New tools to detect improvised explosive devices
Scope of the project
Norwegian People’s Aid protects civilians from explosive weapons through clearance of landmines and other explosive remnants of war. Over the last two decades, NPA has witnessed a new landmine crisis playing out. In countries like Iraq, Syria, Myanmar and Afghanistan, non-state armed groups have started producing and using Improvised Landmines (ILM) and Improvised Explosive Devices (IED), at a large scale.
These weapons are generally unpredictable, challenging, and time-consuming to clear. In 2018, received funding from The Humanitarian Innovation Programme to find methods for speeding up the process of clearing these weapons. The original scope of the project was to develop tools that could rapidly analyse the compositions of the mines.
However, a comprehensive needs assessment determined that the most pressing concern was not the ability to analyse the explosive device itself; but rather to improve the ability of clearance teams to efficiently detect a particular component commonly found in improvised explosive devices and mines called “crush-wires”. These are thin copper wires with small pressure plate switches that trigger and detonate the bomb if a victim were to step on them.
After going through an open market dialogue, NPA partnered with two private sector companies to develop potential solutions, namely Italian metal detector manufacturer CEIA represented by their Nordic distributor Sensec; and Bertel O Steen (BOS), a defence products distributor based in Norway.
NPA determined with CEIA/Sensec that potential solutions would be twofold, namely:
- To develop modifications of and produce a variant of one of their small handheld detectors the CEIA PD240CBM for improvised explosive device clearance indoors. The variant specifically developed by this project is the CEIA PD240CBM-CW.
- To use an existing off- the- shelf product, the CMD3. This is a high-end detector for outdoor clearance for improvised explosive devices, improvised land mines and conventional landmines.
NPA’s approach with Bertel O Steen was to use high power, high efficiency lighting systems to assist in the clearance in urban settings, particularly in poorly lit areas such as tunnels, basements and collapsed buildings. This had particular synergies with another NPA research and development project, “demining in the dark” funded by the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, to explore the use of these lighting systems in conventional landmine clearance settings. It was determined that Lupine Betty TL2 PRO high output flashlights on adjustable tripod stands offered by Bertel O Steen were well suited for both conventional demining and indoor improvised explosive device clearance.
Prototypes were developed in early 2022 and field tests of the products occurred in Bosnia and Herzegovina in May 2022. The tests showed that the newly developed solutions significantly improved capabilities over NPA’s existing equipment and methodologies. A second test in cooperation with the Norwegian army also verified these results.
Lessons learned and impact
The scope of the project significantly changed after the initial needs-assessment phase. As a result of this process, a new, more pressing need was discovered, and it was determined that the original problem statement was not as pertinent as anticipated. While the overall humanitarian goal remained the same, the project was adapted to further address the findings of the needs-assessment.
The COVID-19 pandemic was a significant factor in causing delays to the project. Closure of offices and travel restrictions caused significant challenges to the project, affecting its ability to conduct a pilot trial as originally intended in Iraq. This was further exacerbated by global shortages in various electronic components which delayed the production or acquisition of various equipment for the project. These challenges were overcome with the strengthening of NPA’s partnerships with CEIA/Sensec and Bertel O Steen through clear communications on technical requirements and extensive feedback provided in product development and laboratory testing. Additionally, with the selection of an alternative simulated test in Bosnia and Herzegovina and the bringing of NPA’s staff from Iraq to participate, the pilot test trial proceeded smoothly and verified the capabilities of the products in real-world conditions.
More efficient methods for clearance and removal of these weapons will have a huge impact on the humanitarian and socio-economic situation for the civilian population living side by side with these explosive threats. Houses and land can be safely returned to communities more quickly. This would enable the safe return of internally displaced people (IDPs), and improve livelihoods by putting socioeconomic resources (e.g. farmland, schools, houses, hospitals) back to productive use through ensuring safe access to these areas.
The way forward
Supplies of the three systems have been procured and are being distributed to NPA programmes where it could be used effectively – likely Iraq, Ukraine, Syria and Yemen. The Lupine Betty TL2 PRO is already in use in Ukraine through NPA’s donation to the State Emergency Services of Ukraine for urban search and rescue applications, supported by Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ funding. NPA will also share its findings with wider audiences in the mine action sector and national mine action authorities in the countries they work in, in order to encourage the adoption of the equipment, best practices and methodologies developed under this project. The handheld crush wire detector developed by this project will undergo further assessments by the Norwegian armed forces in 2022.