The following passage is the epilogue of the print version of Get Your War On, by Dan Rees.
As I was finishing this book, someone sent me a link to the DARPA website. (Darpa stands for Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency . It’s part of the U.S. Department of Defense.)
DARPA is working on a new project called the “Self-Healing Minefield.” I love that phrase. I assumed that it meant that after being deployed for a certain time, the minefield would “heal” itself by becoming inoperable. You know – so little kids don’t get accidentally blown up?
It wasn’t until I watched the explanatory video on DARPA’s website that I realized – the minefield heals itself by automatically repositioning its landmines after some explode. The mines literally fucking hop into position to fill gaps in the field.
Of course. A Self-Healing Minefield.
Dan Rees, August 18, 2002
Before you clicked on those magic underlined words, what did you think a self-healing minefield was? I made the same assumption as Mr. Rees, which is not terribly surprising, considering how similar our opinions on war and warfare happen to be. However, despite misgivings about the ethicality of this weapon, the technology and concept behind it is pretty interesting, and deserves a closer look.
The Self-Healing Minefield is an antitank landmine system currently being developed by the Advanced Technologies Office of DARPA. Its goal is to act as a dynamic battlefield obstacle which is more resistant to breach attempts by an enemy force. The Self-Healing Minefield can repair breaches in itself quickly and automatically. Because of this function, previous methods to make minefield defense robust, i.e. laying a combination of several types of antipersonnel (in addition to antitank) mines in the same field, will become obsolete and unnecessary.
When the individual mines of the Self-Healing Minefield are laid, they form an ad-hoc wireless network with their neighbors. Through GPS data, the minefield network can compile information as to its size and strength. When a mine is destroyed, its absence is noted by the network. Thusly, when a breach of the field occurs, the field is “aware” that it has been compromised and can react. After calculating trajectory, individual mines hop into a new position to close the breach. Attackers must therefore strike the same location in the field many times before a permanent passage can be created.
Since the Self-Healing Minefield is an advanced military technology currently in development, specific details on how it will work is either classified or does not yet exist. In addition, DARPA has outsourced the development of prototype mines and their component systems to a number of different teams, who all have proposed different methods of propulsion and communication. Most of these teams look like they will use a variations of “pyrotechnic thrusters” to get the mines to hop, radio transmitters for inter-mine communication, and some form of acoustic ranging (in addition to GPS) for determining the position of other mines.
All of this information is taken from DARPA’s website on the Self Healing Minefield project.
Now, I’ll admit this is a pretty cool concept, despite my general aversion to blowing people up. It’s got elements of distributed computing, rocket jumping, and auditory pinging; what’s not to like? (I mean, other than their purpose…)
Actually, a few things come to mind. I’m not an expert on military strategy or technology in general, but there seem to be a few flaws right off the bat. First, if you’ve seen the pictures or videos on Darpa’s website, you’ll know that these mines are big. They look more like battlebots than those sweet gizmos in that movie with Jeff Bridges. Plus, they can’t be buried, or they would be just regular ol’ landmines. So anyone who’s paying attention would probably see this Self-Healing Minefield right away. Then you would just have to jam the radio signal, and we’re back to square one, albeit out a few million tax-payer dollars. But, like I said, what do I know?
As far as the ethical problem Dan Rees presents, the Self-Healing Minefield is not any worse than minefields in general. To his credit, however, Mr. Rees feels very strongly about landmines, and has gone as far as to donate all of his royalties from Get Your War On to de-mining efforts in Afghanistan (check the website: http://www.mnftiu.cc/mnftiu.cc/mdc_team_5.html).
While it is disappointing that the term does not mean a weapon designed to protect innocent bystanders’ life and limb, the Self-Healing Minefield does not increase the number of active mines in an area. In fact, if what DARPA says is accurate, it may actually reduce this number.
This is a step in the right direction, in my opinion, and thus a good thing that is happening in life.