With so much focus on the dangers of landmines that linger long after a conflict has ended, it's easy to forget the main reason these devices are laid in the first place – to slow the advance of an opposing force during a conflict. To help Sailors and Marines avoid mines when executing amphibious assaults, the US Navy is testing an aerial drone platform that can locate and identify land mines in real time.

The idea of using drones to search for landmines is not a new one – several groups have built and tested aerial platforms that can scan potential minefields, either using hyperspectral imaging, metal detection or even laser beams, with a view to pinpointing mine locations, and even remotely detonating them. These kinds of autonomous systems could eventually help clear out some of the estimated 100 million buried land mines still undiscovered around the world.

But the US Navy's Office of Naval Research is now testing aerial mine detection with a different twist. The idea is to use such a system for real-time threat identification during combat operations.

The Mine Warfare Rapid Assessment Capability system (MIWRAC) comprises a portable one-pound (0.45-kg) quadcopter, equipped with a proprietary magnetometer suite and processing algorithms to detect buried and submerged mines. This information is sent back to an Android tablet, where a green map of the area is marked with red clusters highlighting potential danger. The idea is to give sailors and marines an information edge as they go in for amphibious beach landings.

"This technology will help Sailors and Marines who are approaching a beachfront to rapidly clear, or at least determine the location of, mines or other hazards that are in their way," says ONR Command Master Chief Matt Matteson. "It could potentially save a lot of lives."

The team hopes to have the Navy Expeditionary Combat Command test and evaluate prototypes of this aerial system later this year, with a view to pushing the system out through the Navy fleet next year.

You'd have to question the reliability of a UAV as small and lightweight as this one across a range of weather conditions - rain or strong coastal winds could easily take it outside its safe flight envelope. And it's also hard to see where beach troop landings fit into the modern war theater, but in such a situation, you'd have to agree any information of this nature is a significant advantage.

Check out a video below.

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