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Sunday, April 08, 2007

International Mine Awareness Day

A year ago, the UN General Assembly declared April 4 the International Day for Mine Awareness. The event aims to raise awareness towards landmines, explosive remnants of war, and progress towards their eradication.

However, instead of joining in the sobfest over the existence of landmines and their effects, I am going to write about an exciting development in the field of landmine technology.

From the warlocks at Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) comes the Self-Healing Minefield. How's that for a sense of (dark) humor?

The Self-Healing Minefield system was designed to achieve an increased resistance to dismounted and mounted breaching by adding a novel dimension to the minefield. Instead of a static complex obstacle, the Self-Healing Minefield is an intelligent, dynamic obstacle that responds to an enemy breaching attempt by physically reorganizing. The Self-Healing Minefield consists of surface scattered anti-tank mines that can detect an enemy attack of the minefield and respond autonomously, by having a fraction of the mines move to heal the breach. Since the minefield is no longer a static obstacle, an open breach cannot be maintained. The Self-Healing Minefield forces the enemy to attack the minefield and deplete the antitank mines surrounding the breaching lane by either repeated assaults or a wide area breach/clearance. In either case the enemy has increased their exposure to covering fires when compared to the current mixed system minefield.

Mines are laid.

Once the mines are deployed, the individual mines begin to "self-assemble" into a scalable ad hoc wireless network (estimated 5 minutes). In parallel to the assembly process, the minefield self-maps the location of all mines in the minefield via GPS and non-GPS means to determine its size and strength. Once the network and local map of the minefield are determined, the minefield self-monitors the health status of all mines in the minefield. If radio frequency communications are completely jammed by the enemy, mines can switch to acoustic ranging to communicate.

Each mine determines any changes in the state of the minefield. These changes include loss or disruption of communication between mines and movement or disturbance of a mine by an outside force (intentional or unintentional) even though communications between mines are not affected. Mines also have seismic and magnetic sensors that can detect the presence or approach of an enemy vehicle. A vulnerability could range from a decrease in the local density of mines, to a clear path through which enemy vehicles could pass without encountering a mine, which is called a breach.

Once a minefield status change is detected, each mine within the minefield determines its best guess estimate of the overall vulnerability of the minefield. Depending on the information available to the mine via its onboard sensors and through the network, an appropriate response to breaches or other vulnerabilities is invoked. Although it is possible to respond to a minefield status change in a global manner, each mine can also respond locally (e.g. if communication with other mines are jammed).

Once the minefield has determined its best course of action, individual mines that are tasked to close the breach react by calculating trajectories needed to shift to the new position. The respective mines then move by hopping to their new locations to reinforce and eliminate the vulnerabilities in the minefield. Using rocket thrusters, each mine can leap 10 meters horizontally and 2 meters vertically with each hop. Mines can move multiple times in response to a detected vulnerability. In addition, the minefield is able to respond to multiple parallel or serial attempts to breach. The entire detect-to-heal cycle is executed in under 10 seconds, assuring a rapid response to any breach attempt by an adversary. In tech-speak, the minefield self-reconfigures on the fly, in real-time, and autonomously, with no human being needed in the loop to function.

The dynamic nature of the self-healing minefield means that the enemy must strike the same location many times to deplete a very large number mines before a permanent passage can be created. This takes time, expends resources, gives away their position, and repeatedly exposes them to hostile fire.

Waiting for the enemy's next move.

As the M93 Hornet demonstrates, the new breed of landmines do not require the enemy to run over it to detonate, new mines possess a "standoff" capability.

One-man portable USD$52,000 M93 Hornet anti-tank mine with carrying handle. The M93 Hornet, with a 100m lethality radius, is classified as a Wide-Area Munition (WAM). From final arming to target engagement, the mine is fully autonomous.

M93 Hornet deployed. The mine's communications antenna is clearly visible, so are its 3 magnetic sensors. The mine is also equipped with acoustic and seismic sensors. This allows it to differentiate "low-value" targets such as jeeps and transports, from "high-value" targets such as tanks. On the left is the submunition that the mine launches towards its target.

The mine finds initially locates its target via magnetic, acoustic and seismic sensors. It then articulates its flexible neck towards its target and launches an infrared-detecting submunition over the target.

Sent soaring over the target, using its infrared sensor the submunition determines the best trajectory and fires an Explosively Formed Penetrator (EFP) through the top of the target, destroying its engine and/or killing its crew.

One can only imagine what a swarm of these can do when they are intelligent, autonomous, and mobile.

Genius. Pure genius.


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