Issue 6.1, April 2002


Technology At a Glance

Twenty three years after the first international effort to clear landmines, in Afghanistan, small-scale demining efforts still take place in that country. The problem has, however, been reduced to a minimum, and will soon reach an "acceptable" level. The global situation has also improved, but there is still a medium-term demining effort in front of us. The Mine Ban Convention has now modified their goal to reducing the landmine problem to a tolerable minimum by 2020. Activists still argue about the term "tolerable minimum" but the states parties are reluctant to clarify this definition. Currently, the Convention has more than 200 signatory states.

Machines have found a definite role in mine and UXO clearance and area reduction. Norms have been established on how to apply mechanical support and the required level of quality control behind them. Mechanical mine clearance machines are integrated into most demining programs. The machines are smaller and cheaper, and demining organizations are more skilled at making selective use of them. Most of the mechanical mine clearance machines are remotely controlled, thus reducing the need for heavy armouring of cabins. Each machine type has been placed in a clearance category and there are norms and standards on how to use machines from the different categories.

Vapour detection has become one of the most important detection technologies. Vapour detectors are available for direct detection, but there are problems with real time detection. Moreover, the portable units only marginally increase the clearance speed in most areas as operators still depend on other search techniques for tripwires and brush cutting. Consequently, mine dogs and rats continue to play an important role; the technology has improved much since 2002 and the application is wider. Most of the environmental factors are fully understood and incorporated into computer modelling systems - accessible via Internet, and usable in the field. Organizations using rats, dogs or vapour detectors can use this facility to determine anticipated minimum level of scent, which again is to be compared with the odour threshold accreditation level for each dog, rat and vapour detector. An important element of the computer modelling system is the mine leakage library, an assessment of the vapour leakage of every known mine type, which was a development breakthrough when it came into being some years ago.

The Remote Explosive Scent System (REST) has been recognized as a very cost effective area reduction tool. It is far more efficient than any other approach. However, is has proven to have limited application in obvious combat areas due to the presence of UXO and contamination from bomb/mortar explosions. Many organizations use the system now, although there are only a few specialized filter analysis centers. This has proved to be more cost effective than establishing analysis centers in each demining theatre.

Metal detectors are more sensitive and have a better discrimination rate. They are still preferred in some areas, especially within national programs in countries with low labour costs. Every demining program has a manual demining component, but it is typically small.

The Ground penetrating Radar (GPR) technology has been developed but field deployment is still slow. The detectors are too expensive, and they break down too often. The clearance speed gained by using them is also less than anticipated in 2002. However, they have proven useful for road clearance, mounted on mine protected vehicles, and are used where totally non-metal mines are suspected or found. There has been some success in combining GPR and metal detection technology. Detectors with combined sensors are better than GPR detectors alone. They are, however, even more expensive and few organizations use them.

We now have a clearer understanding of the life span of a typical national program. Less effort is put into the development of large national manual demining programs. We have realized that only fractions of these capacities will typically become a national capacity when support from international communities is withdrawn. Thus, the creation of national capacity at any cost has been replaced with selective training and integration of national elements into existing national infrastructure. The reduced investment necessary has increased the overall efficiency of mine action programs in developing countries.

Donors still consider mine action as high priority, although less funds are available than before. Productivity of demining is, however, still increasing due to improved methods and professionalism. Ten year funding commitments from many donors and joint donor groups, introduced as part of a re-negotiation of the mine ban convention some years ago, have proved to be a great success, maintaining the momentum of the mine action at a high and consistent level, and ensuring funding continuity.

It has become increasingly popular to hire or lease demining capacity and technology instead of developing own capacity. It is now common to lease dog, rat and machine teams for shorter or longer periods. Some commercial companies and NGOs have specialised in the production of stand-by capacity for lease or loan to other organizations. This has made demining more professional and cost-effective.

It is well understood that area reduction and mine clearance may require different technological approaches. Recognizing this, researchers and manufacturers have targeted the two requirements differently. Area reduction has been given the highest priority as it has the highest immediate impact on people’s life due to the large amounts of land released.

The number of organizations involved in demining, both commercial and non-commercial, has increased steadily since 2002–the trend is that each organization has smaller mine action programs than in the past. Thanks to the widespread introduction of international standards, ways of working are, however, more standardized and organizations almost always form part of a central national program.


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