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News from the National Academies
Date: March 21, 2001
Contacts: Jennifer Wenger, Media Relations Associate
Chris Dobbins, Media Relations Assistant
(202) 334-2138; e-mail <news@nas.edu>

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

New Technologies Hold Promise for Eliminating Antipersonnel Landmines, But Not by Target Date

WASHINGTON – New technologies under development could offer similar or greater tactical advantages to antipersonnel landmines and reduce the risk to civilians, says a new report from the National Academies' National Research Council. These technologies could replace some, but not all, of the U.S. military's antipersonnel landmines by 2006, the United States' target date for signing an international treaty banning them.

"After carefully evaluating many possibilities, we have concluded that alternative technologies could one day effectively replace antipersonnel landmines without unnecessarily endangering U.S. troops and noncombatants," said George Bugliarello, chair of the committee that wrote the report, and chancellor at Polytechnic University, Brooklyn, N.Y. "With focused and consistent funding, some alternatives could be ready by the 2006 deadline. However, in certain situations, alternatives will not be available until later, and antipersonnel landmines will need to be retained."

Antipersonnel landmines have been used during wartime to, among other things, protect small units of soldiers, alert a defender of enemy attack, control enemy movements, prevent the disabling of larger and more visible antitank mines, and inflict casualties on enemy troops. Effective as they have been for such uses, landmines are nevertheless incapable of distinguishing friend from foe or combatant from noncombatant. Because they continue to be a danger long after a conflict is over, these weapons have become the focus of major international humanitarian efforts. Thousands of civilians are killed or maimed each year by landmines. Today, an estimated 70 million landmines are buried in approximately 60 countries, and inflict injuries most frequently in Angola, Burma, Cambodia, Chechnya, and Kosovo.

Concerns over such issues led to the Ottawa Convention, an international treaty that seeks to ban any landmine that explodes automatically when a person is on, near, or in contact with it. Thus far, 139 countries have signed or acceded to the treaty. The United States has said that it would be willing to sign, but only when alternatives that afford protection equivalent to that provided by antipersonnel landmines can be found. The U.S. Department of Defense asked the National Research Council to identify potential technologies that could be available by 2006.

Advances in technology have already produced landmines that self-destruct or deactivate after a brief period, reducing the potential harm to civilians, but not eliminating it. The United States currently uses only self-destructing or self-deactivating antipersonnel landmines, except in the demilitarized zone between North and South Korea where the U.S. military considers it necessary for all types of landmines to be left in place for an extended period.

Pure Antipersonnel Systems

Antipersonnel landmines are employed generally in two ways: on their own against ground troops who carry light weapons, and as part of mixed weaponry systems to prevent foot soldiers who accompany armored vehicles from disabling antitank mines.

The committee found that, with increased funding, an alternative to antipersonnel landmines intended for use solely against ground troops could be ready by 2006. Known as the nonself-destructing alternative system, or NSD-A, the system would allow a soldier or operator to view a hand-held video display through which sensors would signal when an intruder has entered the protected area, giving him the option to detonate the explosive or let the person pass safely. This puts the decision for detonation into human hands rather than having the landmine explode on contact.

But concerns about a software option, known as the battlefield override switch, have delayed production of NSD-A. The switch enables the operator to put the system on "autopilot" in the event that his unit is about to be overrun by an enemy, providing last-minute protection and allowing the landmine to explode on contact. Without the override switch, NSD-A meets the requirements of the convention because the weapon would not explode on its own. With the switch, however, the system would not comply with the convention. The committee recommended developing both software options -- with and without the switch -- so that it could be used in either mode and be ready in time for a decision concerning the Ottawa Convention. The Defense Department should explore solutions that could provide the same advantages of the switch yet that would still be compliant with the Ottawa Convention, such as the ability to transfer control to another operator.

Mixed Weaponry Systems

In the case of mixed systems, the committee found that no suitable alternative will be available by 2006. Therefore, if the United States decides to sign the Ottawa Convention, a transition period may be needed when self-destructing and self-deactivating antipersonnel landmines are retained temporarily for appropriate uses.

