Media Opportunity Ref. Demining in Afghanistan, Angola, Bosnia, and Cambodia
COL. BRIDGES: Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. It gives me pleasure to follow up on Capt. Doubleday's notice to you that we are going to have a second briefing. As he mentioned, these individuals that are going to come up on the podium here have just attended the International Mine Action Center Workshop sponsored by DoD's Assistant Secretary for Special Operations and Low-Intensity Conflict, which was held at Fort Belvoir this week. The press advisories that are on the back table contain the exact spellings of their names, and what I will do is I will introduce them, and they will come up here so the camera can identify just who they are.
The first I will introduce is Mr. Ian Bullpitt, Manager of Demining Planning and Operations, the United Nations Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Assistance. Second, Geir Bjorsvik, Demining Project Coordinator, Norwegian People's Aid. Lance Malin, Demining Project Manager, Handicap International; and Lt. Col. "Chip" Bowness, a member of the Canadian Armed Forces, who is Chief, Operations and Technical Advisor, Cambodian Mine Action Center. Lastly, Col. Zahaczewsky, who is, I guess, the sponsor of the conference and is also a compatriot of Bob Cowles, who most of you who have been following this issue know. Col. Zahaczewsky has an opening statement, and then, please, he will entertain your questions. Thank you.
COL. ZAHACZEWSKY: Thank you, Col. Bridges. Good afternoon. I'll have just a few words as an introductory statement or remarks to get on with this short presentation. We did hold a Mine Action Center Workshop in Springfield, Virginia on the 20th and 21st of January 1988. OSD SOLIC and Ambassador Holmes sponsored the workshop, and it was hosted by the Army's Communications and Electronics Command Night Vision Electronic Sensors Directorate. They are our program manager for humanitarian demining research and development. The workshop focused on identifying and refining the equipment and technology needs of host-nation personnel engaged in humanitarian demining throughout the world. The objective of the MAC Workshop was to provide a forum for the National Mine Action Centers and the nongovernmental organizations that are actually involved in demining to identify and prioritize the most pressing equipment needs. These requirements that they presented to us the last two days will serve to guide future U.S. Department of Defense demining technology development efforts under our humanitarian demining R&D program.
Additionally, the workshop provided a forum for the MVSD, the Fort Belvoir people, the equipment developers there to gain a better appreciation and understanding of operational and environmental conditions confronting deminers. In addition to DoD technology developers, the workshop included representatives from demining organizations operating in Afghanistan, Angola, Bosnia, Cambodia, and Mozambique. And as Col. Bridges introduced the five individuals, they will be talking to you and available to answer questions pertaining to their particular organizations' roles and activities in four of those countries that I mentioned: Afghanistan, Angola, Bosnia, and Cambodia.
We are going to follow this workshop up in the future with similar workshops and opportunities to not only engage the international community in discussions about technology and equipment needs, but also to share what we have done in our substantial demining R&D program with the international community. And having said that, I'll turn it over for your questions to these four gentlemen behind me. Thank you.
Q: Is this first conference, is this just to prioritize U.S. R&D needs, or was there also recommendations for prioritizing the R&D needs of other nations?
COL. ZAHACZEWSKY: No. Again, the focus -- I'll just give you a little background. In 1995 is when we initiated our R&D program, and it was a quick ramp up, so we did what we could initially to get some equipment in the hands of deminers. We recognize now that we're in this for the long haul, the long term, if you will, and so we're taking a longer or a more systematic approach in how we do the research-and-development program. And one of the key elements, obviously, it to identify exactly what it is that the user, the deminer, needs out in the field. What we did in the past is we used the best experience, expertise that we had available from our Special Forces personnel who do the training, the expertise that we had from our technology developers in the countermine business, the explosive ordnance disposal business, the other communities that are involved. So we used that expertise, and we got a start on the program. We got some equipment out in the field that is being evaluated in various operational theaters, and now we're trying to look down the road and address more specific needs of deminers. I hope that answered your question.
Q: Still, I mean, for the demining operations also were any of the other countries that participated, did they discuss what their specific needs were, or is the result of this workshop only what the U.S. needs are?
COL. ZAHACZEWSKY: Okay. Maybe I didn't -- yeah, I didn't properly state the focus of the mission. It wasn't to address what our needs are; it was to solicit the needs of the host-nation deminers.
Q: Including U.S. trainers.
