Evolving within a theatre of operations implies evolving in a minefield, both literally and figuratively. Land force operations often take place in conflict zones, on ground that has been altered by past or present combat. The death and injury of thousands is caused every year by several kinds of mines: improvised explosive devices (IEDs); unexploded but still armed munitions (UXOs); or explosive remnants of past wars (ERWs) (UNMAS, 2015) which remain in place. Today it is estimated that more than 100 million armed mines remain active (MINESWEEPERS, 2016).
Thus, the work of locating such threats is essential (Croll, 1998). Today, drones play an increasingly essential role in mine-related prevention (Cheatle, 2019). In 2019, the Mine Action Technology Workshop organised by the Geneva Centre for Humanitarian Demining (GICHD) highlighted their usefulness. Drones enable experts to carry out “non-technical survey” (reconnaissance) without risk, to intervene in a more targeted and secure manner during demining operations (Shreiber & Peichl, 2016). Until now, mines were detected with metal detectors by people risking their lives, by being forced to scan and advance centimetre by centimetre in the field (UN News, 2012).
Mines that are difficult to spot can now be located thanks to drones equipped with infrared cameras. These cameras make it possible to find buried mines in certain situations (Scimeca, 2019). As part of Handicap International’s ‘Odyssey 2025 Project’, these demining drone-technologies have been tested in Chad, where there is a minefield the size of Paris, which makes it possible to test the effectiveness of demining drones (Odyssey2025, 2021). Drones successfully mapped the site and spotted suspicious objects like metal fragments or damaged cars.
The use of drones in operations is becoming increasingly widespread. For example, the recent partnership established between the French armed forces and the Parrot company will enable soldiers to deploy mini-drones during operations (GEOSPATIAL WORLD, 2021). But Parrot is not the only recognised European player in the development of drone-based recognition and demining technologies. Recently, Dutch company Mine Kafon announced it has completed the development of two new drones: K DESTINY (drone surveillance) and the MK MANTA (drone detection), which are now ready for production (EC, 2020). This project is financed by the European Union (DG Development). These drones live-stream information and, thanks to a specific and secure algorithm, make it possible to precisely determine the target’s coordinates.
Recent progress in developing demining technologies has enabled the company Demine Robotics (Canada) to develop the JEVIT demining robot, capable of clearing mines thanks to its on-board tools. Thus, the combination of field robot for mine clearance, with drones for mine reconnaissance, would be an extremely effective addition to land forces as it increases personnel safety.
Nevertheless, mine detection is often a slow process, hardly adaptable to the pace of an operation. Techniques for this type of operation must therefore keep pace with
The present technology in cutting-edge demining drones is innovative, but it will take years to become fully operational within land forces.
Written by Antoine DECQ, Researcher at Finabel – European Army Interoperability Centre
CROLL, M. (1998) History of Landmines. Available at: https://www.researchgate.net/publication/25110845_The_History_of_Landmines
European Commission (EC). (2020) Mine Kafon Drone: An Unmanned Airborne Demining System. Available at: https://cordis.europa.eu/article/id/422614-clearing-landmines-with-the-help-of-drones/fr
GEOSPATIAL WORLD. (2021) Parrot to supply micro-drones with ANAFI USA for French Defense Procurement Agency. Available at: https://www.geospatialworld.net/news/parrot-to-supply-micro-drones-with-anafi-usa-for-french-defense-procurement-agency/
ICRC. (2020) Drones, infrared cameras and AI join the search for mines. Available at: https://blogs.icrc.org/inspired/2020/06/16/drones-infrared-cameras-mines/
MINESWEEPERS. (2016) Facts about landmines. Available at: http://www.landminefree.org/2016/index.php/support/facts-about-landmines
Odyssey2025. About Us, Available at: http://odyssey2025.com/about/
SCHREIBER E., PEICHL. M., et. Al. (2016) Challenges for operational use of ground-based high-resolution SAR for landmines and UXO detection. Proceedings of the 11th European Conference on Synthetic Aperture Radar (EUSAR).
SCIMECA, D. (2019) Infrared imaging systems mounted on drone platforms designed to assist demining efforts in Afghanistan, VISIONSYSTEMSDESIGN. Available at: https://www.vision-systems.com/non-factory/scientific-industrial-research/article/16748212/infrared-imaging-systems-mounted-on-drone-platforms-designed-to-assist-demining-efforts-in-afghanistan
UN News. (2012) Landmine awareness day – Lend your Leg campaign. Available at: https://news.un.org/en/audio/2012/04/572282
UNMAS. (2015) Landmines, Explosive remnants of war and IED safety handbook. Available at: https://www.unmas.org/sites/default/files/handbook_english.pdf