When we think of a mine in a maritime context we tend to visualise these;
But in a port opening or amphibious operation deployed force will likely encounter more of the latter than the former.
In an amphibious operation that makes use of beaches the beach itself and area immediately to the rear may well be mined with conventional anti-tank and anti-personnel mines. If the object of the operation is to augment or open an already established port the scope for conventional mining and IED’s is extremely broad.
Port facilities, warehouses, cranes, quaysides and harbour walls are easy to mine but difficult to clear.
This post will look at existing UK capabilities for beach and port mine/IED clearance.
The Royal Engineers are responsible for the clearance of WWII German bombs (except those in crashed aircraft which the RAF look after), land mines and military booby traps. Just to make this even more complex, they also deal with service ammunition above the high water mark or non-tidal water (rivers and lakes) except those specifically within the remit of the RAF, RN or RLC. The Royal Engineers will also be used where functions like drilling or excavation are required and also provide specialist high risk search capabilities. The Land Forces EOD and Search Branch was established in 2010 with the aim of providing a single focus for all policy, direction and inspectorate responsibilities. The Royal Logistic Corps, because of their expertise with ammunition have generally dealt with the more complex IED’s. The RAOC were made responsible for disposal of defective munitions in WWI and this continues today, they retain the lead for all IED disposal activities.
Joint Defence Pamphlet 2/02 Joint Service Explosive Ordnance sets out the details.
After many years of operations in Northern Ireland, Iraq and Afghanistan the British forces have a very well developed joint Counter IED and EOD capability.
When is an IED an IED and when it is a mine or military booby trap, when does it need clearing or when does it need recovering for intelligence exploitation are sources of this apparent overlapping of responsibilities?
Route clearance is the specific activity of ensuring a specific route is free (to an acceptable level of risk) from devices and able to be trafficked, it has a related activity called route proving which confirms a route is clear before being opened for traffic. It the context of this proposal there may be a number of phases in the clearance operation, each expanding the cleared perimeter and decreasing risk of munitions and IED’s being still active.
Equipment and means have evolved to span everything from the slow and deliberate manual neutralisation of a car bomb in a Belfast street to the high tempo battlefield mine breaching using line charges and armoured ploughs on main battle tank derived vehicles.
The Talisman capability evolved during the Afghanistan deployment, it is used, broadly speaking for two tasks; Combat Logistic Patrol (CLP) route assurance where it will lead the vehicle convoy, prove, and if necessary, clear the route and deliberate clearance to open routes that are used by ISAF forces and local civilians. Talisman is not just a collection of kit but a thoroughly thought through and constantly evolving series of techniques and procedures and no doubt it will continue to evolve. The Talisman Squadron is a Royal Engineer route clearance Squadron for Task Force Helmand. Personnel are mainly Royal Engineers but also include medics, Royal Logistics Corps (RLC), Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers (REME), and Royal Artillery cap badges.
The vehicles and equipment used by the Talisman Troop include a specially equipped Mastiff vehicle, known as ‘Protected Eyes’, and a Buffalo – the most highly protected vehicle on operations. There is also a small robot on caterpillar tracks known as a Dragon Runner. It is armed with high tech optical equipment which can be operated from the safety of the armoured vehicles. Once the IED threat has been dealt with, the high mobility engineer excavator (HMEE) is brought into play. One of the key differences between the HMEE and the other armoured plant in theatre, the armoured Light and Medium Wheeled Tractors, is that it can move at the same speed as the convoy without additional low loaders being needed to carry it. A standard Talisman system comprises two Buffalo’s, 4 Mastiffs, two HMEE’s, two Dragon Runner UGV’s, two T-Hawk micro unmanned air vehicles, recovery vehicles and a number of stores vehicles but this can vary as needed.
The Mastiff is used for command and control and general support, featuring a Remote Weapon Station and elevated Remote Optical Target Acquisition System (ROTAS) sensor package with a high magnification and multi sensor capability. This vehicle is often referred to as the ‘protected eyes’ version. The Mastiff is also seen equipped with mine rollers, a device that has seen a resurgence in Afghanistan. Many people think these are the Self Protection Adaptive Roller Kit (SPARK), now owned by Pearson Engineering, but they are not, instead, the MoD purchased over 100 Panama City Mine Roller Systems Gen III that the USMC have used since 2006 and made by the Naval Surface Warfare Center. The Buffalo is the main search vehicle, sometimes called the Buffalo rummage. The JCB HMEE is used for a variety of purposes such as repairing damage caused by controlled explosions of IED detonations, creating earthworks, repairing culverts, route remediation works and other supporting tasks.
