First model of the D85MS-15 demining machine in testing in Afghanistan

Anti-personnel Landmines:A Semi-permanent Source of Terror

As conflicts broke out in various areas around the world, anti-personnel landmines came to be laid in enormous quantities. Many of them continue to be explosive semi-permanently even after peace is restored, giving rise to an estimated 20,000 victims annually, including ordinary people going about their daily lives and children playing in the fields.

The Ottawa Treaty entered into force in 1999 with a view to resolving this tragic situation. This convention comprehensively prohibits the use, stockpiling, production, and transfer of anti-personnel landmines. More than 150 nations, including Japan, are signatories.

Momentum for the abolition of anti-personnel landmines has spread throughout Japan and the world.

It takes an inordinate amount of time to detect anti-personnel landmines manually and remove them with meticulous attention. For example, in Cambodia, where six million landmines are said to have been laid during the civil war, only approximately 350,000 had been cleared in the 15 years after the war ended (1992 to 2006, source: Cambodia Mine Action Centre). The eradication of landmines there has been calculated at requiring more than 240 years, which would mean that this task of removing landmines manually directly in front of the worker an activity courting great danger would continue until then.

However, if a machine is used it is possible to minimize the danger of accidents while dramatically hastening the speed at which the work can be performed. This machine a demining machine for anti-personnel landmines can crush or explode landmines buried near the surface by scratching at and pounding upon the ground. In many cases, such machines utilize a structure or function that is extremely similar to chasses or attachments for construction equipment.

It can be said that developing a demining machine for anti-personnel landmines that is efficient and has high levels of safety is an area for contributions to society in which the specialized technology and experience in manufacturing uniquely possessed by construction equipment manufacturers can be used to the greatest extent possible.

(left) An anti-personnel landmine has been discovered. Although it was laid almost 20 years ago, many of them are still explosive (Cambodia). (right) Workers from local NGOs continue to be engaged in extremely dangerous clearance operations (Afghanistan).

Starting along the Path to Development

Back in 1998 Komatsu began development of machines to remove shrub, the work needed before demining. In 2002, the Japanese government approved exports of demining machines for anti-personnel landmines, and in 2003 Komatsu applied for the public offering of subsidies of Japan's Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry and The New Energy and Industrial Technology Development Organization (NEDO) and embarked on full-scale development of demining machines. In December 2003, we completed the production of our prototype.

The base of the machine utilizes a bulldozer with a chassis weight of some 27 tons. In addition to excellent reliability and durability, such a machine has the ability to cover rocky terrain, damp ground, and sloping land quickly and thereby clear even large areas effectively. Replacement parts are easy to obtain, and by changing the vehicle's front attachment, the machine can also be used as a bulldozer for ground leveling operations. It can be used in road construction work and other operations in the future.

Moreover, this machine features the remote control technology for construction equipment already having practical application in disaster recovery areas. Through remote operation, the operator's safety can be further enhanced.

Since many countries have now completely abolished anti-personnel landmines, demonstration testing of demining machines' capabilities should take place in actual minefields. In Afghanistan since 2004, Komatsu has thoroughly tested the capabilities of the machines it has developed.

About 80% of Afghanistan's land is arid and mountainous, and during the long period of conflict approximately ten million anti-personnel landmines are estimated to have been laid around the country. Furthermore, antitank landmines can be found in minefields in addition to anti-personnel landmines. Demining machines must be able to withstand even those more massive explosions and protect their occupants, and they must be able to extricate themselves from minefields safely. Tests to confirm the functionality and reliability of the vehicle were conducted repeatedly with great caution, also making use of remote operation.

Field tests began in Cambodia in 2006. The objective was to verify the machine's capability to clear the terrain, which, unlike Afghanistan, features mud flats and areas covered with bushes. The results of the testing were that the Komatsu demining machine for anti-personnel landmines succeeded in demonstrating clearance capabilities of 500 square meters per hour on average. This is from 25 to over 50 times the speed of manual clearance (although this varies according to conditions during the clearance operations).

Operation of a demining machine for antipersonnel landmines for two or three days can produce one hectare of safe land. In Cambodia, converting that land into fields will enable two or three families to support themselves.

(left) Komatsu's demining machine for anti-personnel landmines rotates rollers with spikes attached (rotary cutters) to crush and explode anti-personnel landmines in the ground. It operates over a large area of land, tearing up bushes and weeds and transforming the land to look as if it were a field (Cambodia, 2006). (right) Practicing wireless operations (Cambodia). The worker operates the machine from behind a protective shield.

The First Machine Going into Service

What is essential for safe and efficient antipersonnel landmine removal operations is not only the development of vehicles but also technical training of local operators of the equipment. In the spring of 2004, Komatsu invited people from landmine removal NGOs operating in Afghanistan to Japan for the first time and conducted technical training.

Interaction among people is enhanced around a single demining machine for antipersonnel landmines. In addition, through getting to know the countries now working towards reconstruction and interacting with the local people who so intensely support that reconstruction, a new consciousness has come about within Komatsu that it should assist those regions still more. The demining machine for anti-personnel landmines has had its capabilities and reliability thoroughly verified and has been deployed by a local NGO in Afghanistan through ODA funding from the Japanese goverment since September 2007.

(left) In May 2007, people involved in the clearing of landmines in Afghanistan were again invited to Japan and training was conducted. In Afghanistan, there are many people from NGOs who participate in the landmine removal program under the United Nations umbrella. (right) The first machine has been deployed by a local NGO in Afghanistan and it has been in use since September 2007.

Further Efforts by Collaboration with JMAS

January 2008, Komatsu and Japan Mine Action Service (JMAS), a nonprofit organization of Japan, signed an agreement to jointly demine anti-personnel landmines in the contaminated regions and reconstruct local communities after demining.

JMAS is a nonprofit organization staffed mainly by retired people of Japan's Defense Agency with a wealth of technical expertise and experiences. Since 2002, JMAS has engaged in clearing landmines and unexploded ordnances (UXOs) as well as digging wells and providing educational programs. Its aggressive efforts also include provision of technical personnel in cooperation with the governments of Cambodia, Laos and Afghanistan.

Komatsu believes that when we combine our demining machine technologies and JMAS' experiences and know-how, the two should be able to enable faster reconstruction of devasted local communities and thus make very effective social contributions.

Based on this agreement, the first reconstruction project for local communities is planned for launching in Battambang, Cambodia in May 2008. Specific plans for this project call for our demining equipment to be rented at no cost to JMAS for speedy demining, and then, the safe development of agricultural land, digging of wells, building of schools, and repair and building of roadways and bridges. In addition to lending the demining machine and construction equipment for use in building such infrastructure, all at no cost, Komatsu is going to pay the operating expenses of \50 million and transportation cost to Cambodia. Komatsu will also supply replacement parts at no cost. For the next project, Komatsu is considering a reconstruction project in Africa.

Komatsu positions community reconstruction which begins with demining as one of its core activities of social contribution. In addition to continuing this activity, Komatsu hopes to expand its efforts to other areas by collaborating with other companies, NGOs, governments, international organizations and local people.

Kunio Noji (left), President and CEO of Komatsu, and Mr. Mitsuo Nonaka, President of JMAS, at the signing ceremony