Mine (land warfare)

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In land warfare, a mine is an explosive device placed on ground or attacked to an object in which the user wants to establish a barrier, and which will explode due to some physical effect by a passing person or vehicle. In other words, mines are rarely used in an actual battle, but emplaced to attack at some future time.

As opposed to naval mines, the effect of land mines can be improvised in the field. Improvised explosive devices (IED), also called boobytraps, are similar to a land mine in that they usually lie in passive wait for a target. It is possible to build simple mines out of commercial and random military components and available explosives. Naval mines are sufficiently large and complex that they are designed by engineers and produced in factories. Improvised explosive devices (IED) are quite common in land warfare, along with land mines that are produced by industry.

One of the attractions of mines is that, in many applications, do not need labor or maintenance once emplaced. In tactical use by conventional armies, however, it is generally assumed that minefields will be covered by manned weapons, or possibly with instruments that summon combat aircraft. In unconventional warfare, however, mines may be left unattended and used for area denial or the psychological infliction of terror of the unexpected.

Some mines, often using explosively formed projectiles, may be kept under observation and only triggered by an act of an operator. These are called command-detonated mines and are generally exempt from legal restrictions on land mines.

Mines were originally emplaced by hand. Today, they may be delivered by aircraft, guided missile, or artillery. Mines fired into an area usually have features to disarm themselves after a period of time, to be detonated only by contact with a large and heavy objects such as a tank or both. Much of the humanitarian concern with land mines regards simple antipersonnel mines that remain hazardous for long periods, and, after war's end, make an area unusable for civilian farming, transportation, and other mundane pursuits.

Military utility

The armies of countries with modern weapons have, at most, very limited utility for antipersonnel mine, not including command-detonated munitions. Indeed, most mines and IEDs encountered by South Vietnamese, U.S., and other allied troops in the Vietnam War were either actual U.S. mines or improvised from U.S. munitions. [1]

An open letter to President Bill Clinton, from 15 retired U.S. generals, [2] stated "Given the wide range of weaponry available to military forces today, antipersonnel landmines are not essential. Thus, banning them would not undermine the military effectiveness or safety of our forces, nor those of other nations. The proposed ban on antipersonnel landmines does not affect antitank mines, nor does it ban such normally command-detonated weapons as Claymore `mines,' leaving unimpaired the use of those undeniably militarily useful weapons." Many of these officers had direct and personal combat experience; one, GEN H Norman Schwarzkopf Jr. was decorated for rescuing soldiers from a minefield in Vietnam. When asked by a reporter "How many mines make a minefield", he responded "one, if you're in it."

Mine sensing and detonation technology

The first mines were triggered by direct contact with the target. The mine fuze could be:

  • Activated by pressure, as by a person stepping on it or a vehicle driving over it
  • Pressure release, as when an object on top of the mine is listed. This usage, even with manufactured mine, blurs into the category of "boobytrap"
  • Tension release, as when a taut wire is pulled or broken
  • Intelligent sensing of characteristic sound profiles, magnetic effects of a large mass of metal, etc.
  • Command detonated by an operator

Again blurring into boobytraps or specialized demolitions, the fuze could be intelligent. For example, when sabotaging a railroad, the enemy may learn to send heavy but essentially worthless, possibly unmanned, self-propelled cars ahead of a real train, in the hope of predetonating anti-railway mines. More intelligent mines, however, could be programmed so that they would allow the first few trains or cars to pass, and detonate only under valuable targets.

Mine deployment

Buried

Burial, except perhaps for a protruding fuze element, is the most common means of emplacement for antitank mines, and antipersonnel mines in minefields laid by engineers. They are often buried, and then concealed, by hand. When establishing a permanent barrier minefield, vehicle-mounted equipment, with a drill, mine handler, and earth mover, may be used for large numbers of mines.

Surface

Artillery or missile deployed for tactical use

Mine countermeasures

Mine detection

It is crude, brutal, but potentially effective to send humans or animals into known minefields. In the Second World War, German and Soviet "punishment" or "penal battalion" soldiers were ordered, at gunpoint, to go through the fields, finding mines with their bodies. During the Iran-Iraq War, teenage Basij volunteers, who regarded martyrdom as desirable, would run into minefields, ahead of combat troops who would follow in their paths. These homicidal and suicidal methods were both detection and countermeasures.

