What is the Arjun Demining System?
The first Arjun photographed in 2005
This paper is intended to give an understanding of the 2011 Sarvatra Arjun Demining System.
In 2003, the Indian NGO Sarvatra started demining work in Sri Lanka with donor support from the Norwegian government. In 2005 they launched the Arjun raking machine. Sarvatra’s directors are Satwant Brar and Prem Puri (both retired Indian army). Both from Delhi, Brigadier Brar is the “inventor” of Arjun and has gone on to refine the simple rake significantly, making a versatile tool that conducts vegetation removal, raking and ground-levelling. Sarvatra have also refined their use of the manual Rake Excavation and Detection System (REDS) to fit around the increasing capabilities of their Arjun machines. The new combination of REDS and Arjun has become the Sarvatra Arjun Demining System.
In 2009 Sarvatra were awarded a short UN contract to supply one Arjun and training for a team in Sudan. The machine appears to have been unused since the Sarvatra trainers left (no one at the UNMAO Sudan can provide any information about it). The machine they provided was a new 80hp armoured excavator with a precision made tool-head, a generous provision of spares, a water-bowser, etc., supplied direct from Delhi.
Also in 2009, Sarvatra received funding from the Government of India to expand their operations in Sri Lanka. As a result they bought 14 old excavators and converted them to Arjuns, eight of which are working at any one time at Tasks across the Vanni in the North of Sri Lanka.
In April 2011, an independent field assessment found that Sarvatra had created a versatile demining system that conducted Technical Survey rapidly over any ground, located mine-lines reliably and prepared the mined ground for rapid REDS follow up.
The Arjun Demining System
Vegetation removal, followed by raking to expose mines
Each Arjun is a low-cost back-hoe machine that has been armoured in selected areas, then fitted with a deceptively simple vegetation cutting, raking and levelling tool that is very string and has no moving parts. Skilled operators from the construction trade use the tool with precision. Even in the dense jungle, Arjun can easily manoeuvre between mature trees. Wherever they work, the operator starts by cutting all vegetation and placing it behind the machine. When the pile behind the machine is significant, the Arjun pauses and deminers rake through the vegetation and roots, moving it aside after searching it. Arjun then rakes the earth to a depth of 20cm and more. I saw it do this in hard dark soil and in sandier soil. I saw mines lifted out of the ground by the rake, then watched the operator adjust the tool to delicately pick up individual mines and deposit them gently on the raked ground behind the machine.
You can see a P4 dropping off the tine (between the fourth and fifth from left) in this picture
(taken from on top of the Arjun).
The scale of the tool is also made obvious by how small the mine looks.
The ground is raked several times over eight square metres, each time going deeper, and a small berm is pulled towards the machine (rather like the manual REDS system). When the operator is happy that there is nothing there, he uses the back of the tool to push the berm back and flatten it, then moves Arjun forward onto that ground and uses the vegetation cutting blade to start cutting vegetation again. In heavy undergrowth where they are no mines, ground processing can exceed 800 sqm a day. Where there are mines and REDS is conducted behind the machine, a single Arjun can still process at least 300 sqm a day.
At least 95% of mines and devices are seen by the Arjun operator. When dense mine-lines are found, Arjun withdraws and the clearance is conducted manually with REDS.
This densely mined area had nine mine-lines and was cleared manually
eight months before (it was still awaiting “signing off”).
Arjun was used to find the lines at intervals, then deployed in another area.
Any area where mines are found by Arjun is also searched by deminers. On finding a mine, Arjun finishes raking that “pad” and withdraws”. The deminers mark the ground carefully (1.5 metre lanes), then rake it thoroughly using simple long-handled rakes with four tines.
A Tamil woman using the 4-tine rake after Arjun. Note the 1.5 metre lane.
The Light rake is also used in what remains essentially the proven REDS system.
Because Arjun has already broken up the ground, the raking is fast and thorough, and does not require great strength. No special skills are required and local people can be easily trained to conduct the raking under experienced supervision. Sarvatra’s deminers in Sri Lanka are local Tamils and more than a third are women. The cleared ground is searched so thoroughly that there is no chance of a mine being left behind.
A deminer picks up each discovered mine using a rake and places it into a sand-bucket. The mine is then disarmed and stored in a safe place. Once a day the Sri Lankan Army visit each demining site to count the collected mines and watch while they are destroyed by burning. The army take UXO away for demolition.
With tens of thousands of mines cleared using the Arjun system, it has been well tested. The tally includes 43 AT mines (M15 and Bar mines) some of which were booby trapped, and sophisticated IEDs. The picture below shows an AT mine that was linked by det-cord to four AP mines.
At the site shown above, Arjun has worked in and around the large trees, leaving them undisturbed.
Each yellow topped stick marks the approximate place where a mine was found.
The Arjun Demining System is used to make rapid breaches through suspect areas. When no mines are found, there is no follow-up and progress can be fast, so enhancing the release of land in a timely and cost-effective manner.
An Arjun processes a breach towards the dense undergrowth where an old defensive
minefield is reported to be present.