The committee recommended halting the production of the "remote area-denial artillery munition," or RADAM, a technology already under development. This technology combines two existing discrete systems, an artillery-delivered antitank mine and an artillery-delivered antipersonnel mine, into one projectile. It would not comply with the Ottawa Convention and appears to provide little or no military advantage to using the two systems in tandem, the report notes. Furthermore, funds should be redirected toward more effective options that may be compliant with the international treaty.

The most promising alternative for mixed systems in the near future, the committee said, is the Hornet Wide-Area Munition Product Improvement Program (WAM PIP). This system would improve upon the existing Hornet WAM system, which is a self-destructing, self-deactivating antitank mine with a large lethal radius and a special device that thwarts enemy foot soldiers from disabling it. As with NSD-A, the WAM PIP would be controlled by a human operator and the system would employ sensor technology for improved detection. However, until it can be remotely delivered as a projectile from artillery or dropped from an aircraft, it cannot be considered a fully equivalent alternative.

The use of nonlethal weapons to temporarily immobilize or incapacitate the enemy on the battlefield should continue to be investigated, the committee said. Although nonlethal weapons cannot completely replace antipersonnel mines, they can be useful in situations when the threat is unclear or when large populations of noncombatants are in the vicinity

Looking beyond 2006, the committee recommended aggressively funding other technologies that, though under development for other purposes, could be used as components of long-term alternatives to antipersonnel landmines. Investments in sensors and communications could be particularly fruitful.

The U.S. Department of Defense sponsored the study. The Research Council is the principal operating arm of the National Academy of Sciences and the National Academy of Engineering. It is a private, nonprofit institution that provides science and technology advice under a congressional charter.

Read the full text of Alternative Technologies to Replace Antipersonnel Landmines for free on the Web, as well as more than 1,800 other publications from the National Academies. Printed copies are available for purchase from the National Academy Press Web site or at the mailing address in the letterhead; tel. (202) 334-3313 or 1-800-624-6242. Reporters may obtain a pre-publication copy from the Office of News and Public Information at the letterhead address (contacts listed above).

NATIONAL RESEARCH COUNCIL
Division of Engineering and Physical Sciences
Department of Military Science and Technology and Division on Policy and Global Affairs

Committee on Alternative Technologies to Replace Antipersonnel Landmines

George Bugliarello* (chair)
Chancellor
Polytechnic University
Brooklyn, N.Y.

H. Norman Abramson*
Executive Vice President
Southwest Research Institute (retired)
San Antonio

Thomas F. Hafer
Senior Program Manager
Science and Technology Associates Inc.
Arlington, Va.

J. Jerome Holton
Senior Scientist
Defense Group Inc.
Alexandria, Va.

Lee M. Hunt
Naval Science and Technology Consultant
Alexandria, Va.

Richard H. Johnson
Colonel
U.S. Army (retired), and Consultant
Springfield, Va.

K. Sharvan Kumar
Professor of Engineering
Brown University
Providence, R.I.

Ronald F. Lehman II
Director
Center for Global Security Research
University of California
Livermore

Larry G. Lehowicz
Major General
U.S. Army (retired), and Vice President
Quantum Research, International
Arlington, Va.

Alan M. Lovelace*
Senior Vice President
General Dynamics Corp. (retired)
La Jolla, Calif.

Harvey M. Sapolsky
Professor of Public Policy and Organization
Political Science Department, and
Director of the Security Studies Program
Center for International Studies
Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Cambridge

Daniel R. Schroeder
Lieutenant General
U.S. Army (retired)
Vass, N.C.

Marion W. Scott
Deputy Director for Sensors and National Security
Microsystems Science, Technology, and Components Center
Sandia National Laboratories
Albuquerque, N.M.

K. Anne Street
President and Chief Executive Officer
Riverside Consulting Group Inc.
Alexandria, Va.

Patrick H. Winston
Ford Professor of Artificial Intelligence and Computer Science
Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Cambridge

RESEARCH COUNCIL STAFF

Margaret N. Novack
Study Director

Lois E. Peterson
Program Officer


* Member, National Academy of Engineering