15,000 to 20,000 people—predominantly women, children, and the elderly—die from landmines every year. These explosive man-traps have been used in every major military conflict since 1938 and some 110 million mines are still spread over 78 countries worldwide. What's more, they remain functional decades after a conflict has ended and civilians return to the area. The results are dismemberment if you're lucky, death if you're not.
However, after years of campaigning by NGOs and individuals, the 161 UN member states adopted the Ottawa Treaty, effectively outlawing the use of persistent mines in all future conflicts. The US is not a member of the Ottawa Treaty but has instead enacted a similar domestic policy called the 2004 National Landmine Policy which prohibits the use of "any persistent landmines — neither anti-personnel nor anti-vehicle — anywhere after 2010." That's not to say all landmines are right out, the XM-7 Spider smart mine conveniently works cleanly around the Pentagon's directives.
The Spider system is actually quite ingenious, effectively and automatically disarming itself once a conflict subsides while remaining uber-lethal for the duration of the engagement. What's more, it can be loaded with lethal or non-lethal charges and will not detonate unless it receives confirmation from a human soldier.
Developed by Alliant Techsystems (ATK) in conjunction with Textron Systems, it's based on the earlier Matrix prototype used in the first Iraq war, which integrated into existing M18 Claymores, and sister to the now defunct XM1100 Scorpion smart anti-tank mine.
The Spider works much like a traditional mine as an area denial munition. Each XM-7 system consists of 63 Munition Control Units (MCUs), plug-and-play adapters that enable modern smart weapon features to be easily integrated into legacy technology. The central green unit in the top art is the MCU. The six blue canisters are swappable charges that each cover a 60-degree arc and can spray either lethal shrapnel or non-lethal rounds, entrapment gels, or crazy purple knockout gas. The XM-7 can even integrate six Claymore mines (much like the earlier Matrix did) using a special adapter unit.
The mine is first positioned where it will provide the greatest coverage (either offensively or defensively), then a tripwire container automatically fires off a set of six trip-wires, one for each charge. The human operator controls the MCU (or all 63 of them) on a single ruggedized laptop up to 2.4 miles away. When one the the trip-wires is disturbed, the MCU sends an alert to the operator who then issues the actual fire command, setting off a single charge, all six on the MCU, or multiple individual charges on multiple MCUs.
Each MCU will operate for up to 30 days on a single, replaceable battery pack. While the mine is active, it continually transmits its encrypted position via a GPS chip, allowing operators to know exactly where they've left the $5,000 devices. This enables the military to quickly find and recover any unspent munitions. What's more, as soon as the unit's battery dies, the MCU will automatically deactivate, meaning that even if the military never recovers it, the XM-7 won't pose a threat to the civilian population. [Textron - Defense Industry Daily - Wikipedia - United Nations - Image: Popular Military]