National Academies Press: OpenBook

Alternative Technologies to Replace Antipersonnel Landmines (2001)

Chapter: 3 Current Uses of Antipersonnel Landmines

« Previous: 2 National Security Environments and the Context for Landmines
Suggested Citation:"3 Current Uses of Antipersonnel Landmines." National Research Council. 2001. Alternative Technologies to Replace Antipersonnel Landmines. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/10071.

Page 25


Current Uses of Antipersonnel Landmines

Landmines are subtle and much misunderstood weapons. Traditionally they are a means of transforming the terrain to the defender's advantage, rather than providing a definitive barrier. They can inflict casualties but must be covered by fire. They shape the attacker's posture, but do not define the outcome of the battle. They provide economies in defense while imposing attrition on the attacker. They are laid without relish and contemplated with fear. They are simple to lay but remarkably difficult to remove. They are not activated unless an attacker advances, but they do not recognize cease-fires. (Croll, 1998)

This chapter provides a general overview of current U.S. landmine systems, the doctrinal guidance for their use, the capabilities of U.S. APL, and the technologies of current APL. Although this study addresses alternatives to APL, considerable information relating to AT mines is included because APL are often used together with AT mines or in mixed systems that include AT mines. Appendix C provides descriptions of both APL and pertinent AT mines.


The Army, as DOD's executive agent for landmine warfare, is responsible for the doctrine for the use of mines. The Army is also responsible for coordinating these activities with the Marine Corps, Navy, and Air Force. According to doctrine prescribed by the Office of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, landmines are only one component in the overall strategy for constructing barriers and complex obstacles (JCS, 1999). Box 3-1 lists the advantages and disadvantages of using barriers, obstacles, and landmines.

Obstacles can be features of the terrain that impede the mobility of a force. Some obstacles, such as mountains, rivers, railway embankments, and urban areas, exist before the onset of military operations. Military forces create other obstacles to support their operations. Commanders use these obstacles to support their scheme of maneuver. When integrated with maneuver and weapon fire, obstacles can be decisive on the battlefield. Doctrine for some obstacles that rely on a physical object to impede vehicles or dismounted soldiers, such as antitank ditches, wire, road craters, and many types of roadblocks, has not changed since World War II. Because these obstacles do not damage or destroy equipment, or injure or kill soldiers, they are considered to be passive.

Although minefields are also obstacles, they are not passive, and doctrine for mine warfare has changed significantly. Today's mines are different from the mines of the World War II era, which required physical contact and relied on blast effects. Today's mines are triggered not only by pressure, but also by seismic, magnetic, or other advanced fuzes. Mines that self-destruct at preset times give commanders control over how long they remain obstacles. The invention of programmable mines that can recognize and

BOX 3-1

Barriers, Obstacles, and Mines


  • Provide the capability of inflicting significant damage to equipment and psychological damage, as well as personnel casualties

  • Extend, strengthen, and deepen other defensive and offensive measures

  • Immobilize the enemy until barriers, obstacles, or minefields can be bypassed, breached, or cleared

  • Exploit geographic features

  • Free forces for other tasks

  • Discern enemy intentions (the commitment of breach assets into a minefield is a detectable indication of intent)

  • Create uncertainty for the enemy commander


  • Creation and removal require significant amounts of time, materiel, equipment, and transportation and are manpower intensive and hazardous

  • Can be bypassed, breached, or cleared

  • Can cause casualties to friendly forces and noncombatants, as well as limit friendly mobility

  • Defensive minefields must be rendered safe when they are no longer needed

Source: JCS, 1999.
Suggested Citation:"3 Current Uses of Antipersonnel Landmines." National Research Council. 2001. Alternative Technologies to Replace Antipersonnel Landmines. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/10071.

Page 26

attack specific types of vehicles will add another dimension to the battlefield (U.S. Army, 1994).


From a theoretical point of view, several “principles of war” underpin land combat operations. Landmines could be considered appropriate weapons in the execution of all of these principles but figure most often in the following four: economy of force (using all combat power available as effectively as possible; allocating minimum essential combat power to secondary efforts); security (never permitting the enemy to acquire an unexpected advantage); offense (seizing, retaining and exploiting the initiative); and maneuver (placing the enemy in a position of disadvantage through the flexible application of combat power). The use of landmines is scenario dependent and involves trade-offs among the principles of war (U.S. Army, 1993).

