Humanitarian Mine Clearance in the Balkans

by Christoph Frehsee [ MineWolf Systems AG ]

The following article describes the development of the new Mini MineWolf mine-clearing machine. The machine is remote-controlled and allows for clearance without risking the lives of deminers. With successful results in Balkan countries like Bosnia-Herzegovina and Croatia, the new Mini MineWolf has proven itself to be reliable tool in helping clear the region of landmines.

Since May 2004, MineWolf Systems has accumulated 7.4 million square meters (1,829 acres) of demining experience in the Balkans with its mechanical mine-clearing machine, the MineWolf. Based on this operational experience and substantial user feedback from Norwegian People's Aid, which operates with us in the region, the special physical, technical, logistical and economical demands of mine clearing in dispersed rural areas was recognized. The requirements for these special circumstances had ramifications not only on machine design, but also on supply chain, transport issues and cost, and resulted in a major new design, the Mini MineWolf.

The first remote-controlled unit was delivered to Bosnia-Herzegovina in May 2006 where the Bosnia-Herzegovina Mine Action Centre accredited the machine and NPA put it through rigorous trials in Brčko. The results fully met MineWolf Systems' and NPA's demanding expectations: 5000–10,000 square meters (5,979–11,960 square yards) of clearance per day depending on terrain and vegetation.

Based on the good results in Bosnia-Herzegovina, five months later the commercial company Tornado d.o.o. deployed a second unit. This machine also achieved accreditation by the Croatian Mine Action Centre through testing. The results of the accreditation test are summarized in this paper.

Size Matters

In regions such as Bosnia-Herzegovina, where hostilities ceased over 10 years ago, demining efforts initially focused on high-priority clearance tasks crucial to economic activity: roads, airports and urban areas. This left numerous scattered pockets of smaller, second-priority suspect areas in remote regions. Demining of these dispersed areas has now become a priority.1 In order to support these tasks with mechanical preparation, a small and compact solution was needed. For tasks of less than 60,000 or 80,000 square meters (71,759 or 95,679 square yards), the deployment of a large-area clearance machine is logistically complicated due to the transport requirements of the large machines; it is also economically unattractive due to the large associated fuel, transportation, personnel and supply-chain costs.

Guaranteed Results over Irregular Ground

Scattered minefields in rural areas still inhibit post-war recovery and economic advancement of agricultural communities, which make up a majority of the area of Bosnia-Herzegovina. They also present an array of challenging terrains: wooded areas, dense vegetation, marshlands, irregular and rocky ground and slopes. For humanitarian-demining purposes, this type of terrain is more reliably cleared via a tiller system where dense vegetation, hard ground, tree stumps and rocks can shield a mine from a flail. The tiller system of the Mini MineWolf delivers guaranteed soil depth penetration up to 25 centimeters (10 inches), a guarantee not offered by flail systems.2 This soil-depth penetration is an important aspect to assuring quicker and more reliable manual verification.

Getting to Work

Access roads to remote rural areas are often primitive and unpaved, presenting an obstacle to oversized and heavy convoys. Once in the mine-contaminated region, irregular and muddy ground can also quickly trap non-tracked demining equipment.

What is required to meet this challenge is a robust, inexpensive-to-operate, easily and rapidly transported solution for clearing smaller geographically dispersed minefields in a variety of terrains. Additionally, a self-contained maintenance and spare-parts package is required to maximize operational days in remote areas and minimize the reliance on an external supply chain.

In response to these requirements, MineWolf Systems developed a remote-controlled mechanical demining machine, the Mini MineWolf. It weighs 8.1 metric tons (9 U.S. tons), which is a smaller, lower-cost version of the 25.5-metric ton (28.1-U.S.-ton) MineWolf that has been operating in the Balkans since 2004. The Mini MineWolf was designed to meet the following challenges:

Image 1
Shipping in standard, 20-foot container. Photo courtesy of MineWolf Systems
Image 2
Open tiller design to minimize blast damage. Photo courtesy of MineWolf Systems

Testing and Accreditation

To verify the performance claims previously described, the Mini MineWolf was successfully tested and accredited by BHMAC in May 2006, followed by mandatory testing and accreditation by CROMAC for operation in Croatia. Testing was carried out 16–18 October 2006, at the Cerovac test site for demining machines near Karlovac. The goals of the test were successfully achieved, and can be summarized as follows:

AP Mine Activation and Survivability Results

On 26 October 2006, testing was conducted with AP mines at the test site for demining machines. The following results were achieved:

PMA-1A. Five mines were placed at the planned depths (5, 10, 10, 15 and 20 centimeters)4 and a four-meter5 distance, and armed with appropriate fuses.
Result: The machine activated all mines; neither the working tool nor the machine was damaged.

