April 10, 2005
China has adopted FAE (Fuel Air Explosives) for mine clearing. FAE is a bomb that first spreads a mist of fuel (gasoline type stuff, or a mixture of other chemicals) and then ignites it. This creates a large, impressive looking, explosion, as well as a powerful blast (called overpressure). It is the overpressure that sets off landmines, as the pressure created on the ground triggers the pressure sensors on anti-personnel and anti-tank mines. The Chinese have developed FAE warheads for most of their MLRS (multiple launch rocket systems), up to the 425mm caliber ones. There are also portable ones, that look like an RPG, and mortar shells with FAE as well. The larger MLRS can be used to quickly clear a long lane (several kilometers long) through a mined area. The Chinese also note the effect of FAE on enemy troops as well, and plan to use their mine clearing FAE weapons even when there are no mines, and aim them against enemy troops. Many nations use some FAE for mine clearing, but no one uses it as much as the Chinese. But by using FAE for both mine clearing, and anti-personnel attacks (FAE is less effective on armored, or even unarmored, vehicles), they have increased the effectiveness of their MLRS systems. But using MLRS for mine clearing requires practice to do it right the first time. If youre depending on the MLRS FAE to clear mines for a major attack, you cannot afford to take a chance with artillery using these FAE rockets for the first time. So the Chinese have an MLRS artillery brigade whose main job is mine clearing. They use large caliber mortars and MLRS to do this, and veterans of this brigade move on to other artillery units, so as to share their experience with FAE mine clearing.
FAE has always been tricky to use. If the wind is blowing the wrong way, or the humidity isnt quite right, the explosion is something of a fizzle. But the Russians have developed new designs for FAE weapons (which they now call "thermobaric weapons") that overcome many of these problems, and it appears that the Chinese have gotten some of that technology.