By Amanda Rominiecki, RDECOM CERDEC Public AffairsMay 13, 2013
FORT BELVOIR, Va. (May 13, 2013) -- Landmines and unexploded ordnance are found throughout the world, often in peaceful countries leftover from conflict decades ago.
Researchers from the U.S. Army Research, Development and Engineering Command's communications-electronics center, or CERDEC, continued global humanitarian demining efforts, including a new yearlong project aimed to improve demining technology and increase border safety in Thailand that began March 29.
Members of CERDEC Night Vision & Electronic Sensors Directorate, or NVESD, partnered with the Thailand Mine Action Center, or TMAC, for an operational field evaluation of the Mini MineWolf mine-clearing system to remove mines along Thailand's borders.
"Thailand is surrounded by countries that have a long history of conflict, not only Cambodia to the South, but Laos to the east and north and Burma to the west," said Sean Burke, CERDEC NVESD Humanitarian Demining Research and Development, HD R&D, program manager. "Each border has remnants of these past conflicts and denies land for farming and other activities for the local people."
CERDEC NVESD executes the humanitarian demining effort for the Department of Defense. Since its inception in 1995, the program has provided over 160 technologies to conduct minefield clearance operations in 36 countries, clearing over 80,000 mines and unexploded ordnance, or UXO, and 18 million square meters of the world's most challenging minefields.
Mini MineWolf is a remote controlled earth tilling system capable of clearing mines that target both humans and vehicles and are buried in the ground to a depth of 25cm, or just under 10 inches. HD R&D worked with MineWolf Systems, developer of Mini MineWolf, to further develop the system to include improved remote control and a video monitoring system, Burke said.
Program team members deployed to Thailand in April for three weeks to launch the operational field evaluation. Among the goals for the evaluation, were to both test improvements to Mini MineWolf in an operational setting and clear dangerous UXO in Thailand at the same time.
"The OFE is designed to obtain performance data in real world conditions, using indigenous operators and live mines and UXO that provide insight into [Mini MineWolf's] operational effectiveness and suitability," Burke said. "The lessons learned are real world lessons that help improve the technology."
The Mini MineWolf system is capable of surviving multiple anti-personnel and anti-tank mine blasts with little to no damage while the operator of the system is a safe distance away. Mini MineWolf can also mulch vegetation up to 15 centimeters in diameter, meaning it can clear through bushes, shrubs and trees common in the Thailand terrain.
Mine detection and clearance are particularly challenging in Thailand due to each area's unique characteristics of mines, vegetation, terrain and battlefield remnants, Burke said.
The Mini MineWolf OFE also aimed to prove its capability as a technical survey tool. Technical surveying is used in areas suspected to have hazardous mines and UXO, in order to determine their exact location. More commonly, surveying involves teams manually canvassing land with metal detectors.
The humanitarian demining research and development team is using the OFE as an opportunity to evaluate and prove the Mini MineWolf's ability to more efficiently survey land in Southeast Asia, an environment with metallic soil and post-conflict metal fragments that can provide false positives when metal detectors are used in manual surveying. Technical surveying is both more accurate and proves less hazardous for the operator.
CERDEC NVESD's humanitarian demining research and development program has worked with TMAC for 13 years to improve technologies like Mini MineWolf and clear Thai borders of mines and UXO.
"The OFE in Thailand is the validation and demonstration component of [humanitarian demining research and development] mission which will enhance mine action capability of TMAC, improve the safety of its people, its economy and therefore its stability as a U.S. partner in the region," Burke said.