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DERA, Branson in Airship demining JV
17 March 2000
A unique joint venture (JV) between the UK's Defence Evaluation & Research Agency (DERA) and Sir Richard Branson's The Lightship Group (TLG), plans to exploit the best in military radar technology and airship design in locating deadly mined areas around the world.http://defence-data.com/storypic/mineseeker5.jpg [not image]
What's more, this high-flying solution is not fazed by the challenges posed to standard radar systems in detecting wholly plastic mines.
Currently, mined areas are identified in the first instance through post-conflict intelligence gathering from local hearsay and information given by the ex-warring factions. Inaccurate information leads to some 80% of areas being mis-diagnosed so that mined areas remain unreliably mapped, or worse, unidentified - risking lives and making potentially life sustaining farming land unuseable. http://defence-data.com/storypic/mineseeker2.jpg [not image]
Using an airship as a highly mobile radar platform gives the mine detection teams a capability to move quickly over possible mined areas, an aim of mine clearance charities for years.
It is expected that the MineseekerTM system will be able to map mined areas quickly and safely, covering ground at a rate equivalent to more than 100 square metres per second - which is many thousands of times faster than the average rate for a manual search.
The first trials of the airship-borne radar system called MineseekerTM took place in mid-January at a DERA site in Worcestershire, where TLG's A60+ Airship was fitted out with an innovative prototype radar system built by DERA. Early results are extremely promising with the system performing at least as well as previous ground based trials.
The January trial was the culmination of a feasibility study into the operation of a prototype Ultra-Wide Band Synthetic Aperture Radar (UWB SAR) from an airship for the detection of mined areas in a humanitarian role. Targets imaged by the experimental radar system were surface laid metal and plastic mines and mine-like targets of varying sizes. The smallest of these targets were only 10cm in diameter and entirely plastic which represents a significant advance over conventional airborne radar systems. http://defence-data.com/storypic/mineseeker3.jpg [not image]
Conventional Ground Penetrating Radar is an alternative Wide Band or Ultra Wide Band system but is limited to operations close to the ground - this constraint means that the user is close to the threat and that coverage rates are slow.
The next phase of the development would be to optimise the radar to meet the specific requirements of mined area detection in a humanitarian role. The science and technology involved is widely recognised as frontier breaking and particularly challenging.
"This airship and radar combination represent a real breakthrough in mine clearance," said Sir Richard Branson. "I am delighted to have assisted in providing a valuable asset for the de-mining community which will contribute to liberating land at a much faster rate than currently possible."
"The development of Mineseeker is an example of Government and industry working together to the benefit of men, women and children, living in areas where landmines remain such a dreadful threat," said Baroness Symons, UK Minister for Defence Procurement.
UN records some 900,000 square kilometres lost to mined areas which is the equivalent to a useable space the size of France and Germany combined. With figures like these, the Mineseeker collaboration will represent a significant advance in the humanitarian de-mining effort. This airborne radar system has the potential to direct costly resources accurately and quickly, so saving money, time and lives.
Colonel Alistair McAslan of the International Centre for Humanitarian De-mining in Geneva is clear about needs to be done. "First, we need better equipment and procedures to identify, to map and to mark the outer edge of mined areas, as the early liberation of safe land provides hope and encouragement" he says. "Second, we need better equipment and procedures to conduct quality control of cleared land. An effective detection system, mounted on a low flying platform such as an airship, may offer the solution to both these challenges."
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