A warm wind blows across an empty field on the outskirts of Pawnee, Okla. A small group of explorers battle strong winds to set up a pop-up tent for shade. Nearby, a young man opens a heavy Pelican case to reveal a pile of explosives. “They’re inert,” he says, “but we’re lucky to work at a range with so many different types of ammunition.”
The test site is a maintained field laboratory for the disposal of explosive ordnance Oklahoma State Universityand the researchers under the guidance Jasper Baur and Gabriel Steinbergco-founders of Art Mine Action Research Community, a non-profit organization that integrates academic research and humanitarian demining efforts. They were in Oklahoma for two weeks, setting up networks of mines and munitions to train the machine learning drone detection system find and identify dangerous explosives so people don’t have to.
This is reported by the publication Landmine and Cluster Munition Monitor at least 7073 people were killed or injured by landmines in 54 countries and areas in 2020. Many of the groups working to remove these old munitions are non-profit organizations that have some of the resources of the military that deployed the dangerous explosives.
Steinberg holds a small plastic wing attached to a piece of metal shaped like a spark plug. “This is a PFM-1 butterfly mine,” he says. This antipersonnel mine was developed by the Soviet Union and deployed during its war in Afghanistan, where examples of the munition can still be found to this day. There is evidence in the same mines are currently located deployed by Russia in Ukraine.
The main purpose of unexploded mines and cluster munitions is to prevent enemy troops and vehicles from using roads and fields. The problem is that mines and cluster munitions that have not exploded not to “turn off” when the war is over. Instead, they remain a deadly threat to civilians for decades, sometimes longer than the very countries that deployed them.
There are many millions of active mines and munitions estimated to be scattered across dozens of countries. Baur says his and his colleagues’ goal is to make their drone detection system available to demining organizations around the world to help with efforts to make post-conflict countries safe.
As countries continue to deploy war munitions in Ukraine and elsewhere, the need for new weapons will continue for some time.