On the one hand, mines can contribute to the U.S. military's economy of force and security roles in certain defensive scenarios, especially in sectors that are less important and have been allocated fewer forces and weapons. No doubt, given sufficient forces, it would be more advantageous to have no economy of force sectors in a defensive fight. However, force-multiplier and economy-of-force capabilities are usually necessary. Economy of force does not mean that minefields are unobserved, it just means that the preponderance of combat power is concentrated in another sector of the battlefield, and the economy-of-force sector has to make do with less. APL help defenders do just that.

On the other hand, it is generally accepted that wars are won by attacking the enemy. Mines can play a significant role in causing an enemy to move in directions that are advantageous to friendly forces, allowing them to kill the enemy more efficiently. In some offensive operations, however, U.S. mines previously emplaced during defensive missions that cannot distinguish friend from foe could hinder the execution of rapid offensive maneuvers.

In this report, the committee adopted a long-term view of landmines that took into account the principles of war and a wide range of scenarios, from major theater wars to peace operations. Although this report is focused on the characteristics of APL, APL are only one part of an integrated set of battlefield operating systems designed to give U.S. forces a superior means of fighting and winning an engagement (Bornhoft, 1999). These battlefield operating systems require constant coordination to ensure synergy among intelligence, maneuver, mobility/survivability, fire support, air defense, combat service support, and command and control systems.

The 1998 edition of Field Manual 20-32 (U.S. Army, 1998b) is the principal U.S. doctrinal basis for the use of minefields; and the 2000 edition of Field Manual 3-34.2 (U.S. Army, 2000) covers combined arms obstacle integration. Landmines can be used individually to reinforce nonexplosive obstacles or in groups known as minefields (or mined areas in the CCW). A minefield can contain a single type of mine or a combination of types (i.e., APL and AT mines). According to FM 20-32, minefields are used for the following purposes:

  • Produce a vulnerability on enemy maneuver that can be exploited by friendly forces.

  • Cause the enemy to break up his forces.

  • Interfere with enemy command and control.

  • Inflict damage on enemy personnel and equipment.

  • Exploit the capabilities of other weapon systems by delaying enemy forces in an engagement area.

  • Protect friendly forces from enemy maneuver and infiltration.

There are four basic types of minefields. Protective minefields are used to protect soldiers, equipment, supplies, and facilities from enemy attacks or other threats. Tactical minefields directly limit the enemy's movements in a way that gives the defending force a positional advantage. Tactical minefields are designed, sited, and integrated with supporting weapons to produce four tactical effects: disrupting, diverting, fixing, and blocking an enemy. Nuisance minefields (another form of tactical minefield) cause enemy forces to move cautiously, thus disrupting, delaying, and sometimes weakening or destroying follow-on forces. Phony minefields are used as decoys to deceive the enemy about the exact location of real minefields.


The committee thought it important to describe the specific capabilities APL bring to a battlefield. A complete treatment of the capabilities, effectiveness, and challenges of APL is beyond the scope of this report, but this synopsis will provide a helpful context for the reader trying to understand this complex issue.

Today's nonself-destructing mines are simple, reliable, low-cost weapons that can operate in all weather conditions, provide deterrence through fear, and can physically delay or kill the enemy. However, they cannot distinguish between friends, foes, and noncombatants, and if they remain active long after the end of hostilities, they can and do kill innocent noncombatants. For these reasons, the U.S. plans to use mines with self-destructing and self-deactivating capabilities that reduce residual explosive hazards on battlefields. The capabilities of APL listed in Box 3-2 were described to the committee during introductory briefings.

Psychological Effects

Among all of the frightening elements on a battlefield, landmines appear to have a unique ability to inspire fear. In a unique study, The Psychological Effects of Anti-Personnel

Suggested Citation:"3 Current Uses of Antipersonnel Landmines." National Research Council. 2001. Alternative Technologies to Replace Antipersonnel Landmines. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/10071.

Page 27

BOX 3-2

Capabilities of Antipersonnel Landmines

  • Alert the defender of an enemy approach and effectively delay and/or prevent dismounted attacks.

  • Make obstacles and barriers more complex and time consuming to breach.

  • Work together with AT mines to create a synergistic effect.

  • Protect AT mines from rapid breaching or tampering by the enemy.

  • Generate surprise and confusion among enemy forces.

