Radar, dogs, pointy sticks help soldiers clear minefields

As the young engineer unzips his bag and removes his mine detector, he surveys the sandy, wind-swept hills he is about to clear. Before him sit bunkers, trenches and piles of junk — all potential spots to hide mines or improvised explosive devices.

“Clearing minefields is a long, slow, time-consuming process, and there is no room for error,” said Capt. Jonathan Zimmer, the assistant officer in charge of the Mine Action Center. “We go by NATO standards, … which means we have to use two types of methods to clear a minefield and must obtain 99.6 percent clear.”

The soldiers of the 367th Engineer Battalion have multiple tools at their disposal to meet the requirements needed to consider a minefield clear, said Army Staff Sgt. Joshua Gallup, a combat engineer team leader with the 367th’s Company B. “Usually, we will go through a minefield first with an ‘Aardvark medium flail.’ Once that is finished, we send in the engineers and dogs,” he said.

The Aardvark is a mechanical flail with an armored cab capable of withstanding 7.62 mm armor-piercing rounds. “With that much armor it can definitely withstand a mine blast,” Gallup said.

In addition to the mechanical devices, dogs from the 67th Demining Dog Detachment are used. The 67th is the only unit in the Army that has such dogs, Gallup said. They are trained to work closely with the engineers in finding mines.

A dog will narrow the possible location of a mine to about a square meter, and then the engineer uses his probe to locate the mine. If dogs are not available, an engineer may go in to the field with a Handheld Standoff Mine Detection System, which has metal-detecting capability and ground-penetrating radar.

Weather plays a major factor in clearing a minefield. It impacts everything from the dogs being able to pick up the scent of a mine to the machinery getting bogged down in mud. Summers in Afghanistan are ideal for mine clearing.

“Mine clearing is not all about going out to the field with a metal detector and an up-armored bulldozer,” said Zimmer. “We must look through old logs and try to figure out what areas are already clear and what need the most attention.”

From U.S. Dept. of Defense

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