Every 20 to 30 minutes, somewhere in the world, a person – often a child – steps on a landmine. It is estimated that over 100 million anti-personnel mines are buried worldwide and a further 200 to 250 million are thought to remain in military storage facilities. This means they pose a constant threat, even long after the end of a conflict. In order to facilitate the reconstruction of a country and the safe return of refugees, the ground must be cleared of concealed ordnance. The German Aerospace Center (Deutsches Zentrum für Luft- und Raumfahrt; DLR) has developed a radar-based method, 'TIRAMI-SAR', that will allow for the quick, safe and cost-effective detection of landmines.
For the first time, clearance personnel are able to examine areas of up to several hundreds of square metres in just a few minutes. It is only possible to search a few square metres in the same period of time using conventional methods. Until now, primarily metal detectors or conventional ground-penetrating radars have been used, in addition to sniffer dogs. Also, factors such as soil composition, soil moisture content, or the material properties of the mines may have an adverse impact on the performance of the above techniques. This is where TIRAMI-SAR's strong performance is particularly advantageous. It means that any objects found can be re-examined in a more targeted way using other sensors. This increases the reliability of the radar for detecting buried landmines or unexploded ordnance.
The innovative ground-penetrating radar and detection procedure was developed, built, and tested by the DLR Microwaves and Radar Institute as part of the EU TIRAMISU (Toolbox Implementation for Removal of Anti-personnel Mines, Submunitions and Unexploded Ordnance) project. The developers were able to demonstrate the performance of TIRAMI-SAR in numerous experiments – most recently in September 2015 on a test site belonging to the Belgian explosive device disposal team, DOVO/SEDEE, in Meerdael. The excellent results are now being presented to those responsible at the European Union project completion meeting on 19 February 2016 in Brussels.
Safe searching and high-precision analysis
The radar system is currently designed to fit on the load area of a small truck and is equipped with multiple transmitting and receiving antennas. The antennas operate in the ultra-high frequency range between 500 megahertz and 3 gigahertz and are directed sideways and obliquely downwards. Thus, the operators can move the vehicle on safe terrain while the radar scans a nearby contaminated area.
Each object, each area of land – each surface – reflects radar signals with varying intensity. With the help of sophisticated algorithms, TIRAMI-SAR then processes all radar echoes received into an 'intensity map' while driving along. Thanks to the method that has been developed, for the first time it is possible to quickly and efficiently search large areas for suspicious objects. TIRAMI-SAR makes clear what is located on and under the surface of the ground.
As part of the security research carried out by DLR, research and development activities relating to defence and security have been planned and directed in collaboration with partners in government, academia, industry, and international organisations. The cross-disciplinary field of security research thereby links to the core competencies of established DLR programmes in the fields of aeronautics, space, energy, and transport. In total, more than twenty DLR Institutes and Facilities are contributing their work relating to security for the development, testing, and evaluation of technologies, systems, and components as well as their analysis and evaluation skills with regards to security applications.