December 10, 2010: Germany has sent seven IED and mine clearing systems to Afghanistan. Each consists of a Wiesel light armored vehicle equipped with a ground penetrating radar, plus a remotely controlled MineWolf mine clearing system.
Minewolf is a 26 ton armored bulldozer, equipped with flails and cutting equipment that enables it to take down trees up to six inches in diameter. This addresses a major problem where vegetation has grown up in a minefield over a decade or more. This sort of thing can complicate mine clearing considerably. The Minewolf is eight meters (24 feet) long and can also be operated by remote control (via a wireless link of up to 1,000 meters). Depending on accessories, each Minewolf costs about a million dollars. A Minewolf can clear 15,000-30,000 square meters a day. Minewolf is currently used in Afghanistan, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Serbia, Croatia, Jordan, and Sudan. The vehicle is particularly useful for clearing dirt roads of mines, which is a big problem in Afghanistan (which has few paved roads).
The Swiss/German firm that builds Minewolf (and two smaller models for more specialized mine clearing), are building on tracked mine clearing vehicles that first appeared during World War II. Military mine clearing is generally accomplished by attaching accessories to tanks. Thus the need for a non-military mine clearing vehicle like Minewolf.
The IED (Improvised Explosive Devices, usually anti-vehicle mines or roadside bombs very near the side of the road) detecting radar is already widely used in Afghanistan, where the U.S. has over a hundred of these systems. The American one is the HMDS (Husky Mounted Detection System) IED detectors. These cost $500,000 each, although spare parts and technical support nearly triples the price. HMDS uses a ground penetrating radar that can see what is under the road ahead. It is usually mounted on a special mine hunting MRAP armored vehicle. The German system is similar.
Troops inside the MRAP use a computerized analysis system that can quickly spot IEDs. The system includes GPS, which enables the operator to quickly store the location of the bomb. HMDS can even present an image of the buried item, but all the mine clearance troops are really interested in is finding suspected mines or bombs, and disabling or destroying (blowing them up) them. HMDS has enabled combat engineer units to quickly and regularly check heavily used roads for IED. An HMDS can scan a road at speeds of up to 12 kilometers an hour. Scan data for up to a hundred kilometers of road can be stored in the system computer (and offloaded to portable hard drives). The stored scan data is used to improve the accuracy of the analysis and prediction software. The system is not 100 percent accurate, but the more past data in the system, the better the accuracy. This is an ongoing process in order to deal with new IED designs and placement tactics.
Several companies have developed similar systems. This is possible because HMDS is based on off-the-shelf components. Ground scanning radar and predictive analysis software have been around for decades, and the British manufacturer of HMDS was the first to realize the potential for use as an IED detector. HMDS has noticeably reduced the effectiveness of the Taliban IED tactics.