Issue 7.3, December 2003
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Mine Action Technologies: Problems and Recommendations

Mine action research and development (R&D) is an ongoing process that has yielded many insightful and invaluable technologies. Future mine action R&D will require the collaboration of end-users, donors and technologists in order to develop equipment and tools based on real needs rather than assumed needs.

by Marc Acheroy, Royal Military Academy

Introduction

In 1997, at the workshop that accompanied the signing of the Ottawa Convention, concern was expressed at the lack of international coordination and cooperation in mine action technology. It was noted that there were no universal standards for technology, no common view on where resources should be directed; additionally inadequate dialogue and understanding existed both within the R&D community as well as with the other actors in mine action.

Mine action solutions are not simple and a “silver bullet” universal solution is not available: “Finding all the mines in the ground without a false alarm is a challenge comparable to sending a man to the moon, but with much less money.”

Even if there is still a lack of international coordination and cooperation in mine action technologies, especially among the end-users, the donors and the R&D communities, a lot of work has been done and some success stories can be reported. Significant progress has been made in the following areas (see the appendix for more details):

Thanks to the International Test and Evaluation Programme (ITEP), much work has been undertaken to test and evaluate equipment, systems and methods against agreed standards.1 Nevertheless, efforts must continue, especially to initiate and increase the coordination and cooperation among users, donors and technologists in order to develop and bring to the field equipment and tools based on real needs rather than assumed needs.

Mine Action Technologies: A Difficult Problem

A lot of factors are slowing down real progress in technology and the fielding of new equipment. The most important among them are the following:

Donor Responsibilities

Clearly, donors have a key role to play, especially in supporting the introduction of new technologies that offer potential long-term cost savings to the field. This introduction of new technologies must be based on faster operations, saving lives and saving money. Technologists need donor support to establish a sound procurement process for fielding new technologies in order to have more cost-effective mine action.

Donors need to be responsible for the following points:

Recommendations to End-Users

End-users need to have a pro-active role and to be understanding and open regarding the process of introducing new technologies in the field. New technologies could save human lives and increase mine action efficiency. Therefore:

Recommendations to Technologists

Technologists must keep in mind that nothing is more important than understanding the working environment. In order to better serve the end-users:

Conclusion

The Convention states that “each State Party undertakes to facilitate and shall have the right to participate in the fullest possible exchange of equipment, material and scientific and technological information concerning the implementation of [the] Convention.” This implies that such an exchange is an important underpinning to assisting States Parties in the fulfilment of their obligations. It is in the spirit of this provision of the Convention that all actors are urged to apply the recommendations in this document. Donors need to understand that technologists need their support to establish a sound procurement process for fielding appropriate technologies in order to have a more cost-effective mine action programme. For their part, end-users need to be pro-active, understanding and open to the process of introducing new technologies in the field, as well as to making use of existing tools. End-users need to understand that appropriate technologies could save human lives and increase mine action efficiency.3 Furthermore, technologists must accept that nothing is more important than understanding the working environment.

Finally, it is recommended to mandate an informal expert group, meeting on the margins of the Standing Committee and including end-users, donors and technologists. Primarily, this will help to define a coherent roadmap to field effective mine action technologies as soon as possible, taking into account real needs of end-users, abd priorities of donors and mine-affected countries, as well as the state of maturity of technologies. Secondly, the group should identify the means to establish a sound procurement process for fielding the appropriate technologies in order to make mine action more cost effective. Lastly, the group would be responsible for investigating the means to encourage and organise a close dialogue among mine action actors.

Appendix

Some examples of advances in technology are as follows:

1. Metal detectors: In recent years, manufacturers and scientists have significantly enhanced the capabilities of current metal detectors (including much better sensitivity and resolution, much better behaviour in magnetic soils, etc.). Not all soils are suitable for metal detectors; there are dangerous cases where it is impossible to detect metallic objects because of the soil characteristics. In order to solve this safety problem, an analysis of the soil characteristics is to be undertaken under the umbrella of ITEP.