When there is time, soldiers or other demining specialists can crawl through a potential minefield, probing the ground ahead of them to try to find buried mines. A nonmetallic probe is preferred, since some mines detonate on sensing magnetic fields. When such a minehunter finds the mine, he will usually mark it. Depending on the tactical situation and density of mines, the followup troops may move through the area, avoiding the markers and carefully placing their feet where the man in front of them had stepped without harm. The actual countering of those mines is left to specialists.

Trained dogs can help detect mines, with keen noses that can detect the explosive's vapors, and usually light enough weight not to activate the detonators. Hand demining, often with assistive dogs, is the basic method for demining in areas of the third world.

A more mechanized but still dangerous technique is to pass metal detectors over the ground ahead. The use of metal detectors is one reason that mines were made that do not show up on X-ray: metal is both radioopaque and often will affect a magnetic field.

Much more advanced methods use ground-penetrating radar, methods that detect changes in earth density or recent disturbance, etc.

The most common technique against military minefields, however, is to have suitably equipped troops detonate the mines remotely, while protected from the explosions.

Mine neutralization

A wide variety of techniques, especially by industrialized militaries, can be used to defeat minefields. The U.S. Marine Corps, for example, has remanufactured the Assault Breacher Vehicle, from surplus tank chassis, for its combat engineers.

Protection against mine damage

Legal aspects of the use of land mines

Mine ban treaties

The 1997 Convention on the Prohibition of the Use, Stockpiling, Production and Transfer of Anti-Personnel Mines and on Their Destruction, often called the Ottawa Treaty.[3] focuses on banning antipersonnel mines. While there are many reports it applies to all mines, its very title focuses on antipersonnel mines.

Command-detonated antipersonnel devices are a gray area under the Convention. Purely command-detonated devices are widely considered exempt. The difficult situation is when they are used, for example, as part of the night defense of a temporary position of an infantry patrol. In such a case, they might be put out, on trip wires, for the hours of darkness, and then removed. If this device is left permanently in an area containing civilians, it is a fairly clear violation of the Convention.

Principally over a perceived need for antipersonnel mines in the Demilitarized Zone between South Korea and North Korea, the U.S. has been unwilling to sign the Convention. Since the U.S. is taking a more of a support role in Korea, that decision may become that of the Republic of Korea. Improved sensors for a closely monitored area such as the DMZ also may obviate the military justification; if a sensor detects troop movement and artillery can be on the way in seconds to minutes, there might be no significant loss of capability by removing the mines.

Somewhat ironically, technology for mines made by countries with advanced industries may bring them much closer to a fail-safe configuration. Many soldiers, however, do not trust "fail safe" antipersonnel mines, and do not believe they have real tactical utility.

While "insensitive high explosives", originally developed for the trigger mechanism of nuclear weapons, will fire only when a specialized, electrically powered detonator triggers, are available, they have not been used in mines. Theoretically, they could be, but the countries that could employ these have stopped manufacturing antipersonnel mines; the technique might be used in cluster submunitions, antipersonnel versions of which are also deemphasized.

Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons

Protocol I of the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons prohibits the use of weapons, including mines, that leave fragments in the body that are not detectable by X-rays.[4] A number of lightweight, air- or artillery antipersonnel had had plastic casings to reduce weight; it was relatively rare, certainly by a conventional military, to create a weapon that deliberately was hard to detect in the body.

What would be more common is to use a wooden or plastic body to make a buried mine harder to detect and clear. The effect of its fragments in the body was incidental to the main reason for using the nonmagnetic, nonradio-opaque material.

Protocol II, which overlaps with the Ottawa Treaty, bans the use of land mines and boobytraps that pose a special hazard to civilians.

Protocol V of this convention deals with explosive remnants of war, an argument for land mines that disable themselves.

Improvised explosive devices

Unfortunately, IEDs will not use such insensitive explosives or fail-safe detonators. They may use military explosives, but they rarely use the safety features on manufactured mines — the irregular forces that use them have no particular incentive to employ such mechanisms.

References

  1. Human Rights Watch, IV. Mine Warfare in Vietnam, IN ITS OWN WORDS: The U.S. Army and Antipersonnel Mines in the Korean and Vietnam Wars
  2. "An Open Letter to President Clinton", New York Times, April 3, 1996
  3. Convention on the Prohibition of the Use, Stockpiling, Production and Transfer of Anti-Personnel Mines and on Their Destruction
  4. Arms Control Association (October 2007). Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons (CCW) At a Glance.