is $25.5 million and Humanitarian Demining Research and Development is $16.5 million.

While the research and development group doesn't do much basic research, it does take commercial chassis and add attachments. For example, Briggs said, the group took a commercial tractor and added attachments to clear vegetation.

"We did this in our excellent prototype fabrication facility, here," she said. "Then we took the vehicle to our test facility at Fort A.P. Hill, Va." The Fort Hill facility allows the demining program specialists to run the equipment and conduct blast testing.

The idea is to build a prototype and quickly test its capabilities. "We quantify the performance capability and determine whether or not a particular system has high, moderate, low or no capability," she said.

If the engineers determine they have a winner, work continues on the piece of equipment. They scrap ideas judged of low or no capability.

The R&D office works with other U.S. government entities such as the State Department and nongovernmental organizations that actually work in mined areas. "We have good rapport with all members of the community," Briggs said. "We sometimes get ideas from other members of the interagency [group]."

Demining equipment for civilian uses can move quickly through the procurement process. A typical DoD military procurement could take years to accomplish, but this program can get promising equipment into the hands of deminers 18 months after a proposal.

How the equipment is used enables R&D specialists to speed the acquisition process. "The most significant difference between this way of doing business and the traditional military way has to do with time and survivability," Briggs said. "If the [deminers] determine it's too hot, too cold, too wet, too dry, they simply don't have to do it, and that's OK. But that's not OK for the military. If it's wet, or cold, or hot and you have to clear a minefield, you still have to do it."

In addition, the equipment for humanitarian demining does not have to counter enemy action. "[Humanitarian demining program] personnel are not under direct or indirect fire from an opposing force," Briggs said. "We do not have to harden our systems. This means less research time, less development time and less cost.

Some of the projects the team has worked on are:

  • The camcopter. This remotely piloted light helicopter gives deminers "eyes in the sky" to digitally map a suspected area.
  • Survivable demining tractor and tools. This armored tractor gives deminers tools to clear vegetation, flail the ground and extract trees.
  • The air spade. The deminers can stand back as their air spade's specially designed nozzle shoots supersonic blasts of compressed air that break up and remove packed soil and clay from buried mines.

The Humanitarian Demining Program has been immensely successful, said DoD officials. The close and constant coordination and cooperation between DoD, Department of State, U.S. Agency for International Development, nongovernmental organizations and international organizations has served to ensure DoD's program is well- grounded and one in which the Department can be extremely proud. DoD continues to be encouraged by the reduction of casualties associated with landmines and the increased restoration of land to economic productivity. Continued demining efforts will focus on enabling the people of mine- affected nations to resume a normal way of life.

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