September 27, 2000
10:34 PM   Subscribe

Clearing minefields is terrifying enough, but mines that move around will make it virtually impossible: "The self-righting mines will detect the distance to their neighbours using ultrasonic sensors and communicate with each other by radio. If some of the mines are removed or destroyed to make a path through the minefield, the remaining mines will sense that they are missing and hop around until they form a regular pattern again."
posted by palegirl (8 comments total)
I read this article and can only think of one thing. The movie SCREAMER.
posted by Zool at 10:37 PM on September 27, 2000

As I recall, there's also a mine that defends itself -- it contains acoustic sensors, and can identify the sound of approaching footsteps (eg: a mine-clearing team). It waits until the footsteps are close enough, and then throws an antipersonnel grenade at the approaching people (spring-loaded).

The idea being that the mine would attempt to "stay alive" long enough to kill a high-value target like tank or truck (which it can also identify by sound, so it wouldn't go off on a passenger car), and would therefore actively avoid being disarmed by killing anyone that got too close. When I heard about this weapon, it was still in the research phase, so it may not actually exist as a deployed system, and could just be a myth anyway.
posted by aramaic at 6:07 AM on September 28, 2000

Maybe the mines should just hop away from mine-clearers...

posted by seitz at 10:30 AM on September 28, 2000

"but mines that move around will make it virtually impossible"

I dunno about that. Remember the recent post about the successful shoot-down of a missile with a high-powered laser? Here's the minefield scenario: find one mine, remove it, wait for the others to sense the gap and begin to re-arrange themselves.
Boing - zap - BOOM!
Boing - zap - BOOM!
Boing - zap - BOOM!

posted by Tubes at 10:55 AM on September 28, 2000

Alternatively, could someone use the mines' own sensors against them? Jam the right radio frequencies, play games with the ultrasonics... Crack the systems properly and you might be able to convince these things to clear themselves.
posted by harmful at 11:19 AM on September 28, 2000

If you think this is scary, you should study the current state of the art in sea-mines. The old round-sphere-covered-with-contact-fuses is long gone.

Now they sit on the bottom disguised as rocks or almost anything else, and they do things like process the sounds of the ships going over them, and measure the increase of water pressure as they pass overhead, and once they identify an appropriate target, they release an active warhead which amounts to a homing torpedo.

Meanwhile, they sit on the bottom of the ocean as much as a mile down. They're easy to place and damned near impossible to detect (because there's a lot of clutter down there, and a lot of ocean to search), and if you think removing a mine on the ground is hard, tell me how you remove a mine 5000 feet down in the water. (They have to use remote controlled vehicles to place destruction charges.)

How's this for an idea: Rogue State X specially modifies a normal cargo ship and while on a perfectly normal mission to deliver cargo sails it through the English Channel, releasing mines like this via a secret device on the bottom. Three months later they all activate. Activation can be delayed nearly indefinitely; the only major limit is the shelf-life of the batteries. It's possible to build them so they use a small amount of plutonium as a power source, and those can work for years.

Other potential targets: the Panama or Suez Canals, the entry into Persian Gulf, New York harbor, or any of fifty other places like that. Activation would be delayed long enough so that there was no hope of correlating it to a visit by that ship.

Folks, what you've been describing is trivial by comparison.

posted by Steven Den Beste at 3:56 PM on September 28, 2000

Hell, there's a weapon that's worse than that -- DARPA has long been researching semi-intelligent missiles. The prototype I'm aware of was designed to cruise around for several hours (it's got an engine, not a rocket), looking for something to kill.

When you launch it, it's given a list of target priorities (eg: hit tanks, then trucks, then bridges). When it spots a likely target, it can either engage automatically or request approval to strike.

The scenario described by DARPA was this: imagine an enemy bunker. The missile sees the bunker, but identifies the door as being closed. The missile circles around, looking for other things to kill, decides not to kill a truck, thinks about killing a fuel tanker but is told not to -- but say you open the bunker door. . . the missile sees the open door, flies in, and kills everybody.

The basic idea was to saturate enemy rear areas with these autonomous weapons (they've got ground equivalents -- the army has an antitank robot experiment called the Fire Ant). The missiles would be relatively cheap, so you could just toss a couple hundred over an area, and they'd wreak havoc.

Once again, it could be a myth. But I saw it on NOVA, so it's gotta count for something, right? ;-)
posted by aramaic at 5:36 PM on September 28, 2000

Aramaic, are these real weapons systems you are talking about or your own design waiting to be used for your plans of world domination?
posted by Zool at 7:51 PM on September 28, 2000

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