Sniffing out mines one at a time

High-tech Husky is limiting terrible IED toll on soldiers

By Bill Graveland The Canadian Press Sat, Jul 31 - 4:53 AM

KANDAHAR, Afghanistan ó Maj. Jim Smith canít begin to guess how many Canadian soldiers have been saved in the last three years by the specialized roadside detection vehicles that sniff out improvised explosive devices on the dusty highways and byways of southern Afghanistan.

Roadside bombs have taken a terrible toll on Canadian soldiers over the course of the mission in Afghanistan, so it was with pride and high hopes in 2007 that the military unveiled the Husky, a South African-built behemoth that resembles a road grader on steroids.

The high-tech Husky serves as an IED bird dog, leading an explosives-removal convoy and using a combination of X-ray and metal-detection technology to examine the roadway, dropping a telltale puddle of ink on any spots that seem suspicious.

The Huskyís huge wheels, high clearance and towering one-man cockpit, which sits well back on the chassis, provide maximum protection for the driver. A heavy trailer in the back replicates the weight of a normal vehicle to detonate any stragglers, while Buffalo route-clearance vehicles follow behind to detect mines in the road.

The vehicles are known in the military by their acronym EROC, or the Expedient Route Opening Capability system.

"Theyíre enabled with ground-penetrating radar, metal detectors and they have those mine detonation trailers, which weíve blown up several times on this tour," laughed Smith, commanding officer of 23 Field Squadron.

"But itís saving the soldiers, because itís not them dying ó itís the vehicle thatís doing its job, and itís doing it very well. The EROC are enhancing reliability on the roads."

After an IED is detected and the location marked, the Buffalo moves into place with a digging arm to remove or detonate the threat.

"Itís enhanced reliability so we still do risk assessments out there everytime we roll," Smith said. Keeping traffic moving on the roads of Kandahar province is vital to restoring and maintaining public confidence in the mission, he added.

"Itís just one more tool out there, like if we have dismounts or vehicles drive over it or whether locals are driving over it. Pattern of life on a road is a sense of reliability."

Danger is everywhere on the highways in the Panjwaii district.

Roads are often framed by mountains on one side and grape orchards, small villages and grape-drying huts on the other. The huts resemble bunkers, and are often used as such in battle.

The roads narrow continually, eventually giving way to plains and fields of tall marijuana and opium poppy crops.

Roadside bombs have accounted for the overwhelming majority of Canadian deaths in Afghanistan, and their numbers always spike during the busy summer fighting season.

"We always have to take the enemyís actions into account. Theyíre not just going to sit back and let us roll over them," Smith said.

"You know theyíre going to take what we do into account when they formulate their plans as well, so theyíre evolving as we are."

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