Russia says its smart landmines are safe for civilians

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On March 29, a press release from the organization Human Rights Watch denounced the use of anti-personnel mines by Russian forces in the Kharkiv region. The mines in question, named POM-3, are remotely deployable and are equipped with a seismic sensor: as soon as a person approaches, they eject an explosive charge into the air, throwing metal fragments in a radius of 16 meters. But according to the Russian authorities, these mines would use artificial intelligence to work only in the presence of soldiers, and not civilians. Experts remain skeptical on this point.

According to the NGO, it was Ukrainian technicians who discovered these antipersonnel mines while they were in the process of neutralizing explosives left on the spot. An international treaty adopted in 1997 (sometimes called the “Ottawa Convention”) strictly prohibits the use, production and stockpiling of antipersonnel mines — a treaty signed by Ukraine in 1999, but to which Russia has never joined . This is the first time that such a situation has occurred: a country that has not signed the treaty making use of these destructive weapons on the territory of a country that prohibits them.

According to the specifics of these recently developed mines, they can be deployed remotely, by land (via rocket launchers) or by air – once launched, a parachute allows them to be oriented. Once on the ground, they are firmly anchored there by means of six “feet”; a seismic sensor embedded in the ground can detect any presence within 12 meters. They would also be equipped with a self-destruct device, which can be activated within 8 or 24 hours. Russia claims that they are able to distinguish between soldiers and civilians and would therefore comply with the requirements of the Geneva Convention.

AI too often used to legitimize the use of certain weapons

The seismic sensor would indeed be equipped with an artificial intelligence capable of distinguishing humans from animals or any other moving object. Sergey Bachurin, head of the design office that produced the POM-3, said in 2017 in an interview that these mines were selective enough to tell the difference between the gait of a civilian and that of a soldier. This alleged ability nevertheless raises some doubts. ” These weapons do not differentiate between combatants and civilians and leave a deadly legacy for years to come. “, denounces Steve Goose, director of the Arms Division of Human Rights Watch.

POM-3 anti-personnel mines were discovered by Ukrainian technicians in the Kharkiv region. © Human Rights Watch

Arthur Holland Micheln, a specialist in emerging military technologies and a senior fellow at the Carnegie Council for Ethics in International Affairs in New York, also has some reservations. According to him, this type of “intelligent” systems are not so effective in the field, and fail in contexts that are often too complex.

The specialist also recalls that AI is generally incorporated into weapons to increase the speed of operations. But he regrets that today it is too often presented as a means of reducing collateral damage – and therefore of legitimizing their use. Whereas in practice, the technology on this point is far from being infallible.

Mines that go against the Convention in force

The International Campaign to Ban Landmines and the Coalition Against Cluster Munitions (ICBL-CMC) specify in a press release that Russia has produced at least 10 types of antipersonnel landmines since 1992, including the POM-3 mines deployed by rocket launchers in Ukraine. Russia has never signed the Ottawa Convention, which to date has 131 signatories and 164 parties — China, India, the Republic of Korea, Pakistan and the United States are also among the 34 countries who have never acceded to the treaty.

On the other hand, Russia is one of the party states of the Convention on Prohibitions or Restrictions on the Use of Certain Conventional Weapons which may be considered to produce excessively traumatic effects or to strike indiscriminately — entered into force in 1983. This text includes Protocol II on the prohibition or limitation of the use of mines, booby traps and other devices: the latter requires in particular that mines (or related weapons) be equipped with a self-destruction or self-deactivation system and that they be detectable .

Specifically, the self-destruct device must ensure that 90% of deployed mines are destroyed within 30 days. Marc Hiznay, associate director of the arms division of Human Rights Watch, however, told the New Scientist that he doubted that the POM-3 mines met these requirements. Photos obtained by the NGO indeed suggest that several mines were not deployed correctly, so their self-destruct system was probably not activated. ” I am interested in the type of energy source used and the number of redundancies integrated into it he said — information that was not provided by Russia.

Remember that since it invaded Ukraine, Russia has already been singled out for using cluster bombs and thermobaric weapons. The Russian site Top War claims that the POM-3 mine “fully complies with the requirements of the Geneva Convention” and accuses Ukraine of having itself mined various areas of Donbass, making its accusations look like hypocrisy.

Source: Human Rights Watch

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Russia says its smart landmines are safe for civilians

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