French army evaluates VAB-mounted multi-sensor detector for IEDs

In January 2021, after several incidents of the same dramatic kind already encountered in Afghanistan, the Barkhane force in Mali was bereaved by two jihadist attacks carried out with high-power improvised explosive devices (IED) containing about 40 kg of explosives, Laurent Lagneau recalls in Opex360. The very high danger presented by this type of attack has led the armies of many countries to develop means of detecting them and then protecting themselves as much as possible.
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IED sensor system mounted on a French Army VAB for evaluation (Picture source: DGA/Direction Générale de l'Armement)

Florence Parly, then French Minister of the Armed Forces, confided, during a parliamentary hearing, that research was underway to develop new systems supposed to counter IED threats, Laurent Lagneau reports on “No matter how strong the armor, the quantities of explosives that were used in Mali […] is such that, in any case, even the best-armored vehicle cannot protect the soldiers who are there. [Also], we are working on detection technologies, based on radars", such as "the ground penetrating radar, intended for machines that open the routes" or even "on-board aerial radars to detect, between several passages, possible modifications of the ground which could have intervened”, had thus explained Ms. Parly, also evoking work relating to “autonomous vehicles for the opening of routes”.

Since then, the Ministry of the Armed Forces has been rather discreet about these technologies under development. However, systems are being evaluated, as indicated by the Defense Innovation Agency (AID), in its latest activity report. This document briefly evokes the DMC project, for “Multi-Sensor Detection of Improvised Explosive Devices”. Entrusted to TSIX [Thales] and the Franco-German Research Institute of Saint-Louis [ISL], this project aims to demonstrate the feasibility of a system for detecting IEDs or mines remotely, by merging three detection methods.

As explained by the AID, the idea is to install, on a standard VAB armored vehicle, sensors to detect electronic circuits [non-linear junction detection] and electrical wires present in an improvised explosive device as well as changes in the infrared. "In 2021, these three technologies were integrated on a VAB for a test campaign in 2022," said AID. And to add: “Eventually, these technologies could be integrated into the future route opening system”, likely to be autonomous.

As written by Laurent Lagneau, it should be noted that the ISL has also developed an on-board change detection system whose purpose is to highlight the modifications that have appeared on a previously traveled route. This would also facilitate the detection of IEDs. This device “makes it possible to visualize the almost invisible modifications of the field of operations. Robust to changing lighting conditions and trajectory variations, it works in areas that are scrambled or not covered by GPS. It has undergone extensive operational testing,” says ISL.