7.3 (2003 - issued in March 2004)) of the JMU Journal of Mine
Action has a picture of NVESD's Mine Clearance Cultivator (MCC)
on the cover. It also has articles by Joe Lokey, Sean Burke
and Colonel Vosburgh praising NVESD and their
these reports are not honest. The cover picture shows the MCC
working in non-suspect areas - under test. In June last year
(2003) the machine was moved towards its first genuinely suspect
area in Southern Angola. Despite working to an unacceptably
shallow depth when seeking tank mines, it unearthed a mine as
it was intended to do. But instead of moving it to the side
and depositing it for a deminer to safely disarm, it detonated
it. The cultivating attachment was severely damaged. By November
last year the MCC had been expensively repaired and it was moved
into a suspect area for the second time. This time the cultivator
attachment was destroyed when it encountered its first mine.
Two mines, two expensive repairs.
the first accident, no formal independent accident report was
generated. After the second, I was asked to compile one as a
favour to the contractor. That accident report (edited for anonymity)
is available to read at Independent
report on the US Mine Clearance Cultivator (MCC) accident.
It was heavily criticised by NVESD because it includes "Conclusions"
and "Recommendations" and because I am not a formally qualified
mechanical engineer. Both "Conclusions" and "Recommendations" are recommended when accident
reporting to the International Mine Action Standard, but are
apparently not part of US government reporting requirements.
In HD, there is no obvious advantage in using a qualified mechanical
engineer to investigate an accident, and it is not a requirement.
picture above shows the cultivator attachment of this 32 ton
machine after the blast
MCC with attachment weighs too much for any road bridge in Southern
Angola. Radio controlled from its very fancy command vehicle,
it has cost millions to develop and deploy - and yet its basic
concept is flawed. Even in the relatively soft ground of Southern
Angola it cannot dig deeply without breaking off its tines as
it pushes forward. Tree roots wreck it - even when the trees
were cut years ago - and rocks defeat it entirely. It is not
even designed to unearth AP mines, only to expose very shallow
AT mines. Any AP mines are meant to be left behind.
is sad that the US taxpayers are expected to pay for these toys,
and to continue to pay long after they have proven worthless.
of the other US technologies lauded as useful in the JMU articles
could be criticised as thoroughly, but I will restrict myself
to one further comment on the NVESD annual workshop because that
rated an entire article. In the early days, I attended that
workshop and encouraged others to do so. In those days, criticism
was invited and new ideas encouraged. Sadly it has degenerated
into a pointless self-congratulatory exercise at which free-gifts
are given to the faithful. Attendees are rewarded for their
uncritical attendance with gifts of technology toys that no
commercial enterprise buys (unless subsidised by their governments
to do so).
by bureaucrats with no idea of demining (beyond the odd tourist
trip) the NVESD team was always going to find it hard to be of any real
help. In the early days, it did try - and people such as myself
and Colin King were employed as subject matter specialists.
Times changed and NVESD has now been flying close to the wire
for several years. The Humanitarian Demining R&D effort at Fort Belvoir has started
to act as though it believes that presentation is more important
than content. And they are right. In politics, presentation can be
more important than content, but only if you accept it at face
value. In the field, deminers cannot afford to do that.
In summary, the work of NVESD is often not what it seems - but
is only worth criticising to offset the manipulation of its
latest publicity drive. Look at James Madison University's Journal
7.3 - misleadingly dated 2003 but only available on line in
2004 and in print in March 2004. The first four articles talk
up US efforts that are speculative (not yet of any value)
and unlikely ever to be, and are entirely uncritical.
does NVESD have a problem with criticism? If no one is ever
allowed to highlight mistakes, progress becomes entirely a matter
of hit&miss guesswork. Why do they claim success that is simply
untrue? Don't they realise that we learn from honest appraisals
of what does not work at least as much as we learn from our