When mines are found, Arjun rakes the area first, so allowing the REDS follow up to be unusually rapid through loose ground without roots.
Arjun can work in dense jungle, working around large trees and following the line of the minefields. Unlike any machine with a rotating tool, it can take apart wire defences and break tripwires or safely pick apart old bunkers where there may be unstable munitions, mines or booby-traps. It can expose mines laid on the steep sides of bunds or in irrigation ditches. And when the demining is over, the machine can be used to help dig wells or level ground for building.
Deminers from the resettlement camp at Kokkilai undergoing training.
The Arjun Demining System is proven and entirely appropriate for use in post-conflict environments. Because it uses low-tech machines that are widely used in construction and employs local people, the skills required for demining are readily transferred and local 'ownership' of the demining procedures can take place. The Arjun Demining System is especially appropriate when the demining effort is part of a coherent and planned peace-building agenda.
The Success of the Arjun Demining System
Sarvatra’s performance since 2003 is shown in the chart below – which was produced by the UNDP supported Sri Lanka National Mine Action Centre in February 2011. The chart shows how Sarvatra’s work accelerated after it received substantial assistance in 2009.
SL NMAC performance chart 2010 (performance claims for SL army removed)
Land area searched and cleared in square metres is shown on the vertical axis.
The NGO demining group responsible is shown on the horizontal axis.
The blue line shows aggregated performance from 2002 to the end of 2009.
The red lines show the work conducted during 2010.
During 2010 Sarvatra expanded greatly and achieved almost three times as much as its nearest rival, the British demining NGO, MAG. Sarvatra has achieved this without compromising safety for end-users or deminers. To date, there have been no explosive accidents while using the Arjun Demining System, and no mines found after it has been used.
The above map shows the areas processed by Sarvatra in Sri Lanka.
This includes particularly difficult areas around the Giant tank/Rice bowl, Vilathikulam – Madhu in Mannar, Oddusuddan and Maritimepattu in Mullativu, and Korralaipattu in Batticaloa district.
In terms of physical achievements on the ground, Sarvatra’s contribution has been:-
Non Technical and Technical Survey in:
Mannar – 94 Km2;
Mullativu – 546 Km2;
Batticaloa – 594 Km2;
Vavuniya – 51 Km2
Mined area processing and clearance: 26.2 Km2
Explosive devices recovered: 40,086
The Sri Lanka national Mine Action Centre did not discriminate between areas processed by machine and not followed up and areas processed by machine that are then raked manually – so 'cleared' to International Standards. This means that 26.2 Km2 is the area raked by Arjun machines, some of which was then raked again using REDS and so cleared to International Standards.
The cost of the Sarvatra 2010 operation is known to be considerably less than the donations made to some of the other NGOs operating during the same period. Given that Sarvatra achieved so much more on the ground than any other, it can be reliably inferred that the cost per square metre of the Arjun Demining System is very much lower than the other methods used in Sri Lanka. Other methods include mechanically-assisted manual demining (using the MV-4, Bozena, and other converted plant machinery), metal-detector and REDs clearance.
The Indian NGO Sarvatra adopted the defining principles of Humanitarian Mine Action and rose to the challenge of fielding a large demining capacity in Sri Lanka very well. They refined Arjun and REDS to create the Arjun Demining System, with a proven performance that showed great promise. The system provided a 'the third way', not high-tech mechanical, not very slow manual, but a pragmatic combination of mechanical and manual that allowed rapid Land Release with no reduction in standards while using tools and machines that were genuinely sustainable in any post-conflict environment. Sarvatra tried to move the Arjun Demining System into the International sphere (Sri Lanka being effectively 'local' to India) but were not successful. The retired Indian army Generals who ran Sarvatra have reluctantly closed the effort down.
I recommend that organisations with an interest in conducting quality demining using tools and systems that are effective, low-cost and genuinely sustainable in a post-conflict context, should look closely at the Arjun Demining System. With no reliance on high-tech, short-life, metal-detectors, batteries and chargers, the cost of the system is far lower than metal-detector based demining in terms of square metres both cleared and released by reliable Technical Survey.
The manual REDs demining system involves sifting the ground in a way that would find a coat-button, so gives great confidence in the quality of clearance. It is often dismissed as too slow, but with the ground prepared by Arjun, it proved to be much faster than when demining using a metal-detector in Sri Lanka.
It is also safer. Most severely disabling accidents in Humanitarian Demining over the past five years have occurred while the deminer is exposing a metal-detector signal and has inadvertently detonated an anti-personnel blast mine. There have been accidental detonations while raking with REDS in several countries, but there have been no severe injuries as long as eye-protection is worn. This is because the deminer is at the end of a long-handled rake, at least 1.5 metres away. In Sri Lanka, more than 30,000 mines were lifted and there were no accidental detonations when using REDS behind Arjun. This appears to be because the ground was already loose and there is no need to apply heavy pressure to rake effectively. Whatever the reason, it seems that the deminer working in the Arjun Demining System is safer than any other.