COL. ZAHACZEWSKY: We've done that already. We know what the trainers need. Again, that's basically what we did or we used to start up our R&D program. So now we're anxious to find out what the folks on the ground in Afghanistan or Cambodia, what equipment they need that we may not have already addressed in our R&D program.
Q: Can we get a readout from you guys as to what the answer to that is, the results of this workshop, what did all four countries say they needed?
COL. ZAHACZEWSKY: Yes. We will prepare the minutes or the after-action report probably in a week, 10 days, and that will be available to other nations that have similar R&D programs or it will be available from my office upon request.
Q: Can you give us just a couple of examples of what came out of the conference, country specific again?
COL. ZAHACZEWSKY: Sure.
Q: I'm sorry. But could you give me 20 seconds on what your individual needs are?
COL. ZAHACZEWSKY: Sure.
Q: Is that feasible to ask?
COL. ZAHACZEWSKY: Okay. Ian Bullpitt from the Afghanistan program.
MR. BULLPITT: I guess from our perspective, and I think that was mirrored by a number of programs as well, there are some fairly simple devices that we could certainly use to assist either demining operations or to provide better protection for our deminers. Simple things; for example, mechanisms to cut or reduce the vegetation problems that we all face. It's extremely difficult to clear mines from the ground if you're trying to progress through eight feet of grass. Simple and cheap protective clothing is another good example of the types of things that we're after. In the longer term, obviously pending a quantum leap in terms of technology, we are all after better ways to identify where the hot spots are on the ground, where the mines are themselves, and so forth. But most of the stuff that we are after as a program is actually quite simple, and I think that's basically the thrust of the workshop we attended, was to identify principally some of those simple things that the U.S. can assist with and hopefully also provide some focus in the longer term as well.
Q: Did anybody discuss some of the technology trade-offs with some of the research areas, like ground-penetrating radar or magnetometer detection?
MR. BULLPITT: Not the specifics of any of those systems. I think -- I'm not totally aware of the progress on any of those particular issues. I think most of them are still at sort of the drawing-board stage or at least in primary production stage. But certainly that's the sort of technology we're looking at in the longer term, and I guess we have to pursue that if we're going to really address the long-term problem of land mines.
Q: Any other examples of things that were priorities for other countries?
MR. MALIN: Lance Malin from Handicap International, which is a French charity doing demining in Bosnia. My main concern as a deminer myself is that accidents do happen in the mine fields, and we need to protect our deminers in a better way than we're protecting them now to avoid the very disfiguring and very debilitating injuries that they receive. So that for me was one of my main priorities.
MR. BJORSVIK: Geir Bjorsvik from the Norwegian People's Aid. There is another thing as well, and that is you could say that the mine issue, the mine problem has got two parts. One thing is that we need to technologically define single mines, as you were just referring to there. For instance, the radar-penetrating things which I've heard, for the time being, even at this distance from the soil they are not as of today able to give a very good picture of the ground, and they are also doing research for the same things on planes, so we're probably talking about a few years into the future.
But one thing is to define a single mine, but the other issue which for me in Angola will be actually more important is to find some tools that can explain for us where there aren't mines because when we have spent months, maybe a year clearing out not too big an area, let's say one-times-one kilometer with manual deminers working with their detectors and prodders in vegetation 10 feet high with trip wires attached to mines in there, snakes and everything, it takes a very long time. So after having cleared that area, it normally turns out that only 10 to 20 percent of that big area was actually mined, but you still have to clear the whole area, of course, because it's suspected mined, and people won't use it.
So if we could get some kind of tool that tells us where there aren't mines, a green light or whatever, that would be a tremendous asset.
I would also like to just add to that that a workshop like this has been very valuable for us because until now there hasn't been too much effort (inaudible) from the scientist side and from the donor side really asking the field users what they need, what do you need, what are your obstacles in the field. A lot of the equipment we see coming up is based on training on, like, football parks and -- I mean, Africa isn't like that. Our realities are very different from the normal training sites back in Europe. So actually coming together with field personnel, with donors, with scientists, military expertise, it's a very good combination, and we all have a tremendous good feeling after this workshop.
LT COL. BOWNESS: From the perspective of the Cambodian Mine Action Center, the requirement to find individual mines is probably the single item that would come closest to being a silver bullet that you could use to take care of the mine problem that would enable someone to go directly to that mine and destroy it or remove it as the case might require. My colleague here from Angola mentioned that the difficulty now is clearing a lot of area, and that's what consumes the time and the money and the effort. So this capacity to be able to detect an individual mine from a distance so that you remove the safety problem is really the key to solving this.
