UK’s Dstl adopts UAV-mounted sensor concept for mine clearance

Engineers from the Defense Science and Technology Laboratory (Dstl), a specialist agency supporting the UK’s Ministry of Defense (MoD) with emerging military capabilities, are investigating a new drone solution for clearing minefields.

Dstl’s efforts have recently contributed to NATO STO Research Task Force SCI-321 to assess the potential, limitations and challenges of using unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) for target detection in Military Reconnaissance operations.

The Task Force aims to clear mined areas faster and more safely by fielding a UAV with a sensor payload to detect hidden explosive devices, an idea supported by the State Department that has the potential to significantly increase the protection of Armed Forces personnel in the field of battle.

The Dstl team and its industry partners participated in two weeks of testing with NATO allies in Spain and the Suffield Research Center in Canada.

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NATO SCI-321 conducted a previous test in Spain in 2021, generating many useful observations. A second test is being conducted in North America to gain broader visibility into the sensors and systems being developed for these missions.

According to Dstl’s corporate report From November 2022, the UK Armed Forces are required to maintain Freedom of Access and Maneuver (FOAM) in the electromagnetic environment.

As part of the Ground Area Reconnaissance and Assurance (GARA) initiative, the UK military must ensure that designated routes and areas can be cleared of planted explosives.

“Dstl research supported GARA development by identifying and developing exploitable ideas for neutralizing ‘tactically placed explosive devices’ by electromagnetic means at a sufficient distance from protected elements and restoring freedom of action to defense and security operations,” the report states. Dstl.

Advances in UAVs and low size, weight and power detection have led to the development of innovative ideas for explosive threat detection by combining these technologies and systems.

“This is Dstl working with UK industry and international partners at its best,” said Dstl chief executive Dr Paul Hollinshead. “Extremely innovative, developing new concepts, sharing expertise and leveraging cutting-edge science and technology to save lives.”

Similarly, Dr. Anthony Faust, Head of the Threat Mitigation Team at Research and Development Canada and designated Canadian representative to NATO SCI-321, commented:[we] are constantly looking for new sensors and actuators, and ways to use them, in order to improve the capability of the Canadian Armed Forces through the exploitation of advanced technologies.

“This collaboration with NATO allies allows us to validate this technology collectively, promotes interoperability among NATO members.”

The problem of landmines in Ukraine

Live mines, munitions and other explosive devices are one of the most widespread threats to the security of civilians and military personnel.

The United Nations reports that a third of Ukrainian territory is littered with unexploded ordnance.

Last month, the UK Ministry of Defense committed the British Army’s Royal Engineers to teaching vital mine disposal skills to Ukrainian troops in Poland.

At the time, the Ministry of Defense emphasized that it was “critical to the success of the ongoing counteroffensive that the Ukraine the resources to deal with mines’.

The Russian invasion forces have demonstrated that their strategy targets both civilian and military personnel to make it harder for ordinary Ukrainians to maintain their resistance. This has led to an increased focus on critical national infrastructure alongside the approaching winter weather.

Mines are a critical part of this strategy as the munitions are used to disrupt daily life as well as the foam of the Ukrainian military.

Global security think tank based in Bratislava GlobalSec suggests that Russian troops are notoriously creative in laying landmines:

“[T]plant victim-activated devices on animals, corpses, as well as double and even triple traps on roads, fields and forests,” he notes. “It has been reported that the Russians have also deliberately targeted farmland and agricultural land for contamination in order to deny their use for future economic activity in Ukraine.”

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