2. Handheld dual sensor mine detectors (a metal detector plus GPR): In 2002, dual sensor mine detectors were successfully tested in Bosnia and in Lebanon. In 2003, operational tests will be performed with 24 mine detectors in four different mine-affected countries. The lessons learned will be collected and enhancements will be made, if needed. The benefits include enhanced detection and reduced false alarm rate.

3. Information technology: the Information Management System for Mine Action (IMSMA) is still evolving. It now includes standard reporting facilities (reporting obligation of Article 7) and can exchange information with Geographical Information Systems (GIS), which allows the use of digitised map and satellite images. Satellite images with appropriate information overlays can be used as maps. Management tools have been developed or are under development (e.g., to assist with the planning of demining campaigns, cost-benefit analysis regarding the introduction of specific equipment, and the definition of a mine clearance strategy at country/region level).

4. PPE: A test methodology has been developed based on the in-depth analysis of the physics of mine-blast damage mechanisms [Canadian Center for Mine Action Technology (CCMAT-US)] and standards will be developed for PPE under the umbrella of ITEP.

5. Prosthetic feet (CCMAT): These prosthetic feet provide greater comfort for the wearer (energy storage and return), much longer lifetime, low maintenance costs and better cosmetic features.

6. Educated Rodents (APOPO): In 2002, rats were successfully tested in Tanzania and proved to be reliable at mine detection. In 2003, operational tests are foreseen in six different mine-affected countries.

7. ITEP: ITEP is an international programme favouring collaboration among the participating countries to avoid duplication of efforts. ITEP is dedicated to the test and evaluation of all forms of equipment, systems and methods for use in humanitarian demining. Test and evaluation against agreed standards are very important for safety and operational effectiveness, as it can be dangerous to rely entirely on manufacturers’ data for equipment selection and assessment. For these reasons, the two main activities of ITEP are test and evaluation and the development of standards (which is an ongoing process).

Agreed standards for metal detector testing were published at the beginning of July 2003. The process of developing standards for GPRs was launched in 2002. ITEP has also elaborated a work plan for test and evaluation activities, including six technical programmes: survey, detection, mechanical assistance, manual tools, personal protection and neutralisation.

*This document is a compilation of two expert hearings in mine action technologies that took place at the Geneva International Center for Humanitarian Demining (GICHD) during the Standing Committees on Mine Clearance, Mine Risk Education and Mine Action Technologies in February and May 2003.The following experts participated in the discussions, chaired by Marc Acheroy (RMA): M. Acheroy (RMA), A. Antanasiotis (EC /DG-RELEX), D. Barlow (JMU), S. Brigot (ICBL), B. Briot (BE MoD / STRAT), J.Dirscherl (GICHD), R. Gasser (EC / DG-INFSO), D. Lewis (ITEP), A. McAslan (CMA), A. Sieber (EC / JRC), S. Sekkenes (ICBL), R. Suart (CCMAT), C. Weickert (CCMAT).

References

  1. The European Committee for Standardization (CEN) Workshop Agreement: CWA 14747:2003 “Humanitarian Mine Action-Test and Evaluation-Metal Detectors,” published by the CEN in July 2003.

  2. The audience of the CEN Workshop Agreement (CWA07) on “Humanitarian Mine Action—Test and Evaluation—Metal Detectors” requested the European Commission’s Joint Research Centre (JRC) to act as a warehouse for test targets.

  3. E.g., ITEP for T&E or for information exchange on lessons learned when applying technologies through the Demining Technical Information Forum (DTIF).

Contact Information

Marc Acheroy
Signal and Image Centre
Electrical Engineering Dept.
Royal Military Academy
Avenue de la Renaissance 30
B-1000 Brussels
Belgium
Tel: (0) 27 37 6470
Fax: (0) 27 37 6472
E-mail: acheroy@elec.rma.ac.be
Website: www.sic.rma.ac.be, www.mat.rma.ac.be