Besides that, mechanical demining is still for humanitarian purposes is still a very, very young science, and the attempts to date to use military technology have not been very successful. The military technology has a risk acceptance factor that is applied under the conditions of the battlefield, and you can accept that some casualties might result from the lack of clearing all the mines, but that's not really acceptable for humanitarian purposes, so the direct application has not been sufficient.
I might add another point. This conference was very good from the perspective of not only being able to discuss technical issues, but to surface the fact that the technical solutions have to operate in the real world in terms of the socioeconomic effects that they will impinge upon in terms of the benefits if those types of factors are considered of giving employment to local people where that's possible, and there are some of the pieces of equipment -- amputees, for example, could be employed on fabricating.
Q: (Inaudible) from CNN. One question about where you think you go from here. The conversation is always interesting when you get engineers and designers together with people who use equipment in the field. That's always interesting. Did you get any sense of feedback from the people you were working with here in terms of ideas they are working on or ideas they might have gotten from you in the course of your discussions on where things might go in the future, concrete developments or ideas for developments?
MR. BOWNESS: I think that's true. We did, but this is not a simple situation. There are lots of factors at play in designing this equipment. A great deal of it can take benefit from the military work that's been done in the past, and that's not always available for all the usual reasons, including proprietary information at the lower end of the scale and security at the higher end, but we were able to discuss that factor, and when you get a group of people together such as was assembled by Col. Zahaczewsky for this meeting, you have a considerable amount of talent that has been exposed to a lot of technology. So, yes, we were able to discuss that.
In terms of humanitarian demining, the requirements themselves, in and of themselves, are not very complicated. Detection, speeding up the process, protecting someone, and maybe under the heading of speed up the process giving the manual deminers a little bit of equipment that would work a little bit better. But overcoming some of the challenges is a huge problem, and that's where the value of this meeting comes in because the engineers get exposed to the greater range of the factors that impinge on that. I'm not sure if I've answered your question, but I will say that there is always an exchange of information and ideas here that let all of us go back to the particular country we're working in and take those ideas back for use.
Let me give you an example. A simple thing like a prodder used to locate the mines underground by the deminers; one of the NGOs in Cambodia came up with a prodder with a slightly different design using essentially instead of a sharp point on it a wood chisel point and then had the Cambodians manufacture it out of old car springs. It's ideas like that that get very practical that there are engineering ideas, but if you don't meet with these people in fora like this, they don't get exchanged very well at all.
One more point. There is an attempt being made on what's called the technical side to exchange information worldwide on the Internet using the e-mail, and it already exists, and Col. Zahaczewsky's people are already on that e-mail net, the University of Western Australia, Warwick University, and some of the demining centers, including CMAC in Cambodia. And that is embryonic. James Madison University here in Harrisonburg is on that as well, and the intent is that any and all technical information exchange will be enabled, and it will be kept exclusive in terms of the participants so that we don't get any time wasted, if you will, with uninformed discussion on their end. It will be open to mining centers, certainly any research, engineering-type people and any companies, for example, that wanted to become involved.
Q: If I can just ask one more question. Obviously, if you get more money, you can train more people, and you can put more mine-clearing operations into the field, but do you see a point, or have you already reached a point where you see that the real source of progress has got to be a technological leap in how things are done?
MR. BOWNESS: I think there was a natural desire to see technology as a solution because it's been the solution in so many places in so many other fields. And as we were discussing just before we began here, the startup on this for a lot of the technical staffs was literally overnight, and the rush to apply the military technology, for example, was the reaction, the only reaction possible. But developing from here is going to take the same amount of effort and the same amount of time as it took to do that sort of development at the outset. There have been no breakthroughs at this point. There have been incremental improvements, incremental improvements in ground-mine detecting, for instance, but nobody has come up at this point with anything that is viewed by any of the organizations involved as a major step forward.
Q: Grant Ellis from Army Times. Can we hear a bit more about the U.S. Army's involvement in this effort and especially particularly what's going on in the night-vision lab? I understand there is some umbrella effort that's given money or assistance to universities and companies that are working on these incremental improvements and that, in particular, there is some kind of signal-analysis technology that could very easily be apparently inserted into existing mine-detection devices that would actually identify a type of mine or at least better distinguished, cut down maybe fivefold the number of false alarms that a person would get, which would speed things up a lot.