  • Cause direct casualties and psychological damage to an attacking enemy.

  • Provide rear-area protection for combat support and logistics units.

  • Act as a force multiplier for small, light forces and earlyentry units.

Source: Biering, 1999.

Landmines: A Standard to Which Alternatives Can Be Compared, Eugenia M. Kolasinski surveyed soldiers who had encountered or used mines in situations other than training. Kolasinski found that APL do not always have significant psychological effects,1 but when they do, the effect is primarily fear. The fear is most likely based on the types of injuries APL can inflict and the certainty of these injuries if a mine detonates. Three major factors amplify these fears: (1) loss of control, helplessness, and inability to fight back against APL; (2) the perception of risk, which varies by individual and is related to the loss of control; and (3) the high level of uncertainty that continues even after an area appears to be clear of APL (Kolasinski, 1999).


All explosive ordnance contain the same kinds of components: a firing train consisting of a fuze,2 a detonator, and a main charge. The reaction starts when the fuze activates the detonator (a very small charge of highly sensitive materiel) and progresses to the main charge (larger but less sensitive than the detonator). The type of ordnance is distinguishable by the type of launch or employment that, in turn, defines the shape, body composition, and, to some extent, the configuration of the main charge. Figure 3-1 shows the components of a mine.


The fuze dictates how and when the mine is detonated. The general goal is for the fuze to be safe during handling, storage, transport, and tactical movement; the fuze should be armed only when the munition is used. For instance, a handemplaced mine will be fully armed only after being placed in or on the ground, when all safety devices are removed. The complexity of a fuze is as varied as the ordnance to which it is attached. In a mine, the fuze can be mechanical (e.g., a firing pin and a stab detonator), chemical (e.g., acetone that decomposes a plastic disk), electrical (e.g., a batteryoperated electrical circuit), or a combination of types. Trip wires or some means of sensing the passage of an individual are common mine fuzes.

The detonator is normally a primary explosive that initiates the booster, which amplifies the detonation and, in turn, initiates the main charge. The body of the mine may be metallic or nonmetallic.

Mine Function

One distinguishing feature of mines is that they lie dormant until a target approaches or contacts them, thus activating the fuze. Another distinguishing characteristic is their instantaneous reaction. Unlike many weapon systems, there is no latency period between when the mine is alerted and when it reacts. In some respects, mines are more precise than other munitions because the action of the target causes them to function. Most mines work in all weather and light conditions. In other weapons, the munition explodes when it arrives at its destination. The main drawback to mines is that they cannot discriminate among friends, foes, and noncombatants.

Image: jpg
~ enlarge ~
FIGURE 3-1 Mine components.

1 The effects of APL on soldiers varied significantly. Some soldiers could mitigate their fear by focusing strongly on doing their jobs. Soldiers who had some level of control over where they were going or the types of tasks they were assigned were sometimes less affected.

2 Fuse and fuze are not interchangeable terms. A fuse is a safety device, that is, a gunpowder-filled cord. A fuze is a mechanism that activates a mine or bomb (Croll, 1998).

Suggested Citation:"3 Current Uses of Antipersonnel Landmines." National Research Council. 2001. Alternative Technologies to Replace Antipersonnel Landmines. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/10071.

Page 28

The necessity of contact or proximity to the target is another distinguishing feature of mines. APL are directly activated by contact, typically the pull of a trip wire. In AT mines, the magnetic field generated by an armored vehicle is sufficient to initiate a fuze designed to fire on magnetic influence. Acoustic signatures can also arm firing circuits. Infrared can be used to detect the presence of a target within the mine's range and fire the main charge. Antihandling devices can be incorporated to preclude easy removal or neutralization.

A mine does not normally explode unless it has been armed. To arm some mines, the user must position the fuze and disengage the safety device (usually by removing a safety pin). The fuze, the initial component in the firing chain, dictates how and when the mine functions. APL are issued with standard fuzes although alternative fuzes may be available. Once armed, mines can be activated in the following ways:

  • Pressure can activate the device when a load is placed on it (e.g., contact by walking or driving directly over the mine).

  • The release of pressure can set off a mine (e.g., when a pressure-release antihandling firing device attached to the underside is lifted).

  • Seismic activity can activate the device when a sensor detects vibrations or movement within the search range.