PMA-2. Five mines were placed at the planned depths (5, 10, 10, 15 and 20 centimeters)4 and a four-meter5 distance, and armed with appropriate fuses.
Result: The machine activated all mines; neither the working tool nor the machine was damaged.

PMA-3. Five mines were placed at the planned depths (5, 10, 10, 15 and 20 centimeters)4 and a four-meter5 distance, and armed with appropriate fuses.
Result: The machine activated all mines; neither the working tool nor the machine was damaged.

PMR-2A. The first mine was placed in front of the machine at around an eight-meter5 distance and armed with the appropriate fuse.
Result: The tiller activated the mine, leaving shrapnel marks on the machine and work tool but not affecting operation of the machine. The second mine was placed in the same manner.
Result: The tiller activated the mine; neither the working tool nor the machine was damaged.

PROM-1. The first mine was placed and prepared for tripwire activation.
Result: The tiller activated the mine, leaving shrapnel marks on the machine and work tool, but not affecting operation of the machine. The second mine was placed and prepared for pressure activation. Result: The mine was activated by the machine; neither the working tool nor the machine was damaged.

Other Performance Aspects

The value of a small, remote-controlled machine for a demining program has to be measured in various dimensions in addition to mine-activation and blast survivability. Clearing results must also be evaluated in terms of quality, quantity and costs:

Image 4
Mini MineWolf on topsoil land (left) and depth results via fiberboard (right). Photo courtesy of CROMAC

Operation by National Personnel

In order to deploy a machine in the most efficient and sustainable way, competent personnel recruited from the national program are needed in all areas of a demining organization. This assures long-term operational support via residents who also retain demining and equipment know-how long after foreign trainers leave.

In addition to operation of the machine, further tasks include:

During the assembly of the Mini MineWolf at the factory in Germany, a Bosnian mechanic was involved and trained on supporting the machine in the field. He subsequently trained four additional operators and another service mechanic after the machine arrived in Bosnia.

Conclusion

After successful accreditation in the Balkans, an EU Force in Bosnia-Herzegovina (EUFOR) delegation, including Lt. Col Jonsson, Chief of Countermines, visited the NPA Brčko site to view the Mini MineWolf. The delegation's response was extremely positive and supportive of the original concept for the Mini MineWolf. EUFOR was particularly impressed with the power, productivity and general construction of the Mini MineWolf. To date, the Mini MineWolf has exceeded expectations regarding performance and no faults have been identified in the design. The depth control has been tested on both dry and wet terrain and is functioning perfectly to ensure a continuous ground penetration of up to 25 centimeters (10 inches).

Based on the success of the Mini MineWolf deployment in Bosnia-Herzegovina, Croatian-based Tornado d.o.o., one of the top three demining companies in the Balkans, also became convinced of the reliability and high output of the Mini MineWolf for smaller and more dispersed jobs. After training by MineWolf staff, Tornado deployed a Mini MineWolf for demining projects in northern Croatia in October 2006. Bullet

Biography

HeadshotChristoph Frehsee is a Senior Technical Advisor with MineWolf Systems. Responsible for products and service, his field of expertise is to set up sustainable mechanical support and training infrastructures. He has gathered mine-action experience in Bosnia-Herzegovina, Croatia, Jordan, Serbia and Sudan.

Endnotes

  1. "Bosnia and Herzegovina Mine Action Plan for 2006" BHMAC, Available at http://www.bhmac.org/danes/slike/down/Plan_2006%20-DRAFT.pdf. Accessed 7 June, 2007.
  2. Hartley, David. "The Truth About Flails," Journal of Mine Action, Issue 7.3, December 2003, http://www.jmu.edu/cisr/journal/7.3/focus/hartley/hartley.htm. Accessed 7 June, 2007.
  3. For more information on each of these munitions, see the Mine Action Information Center's "Munitions Reference." Available at http://www.jmu.edu/cisr/_pages/research/munitions.shtml. Accessed 9 April 2007.
  4. Five centimeters equals approximately two inches.
  5. One meter equals approximately three feet.

Contact Information

Christoph Frehsee
Director Products and Services
MineWolf Systems AG
Seedammstrasse 3
8808 Pfäffikon SZ / Switzerland
Tel: +41 555 111 500
Fax: +41 555 111 599
Email: c.frehsee@minewolf.com
Web site: http://www.minewolf.com