COL. ZAHACZEWSKY: There are several efforts ongoing within the Department of Defense and also outside the Department of Defense. Those efforts are very basic signs, basic research. We are aware of them; we share that information. The program that SOLIC is responsible for is intended to rapidly prototype a technology to get it out in the hands of the user so that, Number One, they can do something with it, i.e., remove the land mines; and, Number Two, get the user's input as to modifying that equipment or refining that equipment.
The technology that we spoke of, ground-penetrating radar, for example, or the technologies that you are referring to at these universities; those are very basic scientific efforts. The term "embryonic" was used. I'm not sure if that's applicable across the board, but most of those scientific efforts have not yet reached the stage where we can put a piece of hardware, whatever it's configured to look like, but the technology is not ready for us yet to put that hardware out in the field and get some useful results from it. But, again, I think the point that needs to be made is the folks at Fort Belvoir are very well situated because they are collocated with not only the Army's countermine efforts, and as you probably know, the Army is responsible for the Marine Corps countermine R&D efforts. So they are collocated. They share information. In fact, things that don't work in our demining program, the countermine folks look at to see if it has military application and vice versa. So there is a good sharing of information.
There is also a new agency, or new office, rather, that stood up on the 1st of October as a result of a significant amount of work here in the Pentagon over the last year called the Joint UXO Coordination Office. And that office is responsible for coordinating technology efforts and requirements in not only humanitarian demining, but also in military countermine, explosive ordnance disposal efforts, active-range clearance, and environmental security. So there is another activity there that we use, and we will probably use a lot more in the future once they get fully operational, to share information and make sure that information is passed so that our program, the SOLIC program, can pick the right time to leverage that technology into a prototype that we can put out in Afghanistan or in Angola or wherever we've got forces that are operating.
Q: Did you say "UXO"?
COL. ZAHACZEWSKY: "UXO," which is the acronym that's used in "the business" for unexploded ordnance.
Q: What's your best option right now for rapid prototyping? If the rest of these units are embryonic, what's the best idea out there for rapid fielding?
COL. ZAHACZEWSKY: I'm not sure what you mean by "best option." I mean, what we do is we take -- for example, when we take these requirements that we received, we will put a proposal out to industry telling industry what the requirement is, and then we will see what the industry responds with. The folks at Fort Belvoir will evaluate those proposals, and then we will issue contracts and evaluate those potential technologies to see if there is a potential to rapidly prototype that particular technology.
Q: I mean, is there an operational requirement you're going to develop, and is this for single-mine detection you're talking about?
COL. ZAHACZEWSKY: No. We look at not only single-mine detection. We are also obviously interested in wide-area detection, but that technology is very infant.
Q: What are you putting your proposal out to industry for?
COL. ZAHACZEWSKY: We are not putting it out yet, but when we do put it out, it will be to cover the area of mined field or mined area detection, single-mine detection or location, mine neutralization, and also we're interested in technologies or equipment that we can adapt or use to teach people either how to demine or mine-awareness training. So we look at four basic areas, not just detection.
Q: SOLIC is going to put this out?
COL. ZAHACZEWSKY: The night-vision personnel, our program manager, will put that proposal out towards the end of the year.
Q: That's what I was going to ask you. Do you think it will be the end of the year?
COL. ZAHACZEWSKY: Yes, because we're still working on a broad agency announcement that was responded to back in November of '96, and that was a two-year BAA, and we're still working off of potential candidates on that list.
Q: Was this conference in any way connected with the administration's 2010 Initiative?
COL. ZAHACZEWSKY: Yes, it is. Our efforts are coordinated with Ambassador (inaudible) at State. He is very interested in technology. Obviously, technology is part of the solution to humanitarian demining, so our efforts are coordinated with him. Our efforts have his support, and we hope to reinforce or support the demining 2010 Initiative with the results of this workshop. Thank you.
MR. BOWNESS: Just a point of clarification. I noticed that the word "embryonic" came up, and I think you were keying on my use of it. I was referring strictly to the development of the e-mail information-sharing network, which is embryonic. I wasn't referring to any specific technology or even to the whole process that we're trying to go through right now, and I think that's quite a difference to highlight.
Press: Thank you very much.