  • Trip wires or break wires can activate a mine if they are disturbed. Trip wires may be either taut (which explode a mine when cut or pulled) or slack (which explode a mine only when pulled).

  • Command-detonated mines are activated by a person when he/she detects an enemy in the mine's lethal area. Radio or hard wire can send the signal to fire.

Two types of kill mechanisms are used in APL, blast mechanisms and fragment mechanisms.3 Blast warheads, which achieve their effects as a result of the detonation of the explosive main charge, can cripple or destroy the foot or leg of a soldier who steps on the mine or burst the tires of a wheeled vehicle that passes over it. Fragmentation warheads disburse metal fragments from the casing or added materials. There are three variations of fragmentation warheads:

  • A bounding fragmentation mine projects a canister into the air; the canister explodes and scatters fragments through the lethal area.

  • A directional fragmentation mine uses an explosive charge to propel high- velocity fragments over a specific, concentrated area.

  • A stake fragmentation mine scatters fragments in a circular pattern.

BOX 3-3

Unexploded Ordnance Hazards

Historically, about 5 percent of explosive ordnance fails to explode on impact. When large quantities of munitions are fired into an area, unexploded ordnance can pose an obstacle to maneuvers, particularly for dismounted troops and unarmored vehicles, as well as for noncombatants after hostilities have ended. At the American Defense Preparedness Association Munitions Executive Summit in Fairfax, Virginia, on September 17, 1996, Paul G. Kaminski, then undersecretary of defense for acquisition and technology, stated the rationale for using self-destructing fuzes for all submunition warheads. “This new fuze will enhance reliability and also provide a self-destruct capability for eliminating the problem of unexploded ordnance on the battlefield” (Kaminski, 1996). This capability will be similar to the self-destructing fuze on U.S. scatterable mines and will provide similar operational and humanitarian benefits.

Self-Destructing and Self-Deactivating Features

Self-destructing and self-deactivating fuzes are essential components of all scatterable mines used by U.S. forces. Self-destructing and self-deactivating APL, used in accordance with international law, do not create a significant humanitarian hazard. The self-destruct feature is designed to explode the mine after a set time has elapsed, thereby eliminating residual effects. Self-destruct times may be as short as four hours or as long as 15 days. The self-deactivating feature uses a battery in the electrical firing system of the mine. When the battery (reserve cell) no longer has enough energy to fire the electrical detonator, the mine becomes inoperable. Self-deactivation normally occurs about 60 days after the mine is armed; at this point the fuze is inoperable. Although the main charge explosive remains, it is relatively insensitive and less hazardous than most other unexploded ordnance. Self-destructing and self-deactivating mines may be the most important contribution to addressing humanitarian concerns about mines.

The self-destructing and self-deactivating capability of today's U.S. scatterable landmines is a desirable operational capability for all nonrecoverable, explosive munitions because they both increase maneuver options and address

3 Two other types of mines can be used against personnel although they are not normally thought of as APL. Chemical mines dispense chemical agents either by command detonation or vehicle activation (use of these agents is now prohibited by the 1996 Chemical Weapons Convention. Flame mines (flame fougasse) can be fabricated in the field using containers filled with an explosive-fuel mixture activated by an explosive charge. These area weapons are effective against personnel and are normally command detonated.

Suggested Citation:"3 Current Uses of Antipersonnel Landmines." National Research Council. 2001. Alternative Technologies to Replace Antipersonnel Landmines. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/10071.

Page 29

humanitarian concerns by reducing residual explosive hazards. However, landmines are not the only ordnance that can leave residual unexploded devices on the battlefield. Box 3-3 describes a possible solution to the more widespread problem of unexploded ordnance.

Recommendation. Any nonrecoverable, explosive alternative to antipersonnel landmines should have self-destructing and self-deactivating fuzes to meet operational requirements, address humanitarian concerns, and reduce fratricide among friendly troops. The U.S. government should consider equipping all nonrecoverable explosive munitions with similar technologies.

Nonlethal Weapons

Because the world is so politically unstable, small-scale contingencies and operations other than war may become more common in the future. This type of warfare is likely to occur in areas with significant noncombatant populations where local enemy forces move among noncombatants. Indeed, on occasion, the enemy may use noncombatants as human shields. The United States and its allies will certainly take all prudent steps to avoid causing noncombatant casualties while taking action to eliminate the enemy. Engagements of this nature require a scaled response, which nonlethal weapons can provide.

