The US Military’s Alternatives to Anti-Personnel and Persistent Landmines

As of January 1st of this year, the United States government, under the Landmine Policy announced on February 27, 2004, would no longer “use any persistent landmines — neither anti-personnel nor anti-vehicle – anywhere” including the Korean Peninsula, but would “continue to research and develop enhancements to the current self-destructing/self-deactivating landmine technology in order to develop and preserve military capabilities that address the United States transformational goals” (State Department).  So far, the US has produced two alternative systems, the XM7 Spider Network Command Munition Systems (Spider Systems) which replaces anti-personnel mines in the national armory and the Scorpion Anti-Vehicle Alternative which replaces anti-vehicle / anti-tank mines. Both the Spider and the Scorpion systems are “networked munitions systems,” which I understand to mean that they detonate upon command from a soldier and not victim-activated.  From examining the government’s solicitation documents and publicity materials, I understand the Spider system to be further along in testing and production and the Scorpion system has yet to be fully accepted by the US military: “In February 2009, the Scorpion program conducted a third “user jury,” placing real prototype systems in the hands of Soldiers… [the U.S. Army’s Product Manager for Intelligent Munitions Systems] will incorporate Soldier feedback to make changes that enhance Scorpion’s capabilities” (US Army, pdf).

According to the U.S. Army’s Product Manager for Intelligent Munitions Systems:

“Spider is an alternative to persistent antipersonnel (AP) landmines and the first of the networked munitions to be fielded. The AP munition was developed to protect friendly forces and shape the battlefield while minimizing risk to friendly troops and noncombatants. The system’s Munition Control Unit (MCU) is fitted with six munitions launchers, each covering a sector of 60 degrees. On operator command, the Spider autonomously deploys trip wires corresponding to each sector. When the trip wire is activated, a signal is sent from the MCU to the Remote Control Unit (RCU) where an operator decides whether to detonate the grenades or take other action. Spider can be recovered and replenished after an engagement and deactivated on command to enable safe recovery or passage of friendly forces. Spider meets National Landmine Policy by incorporating self-destructing / self-deactivating capability and enhanced control mechanisms, and by developing and fielding a landmine alternative prior to 2010” (US Army, pdf). 

Development of the Spider system is managed by the US Army’s Program Executive Office Ammunition (PEO Ammo) and carried out as a joint venture by Alliant Techsystems Inc. (ATK) and Textron Systems Corporation.  At the Association of the United States Army’s 2011 Annual Meeting and Exposition, PEO Ammo, ATK and Textron all exhibited examples of the Spider system, photos of which are below.

To date, I have found evidence that the US Army has ordered the manufacture and delivery of 179-199 Spider systems.  The first order of 9-14 units was made in FY06 (Solicitation # W15QKN-06-R-0103); the second order of 110-125 was made in FY09 (Solicitation # W15QKN-09-R-0103) and a third order of 60 units was made in FY11 (W15QKN-11-R-B001).  All three orders are part of the “Low Rate Initial Production (LRIP) Phase” of the development of the Spider system.  In terms of cost, the second order was priced at $68 million, roughly $500,000 per unit; the first and third orders did not include estimated costs.  The $68 million spent on the Spider system in FY08 only represents the cost of research and development of alternative systems to anti-personnel mines; it does not include any purchases of anti-vehicle mines (still allowed in FY08), M18A1 Claymore mines, or research and development costs of the Scorpion system.  For comparison’s sake, the United States contributed $85 million to humanitarian mine action in 2008 (The Monitor), probably far less than was spent by the government on purchasing new landmines.

In addition to the Scorpion and Spider system, the US government issued a market survey “to gather information on potential material solutions that have the performance capability to fully replace the current Family of Scatterable Mines (FASCAM) capabilities (the M86 Pursuit Defense Munitions (PDM), the M131 MOPMS, M87/M87A1 Volcano (Ground and Air), M692 and M731 ADAM 155MM, M718/A1, M741/A1 RAAM 155MM, and the CBU-89A/B and CBU-78A/B Gator bombs) without being designated an “Anti-personnel mine” (Solicitation # W15QKN-10-X-0147).  Essentially, most existing scatterable mines would fall under the definition of cluster munitions, especially the Gator bombs (Global Security).  The market survey sought to try and eliminate “dumb” scatterable munitions and replace them with “smart” or self-destructing / self-deactivating scatterable munitions.  The M87 Volcano system, is probably part of the next generation of intelligent munitions and described as “a mass scatterable mine delivery system that delivers mines by helicopter or ground vehicle. It enables tactical commanders to emplace antitank (AT)/AP or pure AT minefields with a minimum of personnel. A Soldier-selectable, self-destruct mechanism destroys the mine at the end of its active lifecycle – 4 hours to 15 days – depending on the time selected. Using a ground vehicle, a 1,000-meter minefield can be laid in 4 to 12 minutes based on terrain and vehicle speed. A helicopter can complete the mission in 20 seconds. Advantages of this system include faster response, increased lethality, greater efficiency and enhanced safety” (US Army, pdf). 

So, the summary of all of this is that the United States continues to explore the development and use of anti-personnel landmines, albeit under the limited definition (i.e., non-persistent) of the 2004 Landmine Policy which the US claims is in line with the Mine Ban Treaty.  In the FY12 budget, the Department of the Army requested $87.4 million to continue research and development of “Alternatives to Anti-Personnel Landmines” building upon FY10’s appropriation of $89.1 million and FY11’s appropriation of $95.6 million (Department of the Army, pdf). I wish I had some witty remark to close, but I’ve got nothing.  The things I wish I didn’t know…

Michael P. Moore, October 14, 2011.

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