The QinetiQ Dragon Runner is more numerous and used as part of the Talisman capability for less demanding tasks than CUTLASS. Honeywell produce the vertical take off and landing 45 minute endurance T-Hawk unmanned aerial vehicle that is used for remote viewing of suspect locations and its downdraft for dispersing soil and other possible cover materials. The Mini Minewolf MW240 (called Abacot in UK service) is used in route improvement operations, to demolish walls, cut down hedges and trees and other tasks to improve the safety of existing routes. A number of different attachments are available including a gripper bucket, forklift, bucket, sifter bucket, dozer shield and vegetation cutter. A flail attachment is also available but this is not to be confused with the tiller and vegetation cutter. Finally, the Panama Snatch is used for remote sensing and detection of buried IED’s.
Elements of the Talisman capability could potentially be used in port clearance operations, in addition to other protected plant and the broader C-IED and search capability, elements of which are shown below.
Either in the direct or indirect fire zone the Royal Engineers have a collection of equipment that can be used for mine and IED clearance activities. Neither Trojan or Terrier is dedicated to the EOD role and they can carry out all manner of engineering tasks.
Terrier is a significant new piece of Royal Engineer equipment.
Product description from BAE.
Likened to a combat ‘Swiss Army Knife’, Terrier is one of the most versatile, agile and adaptable combat vehicles and can carry out multiple roles in the most demanding battlefield conditions. Typical applications include providing mobility support (obstacle and route clearance), counter-mobility (digging of anti-tank ditches and other obstacles) and survivability (digging of trenches and Armoured Fighting Vehicle slots). With a flying weight of 32 tonnes, which allows it to be transported in the A400M airlifter, Terrier provides strategic air transportability as well as being extremely mobile on the ground on all terrains, reaching speeds of up to 70 kph and with a road range of 600k
Terrier CEV is a capable and deployable vehicle with many advanced features like remote control and the UK’s A400M aircraft will have a specially modified floor to carry one.
Trojan is based on a Challenger 2 main battle tank and can use the Python line charge which is essentially, a long hose filled with explosives unspooled by a rocket.
Explosive Ordnance Disposal
The principle EOD remotely operated vehicle is now the Northop Grumman/Remotec CUTLASS, replacing the well-known ‘Wheelbarrow’. It’s sophisticated arm has nine degrees of movement and can be fitted with a variety of attachments. The arms high dexterity is enabled by the RA Rodriguez ‘Reali-Slim’ bearings and 6 wheel drive system provides high mobility. All three services now have CUTLASS in service.
In the section I described the impressive mine clearance capabilities currently in service and being developed by the Royal Navy.
In this post it is clear that the British Army has an equally impressive array of equipment for minefield breaching and counter-IED.
All three services (in a joint capability) have impressive capabilities for EOD within their specialist areas.
Where I think we have a small gap is in beach and port clearance. I say gap, perhaps a more accurate description is that the obvious focus on shallow water mine clearance and C-IED has meant that beach clearance has not benefited from the huge steps forward in unmanned systems.
Which means that in the dangerous port environment or an a beach in the surf zone, the job of making safe an area falls to Royal Engineers Search Teams (REST) and Royal Engineer and Royal Navy clearance divers.
The driver for the development of unmanned mine clearance systems (whether on land or at sea) has been to remove the man from the minefield.
Some interesting questions come out of this, can Python be fired from an LCVP or LCU, would it work if it landed in the surf zone (work as in clear mines), is Terrier capable of operating in the same surf zone as for CUTLASS and Dragon Runner? The fearsome looking Pearson Full Width Mine Plough on Trojan, is it any good underwater?
Perhaps more important than equipment questions are those of doctrine and training. The ICMEX mine countermeasures exercise in the Gulf has focused on the maritime aspect including, recently, infrastructure protection, but have RE Search Teams and divers been involved?
Lots of question but I think the answers are mostly either no or not for a long time.
The final question, are port clearance and amphibious capabilities compromised?
It shouldn’t be a surprise that our cousins have some Gucci kit in the pipeline, in addition to all sorts of remote detection equipment they are developing the JDAM Assault Breaching System that uses 4,000 explosive darts to pierce and detonate shallow water mines and obstacles.
Table of Contents