All the Tools in the Toolkit: Demining Machines

My elder son is three years old and is enamored with construction vehicles.  He has a big yellow Tonka truck (probably the same basic design I had when I was his age) that he plays with in the back yard and the playground.  He’ll fill the back with rocks, dirt, water, toy bulldozers, water, anything that will fit.  And then they will get dumped out.  He can do this for as long as he can do anything and it’s a joy to watch.  I was thinking about him while I got to see some demining machines at work (or not, more on that momentarily) in Angola.

Landmines can be cleared manually, through the painstaking process of locating mines and digging them out by hand, or they can be cleared through the use of mechanical means.  Using what looks like amped up farm equipment, most demining machines fall into one of two types: flails or tillers.  Flails use weighted chains to beat the ground, setting off mines upon contact.  Tillers use fixed spikes to dig the ground.  Both flails and tillers rotate around a horizontal axis and are mounted on the front of the machines.

01 - Demining Machnies

02 - Demining Machnies

Mechanical demining is pretty much limited to areas with anti-personnel landmines and small explosives.  Anti-vehicle mines and large pieces of unexploded ordnance would damage even these heavily armored machines.  Soil and terrain are also important to consider when using mechanical means. Tillers aren’t much use in rocky areas and if an area is subject to flooding, the machines can get caught in the mud (they are not light and nimble).

Most smaller machines are remote controlled drones, enabling the “driver” to operate the machines from a safe distance.  Some of the bigger machines, like the one below, will have a cab for the driver, but the size of the machine puts the driver out of harm’s way.

03 - Demining Machnies

The benefit of using mechanical means, beyond the safety of the operator, is the speed at which the machines can clear land. According to Digger DTR and using data from clearance work in Senegal, mechanical demining can clear land six times faster than manual teams.

04 - Demining Machnies

In Angola, mechanical demining is used by all the NGO operators – MAG, Norwegian People’s Aid (NPA) and the HALO Trust – as well as the National Institute for Demining (IND). NPA gave us a demonstration of their MineWolf which kicked up a tremendous amount of dust.  Per NPA custom, they had named their machine, Vanessa, after a former program manager.

05 - Demining Machnies

06 - Demining Machnies

MAG inherited their MineWolf machine from DanChurchAid which had used the machine for clearance in the far eastern regions of the country, but due to funding limits, had been forced to close down operations.  This is the machine, currently out of commission and waiting for repairs that will cost many thousands of dollars (but still much less than the cost of a new machine).  You can see that the tiller attachment on this machine differs from that of NPA’s.  The design of the machines are such that the clearance attachments can be swapped out to match the clearance need, or be replaced if they are damaged.

07 - Demining Machnies

Rarer than flails and tillers are sifters which dig into the ground, scoop up a shovel-full and then shake loose the dirt.  MAG uses a sifter attachment on a standard construction excavator (see below) on some of its sites in Angola.

08 - Demining Machnies

In 2016, the HALO Trust took delivery of a new remote-controlled Digger DTR tiller that will be used in an around Huambo in central Angola.

09 - Demining Machnies

For a complete list and discussion of the types of mechanical demining machines and their uses, please see the GICHD’s publication here.

Michael P. Moore

March 24, 2017

moe (at) landminesinafrica (dot) org

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