Poland Gets Rid of Its Landmines Inventory. Time for “Smart” Defence Systems?

Poland has announced that the process of destroying the anti-personnel mines inventory, which remained within the Army’s arsenal, has come to an end. Still, the Polish Army has not replaced the above armament with “smart” systems that would meet the requirements of the legal regulations and which would make it possible for the military to recover at least some of the capabilities lost after the conventional, obsolete and, for many reasons, controversial, minefields are withdrawn. 

During the 15th Meeting of the States Parties APMBC (Anti-Personnel Mine Ban Convention), which took part in Santiago in Chile, on 1st December 2016, Poland announced that Warsaw has finalized the process of neutralizing all of its anti-personnel mines. As it was stressed by Aleksandra Piotrowska, Polish Ambassador to Chile, before it has signed the Convention, Poland started to destroy the owned land-mines, and it is deeply involved in the process of persuading other states to take similar steps and to completely ban this type of armament around the world. According to Piotrowska, in total 1,055,971 land-mines were destroyed. The last 17,000 examples were neutralized in April this year, along with the additional components of those mines.

This means that Poland complies with the declarations made, as the process, according to the initial plans, was to last until the year 2017. As it was stressed, the process itself was carried out in a way which, as it had been assumed, was environment-friendly, through recycling of the mine components (e.g. the explosives obtained will be used to conduct training activities in the Army, or for other specific purposes).

The signatory states to the Convention received this information with a deep satisfaction, stressing the fact that this constitutes a major contribution to the process of disarmament and complying with humanitarian treaties remaining in force all around the world. 

According to the Convention in force, each of the signatory states is obliged to destroy or cause destruction of the whole inventory of mines and anti-personnel explosives owned, or controlled by the Parties. This also obliges the signatories not to manufacture new mines that could be fitted with contact or non-contact fuses and systems that would make the process of defusing the mine more difficult. The process is to be implemented as quickly as possible, but it should not begin later than four years after the Convention becomes valid in the given state.

Poland has ratified the document in 2012, it became valid on 1st June 2013. The Convention itself has been adopted in Oslo in 1997, signed in Ottawa during the same year, and became binding in 1999.

Up until now, 162 nations have joined the Anti-Personnel Mine Ban Convention, 157 states from that group have already announced that they are not in possession of the anti-personnel mines. More than 48 million mines have been destroyed so far, by the states listed above. States which have not signed the convention include: Russia, China, United States of America, North and South Korea.

According to the data published by the United Nations at the end of the 20th Century, around 85 – 100 million land mines were still present within the territory of 62 countries. They remained there after conflicts and wars of the last century. They have been used both by the armies, as well as by guerilla or terrorist units, thus removal of that ordnance is still quite troublesome now. The mines, in numerous areas around the globe, still pose a major threat for the population.

The actions as the ones described above are a proof that in numerous states a lot of emphasis is placed on protecting the soldiers, as well as the civilians, who are the most prone to becoming a victim to the anti-personnel mines. Prohibition of export, production and operational use of the land-mines is designed to protect people from dying and suffering from disability caused by the land-mines. These preventive steps are defined by the Geneva Convention adopted on 10th April 1981.

Even though the anti-personnel mine seems to be a cheap and effective ordnance, in case of the contemporary, rapid operations, its effectiveness does not seem to be as high as it was a few years ago. The intensiveness of the operations and limited options within the scope of foreseeing the moves the adversary is about to make, diminish the level of surprise that may be created by the “specialized” minefields.

Besides that, quick mine-laying requires specialized equipment and precise management of data concerning the locations within which such mines are placed. Should this condition remain unmet, then this could have long-term ramifications even after the conflict ends, and this is the most important reason for introduction of a complete ban regarding the land-mines.

At the same time one should note that implementation of the international commitments does not relieve Poland from the obligation of having assets and forces at its disposal, that would be capable of recognition, detection and removal of the anti-personnel mines. One should also remember to maintain high level of training and proficiency within the aforesaid scope and to prepare personnel and proper equipment, required to help the civilians, should the potential enemy manage to effectively utilize land-mines.

In Poland, mine-barrier systems compliant with the requirements imposed by the Ottawa Treaty have been developed. Test research has been carried out in case of mines and other charges that would be fitted with fuses and systems that would not be impossible to deactivate. The Polish industry, in collaboration with the scientists, has developed mine systems that would comply with the requirements imposed by the aforesaid treaty.

Jarzębina-S is a system of this kind, it is a remotely controlled anti-personnel barrier. The system is controlled by the operator, who decides whether to use it, should the enemy show no reaction to warning signs (acoustic, smoke etc.). The whole system is to consist of effectors (remotely controlled explosives, warning and deterrence zone kits, and a tool making it possible to place the explosive), receptors (detection and location systems, observation systems) and a decision making sub-system (control system, a set of auxiliary power units for the explosives and devices, battery charger, communications suite, field power generation station and camouflage for the control station).

The Armament Inspectorate has cancelled the tender that had been announced earlier, concerning this type of mines. This happened back in May and was related to the design and development phase. The cancellation emerged on the grounds of the fact that the amount of the most advantageous offer exceeded the funds allocated to that programme by the Ordering Party. A similar situation also emerged in case of the previous tender, cancelled on 6th October. 

CIS (Counter Intruder System) is another example of such solution. It is a remotely controlled system of engineering barriers that are automated, in full or partially, within vast areas, such as airfields or military bases. CIS is a modular system, consisting of the communications and management subsystem, sensors and effectors. Each of the systems that could be used for protecting the given area may be formed on the basis of four types of sensors and three types of effectors that are coupled with the management suite.

However, still some questions emerge related to the Convention signed by Poland.  The doubts, from a humanitarian point of view, may be created by the method of controlling the anti-personnel explosives. Some experts note that the operator is the weak link of the system, and that the intruder/aggressor may also behave in an unpredictable manner, should he receive the warning sign. Will he still be trying to carry out his mission at that very location? The barrier system itself, despite its effectiveness, requires time and assets to be set. However we have no knowledge as to the location where such system would be critical for carrying out defence operations.

On the other hand, in Finland the Convention became valid only after a remote-controlled explosives system has been introduced into the inventory of the Army. Its capabilities are said to be comparable to those of the anti-personnel mines. Helsinki already got rid of the anti-personnel mines in line with the convention, but “smart” systems are still being used as an important building block of the defence system. Finnish MPIMS system is also utilized by the United Kingdom (who ratified the Convention) and Estonia. So far, no functional successor of the anti-personnel mines has been implemented in Poland, even though the industry has a proper potential at its disposal.

Marek Dąbrowski, Jakub Palowski