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The New Defence Order. Strategy magazine

Use of explosive detection systems for humanitarian demining effort in Syria

The modern geopolitical situation, characterized by ambitious groups of terrorists, extremists and religious radicals seeking to expand their footprint, gives rise to an increased number of troubled areas globally and generates new localized military conflicts. These conflicts feature artillery, aviation and guerrilla activities used massively, as a result leaving behind a huge variety of explosive hazards (unexploded ordnances), explosive devices (fougasses and mines), and improvised explosive devices. A full-fledged transition to post-conflict life, reconstruction of infrastructure and economy requires carrying out a humanitarian demining effort that can be provided by qualified military units armed with efficient technical means to search or detect explosives on the ground.

Being on such mission in Syria, the Russian field engineers had a challenging work to do, an immense amount of explosive hazards of different make and technology to be neutralized. Palmyra and Aleppo were planted with mines almost everywhere. Anti-personnel mines made in USA, China, Iran, UK, Israel and Saudi Arabia, were among standard engineer ammunitions discovered there. Most of improvised explosive devices were based on gas vessels and used as mortar shells. There were numerous reports of even munitions depots with makeshift bombs, including operational and already charged ones. Also discovered were a plenty of so-called “shaheed's bomb belts” or just suicide bomber’s belts, which typically looked like a body armour or vest generously filled with explosives. The mine clearance involved finding out new “surprises”, every step of the way, including booby-trap mines. When on retreat, the terrorists were aware that civilians would be coming back home soon and so they had planted mines everywhere, even children's toys were charged.

The diversity and sophistication of explosive hazards in Syria required a wide range of detection means that included the articles designed and produced by Protection Group - UTTA JSC (Moscow, www.detektor.ru): induction mine detectors IMP-S2, non-contact explosive device finder INVU-3M “Korshun” (“Eagle”), and command line detector PIPL.

Induction mine detector IMP-S2 (Fig. 1) is capable of detecting anti-personnel and anti-tank mines, improvised explosive devices and roadside bombs which have metal parts in their design. Its basic advantages are compact size, low weight, selectivity and ability to locate the centre of an object under search in a quite precise manner. The device has been re-designed to offer better usability, which is important at continuous work, and can be easily converted from its folded position (Fig. 1a) to operational one (Fig. 1b) in no time. Basic performance characteristics for IMP-S2 are given in Table 1.

Figure 1: IMP-S2 unit in folded (a) and unfolded (b) positions

Table 1: Basic performance characteristics for IMP-S2

Principle of operation Active (registering secondary eddy-current electromagnetic field)

Min. depth of buried mine detection, cm:

- anti-personnel TS-50
- anti-personnel PMN-2
- anti-tank ТМ-62М

 


5
15
50

Max. absorbed current, mA 240
Max. continuous operation, hrs 8
Weight (battery included), kg 2,7

Non-contact explosive device finder INVU-3M appeared to have been effectively the sole means of detection that was capable of finding both standard and improvised mines, the latter type featuring radioelectronic components (ignition fuzes). This device uses the nonlinear junction principle and enjoys a unique set of performance characteristics, unchallenged in the world.

INVU-3M (Fig. 2) is being used with great success to inspect transport infrastructure, buildings and other mined facilities. It helped locate numerous radio-controlled explosive devices, and trap mines disguised as toys or household items. “Novelties” of explosive nature were being found regularly, like deadly roadside bombs coated with gypsum and painted to look like a piece of rock, fitting a power source and firing switch of the so-called “string of lights” design, controlled by radio. Table 2 illustrates basic performance characteristics of the unit, which has received wide acclaim by experts.

Figure 2: INVU-3M unit in action

Table 2: Basic performance characteristics for INVU-3M

Principle of operation Active (registering 2nd and 3rd harmonics of probing radiation reflected by an object being searched)
Probing frequency, MHz 848
Max. detection range, m 30
Max. continuous operation, hrs 8
Weight (battery included), kg 4,3

Command line detector PIPL, in its portable design, serves to detect command lines of explosive devices and gives coordinates of their layout (Fig. 3).

Figure 3: A command line detector, type PIPL, at work in Palmyra surroundings

The specialty of PIPL units is in their ability to detect short-run command lines, up to 20 meters in length, buried in the ground to a maximum depth of 1 meter. The unit was heavily utilized in demining effort at cultural heritage sites in Palmyra, and also has proved highly useful in finding lost electrical and telephone communications. Table 3 provides its basic performance characteristics.

Table 3: Basic performance characteristics for PIPL unit

Principle of operation Active (registering current fields induced in wire circuits)
Working frequency, MHz 1,8
Min. depth of a buried 20-m long command line, cm: 30
Max. absorbed current, mA 140
Max. continuous operation, hrs 8
Weight (battery included), kg 3,5

The Russian field engineers, including those equipped with means of detection designed by Protection Group - UTTA JSC, have done a tremendous job. According to official reports, from March 15 to April 17, 2017, Palmyra had 1514 ha of its territory cleared of mines, which includes 140 km of roads and 1969 buildings, with a total of 6609 explosive hazards detected and neutralized. The ancient city’s historic part saw a complete clearing, with no tiniest piece of metal left unchecked. From December 5, 2016, to February 14, 2017, in Aleppo the area of clearance comprised 2956 ha, including 945 km of roads, 4794 buildings and facilities, with a total of dead mines equalling to 36319 units. It was a common situation for Aleppo to see local people move in their homes as soon as field engineers swept the area and progressed to adjacent neighbourhoods.

The counter-terrorism effort in Syria has proved to be a serious test range for some brand-new equipment used by the military to detect mines and improvised explosive devices. Some new and advanced products designed by Protection Group - UTTA JSC have also been tested by troops: magnetic gradiometer system OSS and portable induction mine detector IMP-3.

OSS gradiometer (Fig. 4) functions as a passive detector of explosive hazards contained in ferromagnetic shells and buried deep beneath the ground, being camouflaged with any medium: soil, snow, and water (including sea water). A hand grenade or pistol, for example, is detectable 0.5 m deep; anti-personnel mine in ferromagnetic shell – 0.7 m; anti-tank mine – down to 2.5 meters. OSS will detect a 155-mm shell based road side bomb (fougasse) at a depth of 3.5 m; aerial bombs weighing up to 500 kg – down to 6 m; cache of weapons or military machinery – down to 7 m.

Figure 4: OSS undergoing field tests in Palmyra location.

Field tests of magnetic gradiometer system OSS have proved effective for the search of explosive hazards in the historic core of Palmyra, conditioned by desert landscape and rocky soil. Experts were thoroughly inspecting spots suitable for roadside bombs, crevices in rocks, exits of underground utilities, wells, basement areas in ancient tombs, towers, and other hazardous locations. OSS has been most efficient generally in finding heavy demolition munitions, as well as caches of weapons. Feedback issues were later addressed and solved by the producer. The article has passed official acceptance tests and now is being introduced to the Russian Armed Forces.

Compact size, high sensitivity and usability are among major benefits mentioned by military engineers when they are asked to comment on portable induction mine detector IMP-3. It allows detection of improvised bomb switches or the so-called “string of lights” switches widely used by terrorists, and also antipersonnel fragmentation mines actuated by trip wire. IMP-3 introduction in the field is one of the events most anticipated by military engineers in 2018.

Apart from developing new detection means utilizing different physical principles of finding explosive hazards, Protection Group - UTTA JSC, encouraged largely by the wealth of experience obtained from the demining mission in Syria, is continuously working on updating the existing series of its products.

 

The New Defence Order. Strategy magazine