The United States is experimenting with several types of nonlethal weapons (Fenton, 1999). Nonlethal alternatives to APL would generally replace the fragmentation and blast effects of APL with other capabilities, such as explosively propelled rubber balls, rapidly deployable nets, and electrical charges. Although nonlethal variants by themselves cannot replace APL, they would be useful in certain military operations. With nonlethal variants, U.S. forces could mount a graduated response in situations where the threat were unclear, such as in peace operations, or if large noncombatant populations were in the immediate tactical area. Nonlethal weapons have several advantages: they can be used in a broad variety of circumstances; they can be triggered automatically; and they do not require man-in-the-loop operation to be Ottawa compliant, which can improve the timeliness of a response and lessen the burden on the soldier/ operator.

The mission need statements (provided in Appendix G) that describe the military requirements for alternatives to pure APL include nonlethal capabilities as acceptable alternatives. Although the mission need statements for mixed systems did not include nonlethal attributes, the committee decided to include them in the study. Early designs for the Track I NSD-A entailed some nonlethal options, such as nets. Although nonlethal variants by themselves cannot replace APL, for certain military operations they might be useful in support of APL alternatives.

Suggested Citation:"3 Current Uses of Antipersonnel Landmines." National Research Council. 2001. Alternative Technologies to Replace Antipersonnel Landmines. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/10071.
Page 25
Suggested Citation:"3 Current Uses of Antipersonnel Landmines." National Research Council. 2001. Alternative Technologies to Replace Antipersonnel Landmines. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/10071.
Page 26
Suggested Citation:"3 Current Uses of Antipersonnel Landmines." National Research Council. 2001. Alternative Technologies to Replace Antipersonnel Landmines. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/10071.
Page 27
Suggested Citation:"3 Current Uses of Antipersonnel Landmines." National Research Council. 2001. Alternative Technologies to Replace Antipersonnel Landmines. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/10071.
Page 28
Suggested Citation:"3 Current Uses of Antipersonnel Landmines." National Research Council. 2001. Alternative Technologies to Replace Antipersonnel Landmines. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/10071.
Page 29
Next: 4 Evaluation Methodology »
Alternative Technologies to Replace Antipersonnel Landmines Get This Book
 Alternative Technologies to Replace Antipersonnel Landmines
Buy Paperback | $57.00 Buy Ebook | $45.99
MyNAP members save 10% online.
Login or Register to save!
Download Free PDF

This book examines potential technologies for replacing antipersonnel landmines by 2006, the U.S. target date for signing an international treaty banning these weapons. Alternative Technologies to Replace Antipersonnel Landmines emphasizes the role that technology can play to allow certain weapons to be used more selectively, reducing the danger to uninvolved civilians while improving the effectiveness of the U.S. military. Landmines are an important weapon in the U.S. military’s arsenal but the persistent variety can cause unintended casualties, to both civilians and friendly forces. New technologies could replace some, but not all, of the U.S. military’s antipersonnel landmines by 2006. In the period following 2006, emerging technologies might eliminate the landmine totally, while retaining the necessary functionalities that today’s mines provide to the military.


  1. ×

    Welcome to OpenBook!

    You're looking at OpenBook,'s online reading room since 1999. Based on feedback from you, our users, we've made some improvements that make it easier than ever to read thousands of publications on our website.

    Do you want to take a quick tour of the OpenBook's features?

    No Thanks Take a Tour »
  2. ×

    Show this book's table of contents, where you can jump to any chapter by name.

    « Back Next »
  3. ×

    ...or use these buttons to go back to the previous chapter or skip to the next one.

    « Back Next »
  4. ×

    Jump up to the previous page or down to the next one. Also, you can type in a page number and press Enter to go directly to that page in the book.

    « Back Next »
  5. ×

    Switch between the Original Pages, where you can read the report as it appeared in print, and Text Pages for the web version, where you can highlight and search the text.

    « Back Next »
  6. ×

    To search the entire text of this book, type in your search term here and press Enter.

    « Back Next »
  7. ×

    Share a link to this book page on your preferred social network or via email.

    « Back Next »
  8. ×

    View our suggested citation for this chapter.

    « Back Next »
  9. ×

    Ready to take your reading offline? Click here to buy this book in print or download it as a free PDF, if available.

    « Back Next »
Stay Connected!