Mines, Land

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Mines, Land. Originally mine warfare consisted of tunneling beneath enemy positions and destroying them with explosives. In the Civil War, Union troops successfully detonated a mine containing 4 tons of gunpowder under a Confederate position near Petersburg, Virginia, on 30 July 1864. Modern land mines may be an encased charge of explosive or may contain a chemical agent or incendiary device. They can be detonated in numerous ways: pressure (stepping or driving over it), pull (using a trip‐wire), tension release (cutting a trip wire), pressure release (removing a weight), or by electrical means (command detonation). More exotic ways are through magnetic induction (driving near the mine in a vehicle), frequency induction (using a radio nearby), audio frequency (any loud noise), and infrared (large heat sources). Mines can come in different sizes and shapes and can weigh as much as 20 pounds, with the capacity of destroying a tank, down to 4 ounces, enough to mangle a foot.

The purpose of mines is to deny ground to the enemy, forcing him either to breach or to circumvent the mine barrier. In either case, the enemy's movement is restricted and he is forced to concentrate in areas that can be covered by direct or indirect fire. Mines are normally emplaced by burial in the ground or scattered upon the surface, where they pose a two‐edged weapon against both enemy and friendly forces. Modern mines can be controlled electronically and can turn themselves on and off at the whim of the dispenser. Though the most common type requires direct pressure to activate, command‐detonated mines are frequently employed in prepared defensive positions or ambushes. This type is also called a directional mine because 80 percent of the fragments are propelled outward in a 60‐degree arc. The effect is lethal up to 50 meters and can cause wounds out to 100 meters.

Another antipersonnel mine is the bounding type. Upon activation, a small expelling charge in the base of the mine propels the main charge about 1 meter into the air, where it explodes. Antitank mines can attack armored vehicles through shaped charges aimed at the underside of the vehicle, blast effects to blow off a tire or track, or using advanced technology with off‐route types. Off‐route methods involve using acoustic, seismic, and passive infrared sensors to identify a target and then firing a missile down the weapon's line of sight.

Future development of mines will be closely tied to the development of electronic sensors in such areas as identification friend or foe (IFF) technology and methods of deploying mines either mechanically or by remote delivery by aircraft, gun, or rocket systems. Mine warfare is a complicated and wasteful form of engineer combat. Unfortunately, as the size of military units shrink, its appeal will increase as armies seek ways to offset their numerical weaknesses. The widespread use of relatively inexpensive land mines in Third World countries led to numerous civilian casualties long after the end of the conflicts for which the mines were originally placed. So far the United States has not signed an international treaty banning the use of mines because of its obligations to defend large land areas in such far‐flung places as Korea and Guantanamo, Cuba.
[See also Weapons, Army.]


Christopher Chant, ed., How Weapons Work, 1976.
The Diagram Group , Weapons: An International Encyclopedia from 5000 B.C. to 2000 A.D., 1990.

William F. Atwater

land mine

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land mine • n. an explosive mine laid on or just under the surface of the ground.

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