The Month in Mines, October 2012, by Landmines in Africa

If I were to tell you that the two African countries with the most landmine-related stories in October were Somalia and Angola, would you be surprised?  October was the 20th anniversary of the founding of the International Campaign to Ban Landmines (ICBL).  As a sign of how much progress has been made, Somalia become 160th country for whom the Mine Ban Treaty has entered into force; as a sign of how much still needs to be done, at least five landmine blasts occurred in Somalia.

Somalia

The Mine Ban Treaty entered into force for the 160th State Party on October 1, 2012.  With Somalia’s accession, all of Sub-Saharan Africa is now under the Treaty’s regime.  Somalia faces significant logistical hurdles to become compliant with the Treaty, from stockpile destruction (the current, recognized government of Somalia does not control all of its territory, let alone the arms and weapons in the state) to landmine clearance to victim assistance.  However, by acceding to the Treaty, Somalia can access significant resources to assist in this process while also making a statement about the kind of nation it wants to be: one that is at peace with itself and looks after its own people (All Africa).

The last Al Shabaab stronghold, Kismayo, was re-captured by AMISOM and allied forces in September, but Al Shabaab’s insurgency campaign continues throughout Somalia.  Landmine attacks were reported in Kismayo (All Africa), Wanlaweyn (RBC Radio), Baidaba (RBC Radio), Beledweyne (All Africa), and Sool (BBC News) killing at least six civilians and injuring 13 more; military casualties were not reported even though four of the blasts targeted military and government officials.  Additionally, AMISOM troops discovered a cache of landmines and other explosive materials during a sweep of Kismayo (All Africa).

As a side note, the reporting from within Somalia continues to be excellent despite the fact that 16 Somali journalists have been killed this, with Al Shabaab claiming credit for at least ten of those assassinations.  Other journalists have been attacked or threatened with attack.  One journalist, Ahmed Farah Ilyas, was killed by gunmen outside his home while investigating a landmine blast (BBC News).  I applaud these brave men and women without whom we would know so much less about that is happening in this critical corner of the world.

Angola

Angola continues to clear landmines as it develops its internal capacity.  Demining authorities announced the destruction of hundreds of explosive remnants of war, including landmines in Kwanza Norte Province (All Africa) and Huila Province (All Africa).  Cleared land will be returned to productive use such as agriculture and other development initiatives.  Capacity building activities include training on demining and information management led by the national mine action authority, CNIDAH, for staff from several ministries, such as Social Welfare, Education and Agriculture (All Africa).

A much larger project, a national database of all Angolan landmine victims was also launched in October.  This database will give the service providers and relevant government ministries and agencies a complete census of landmine victims and other persons with disabilities in the country to, hopefully, better serve their needs as they recover and reintegrate into society.  In 2005 the number of landmine victims in Angola was estimated at almost 130,000 (All Africa) while other published estimates range from 23,000 to 80,000 (The Monitor).  A crucial step in the development of this database will be to ensure that the necessary services are provided to landmine victims.  The majority of Angolans live on less than US $2 per day and knowing who and where the landmine victims are is useless information if the services are not available for socio-economic reintegration.

Egypt

This month saw the 70th anniversary of the Battle of El Alamein between the tank divisions of Britain’s Bernard Montgomery and Germany’s Erwin Rommel.  The battlefield itself was known at the time and continues to be referred to as the “Devil’s Garden” in reference to the 16 million shells and landmines in Egypt’s deserts.  In 2012, 17 people have been injured by unexploded ordnance and a conservative estimate places the total number of casualties at 8,000 civilians, with 725 known survivors since the battle itself.  The Bedouin community is particularly hit hard as they migrate through the deserts.

In recent years, the United Nations Development Programme with funding from Britain and Germany has supported victim assistance and demining programs, but the scale of the problem has dwarfed the funds made available.  A new demining initiative was launched this past April, but funding from the European Union has been withheld due to fears of corruption.  Funding could be made available through sales of leases for the oil and natural gas reserves that lie under the Devil’s Garden and could be exploited if the region were demined.

Despite the battles over money, landmine accidents continue to occur and new victims will need assistance.  Abdullah Salah, a Bedouin survivor himself, has set up an NGO to support other landmine victims but the services that Salah’s NGO is able to provide were not specified and the transitory nature of the Bedouin population would suggest that a comprehensive recovery and re-integration program is not currently available (The Independent).

Greek President Papoulias visited Egypt in October to renew and strengthen economic ties.  Despite the continuing financial crisis in Greece, Greek investments in Egypt are worth 1.5 billion euros with plans to increase to more than 5 billion euros.  In addition to these economic ties, Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi’s spokesman announced that “Greece will help Egypt in removing landmines implanted during World War II” (All Africa).

 

China

The Greeks are not the only Western nation bearing demining gifts to Africa.  A South Sudanese army captain who had completed a one-month training course in China on humanitarian demining declared, “China’s demining teachers are great, China’s demining technologies are great, China’s demining devices are great, and the Chinese people’s friendship with the South Sudanese people is great” (People’s Daily Online).

The United States

The XM7 Spider Munitions system, one of the US Army’s alternatives to anti-personnel landmines, seems to be a little closer to full utilization.  The initial evaluation of the system took place in 2010 and this month saw the “Network Integration Evaluation” during field maneuvers at the White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico.  The Spider has tripwires to alert the operator who must deliberately activate the associated explosives (DVIDS Hub).  Earlier this year, a $58 million award was issued to Alliant Techsystems Operations and Textron Defense Systems to upgrade the Spider’s operating system and purchase spare parts to ensure that the Spider would be ready for field use this year (Solicitation # W15QKN-12-T-B003).

Michael P. Moore, November 7, 2012


The Arms Trade Treaty and the US buys a few more toys

The draft treaty text for the Arms Trade Treaty has been released (with only three days left to debate and approve or reject the text) and according to the reliable Political Minefields blog, it is unclear whether or not the draft Treaty would regulate the trade of landmines and in the absence of clarity I’m afraid we can assume the Treaty does not regulate such trade (Political Minefields http://politicalminefields.com/2012/07/25/a-drafty-treaty-the-holes-in-the-draft-arms-trade-treaty/). 

The United States has published its points of view and stances on the Arms Trade Treaty on the State Department’s website here: http://www.state.gov/t/isn/armstradetreaty/.  One of the key points (redlines) for the United States is that “There will be no requirement for reporting on or marking and tracing of ammunition or explosives” in the Treaty.  Such reporting and marking would regulate the trade of landmines, including the alternative systems under development by the United States to replace persistent, victim-activated landmines. 

Speaking of those landmine alternatives, despite the pending sequestration (read: $1 trillion in reductions in US military spending) (The Economist http://www.economist.com/node/21558306), the Defense Department found enough spare change ($58 million) to buy additional XM-7 Spider landmines from Alliant Techsystems (Solicitation and Award from www.fbo.gov: More Spider Mines ordered 5-14-12).  I know completely eliminating landmines from the Defense budget wouldn’t solve all of the United States’s budget woes, but it wouldn’t hurt.

Michael P. Moore, July 25, 2012


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.