By June, U.S. troops in Iraq will be able to pick out an individual anti-personnel munition from a minefield of hundreds and explode it by pushing a computer’s touch screen from many yards away. Soldiers will be able to choose between blasting their enemies with Claymores, which spit out steel balls, or with the non-lethal M5 Modular Crowd Control Munition that sprays rubber balls.
The Matrix system is part of the arsenal of “smart” land mines that military officials say are meant to do away with accidental deaths and maimings.
However, anti-landmine activists are worried about the system’s potential for havoc.
“We’re concerned the United States is going to field something that has the capability of taking the man out of the loop when engaging the target,” said Mark Hiznay of Human Rights Watch. “Or that we’re putting a 19-year-old soldier in the position of pushing a button when a blip shows up on a computer screen.”
Mr. Hiznay also worries that if need be, the smart land mines can be turned into plain old “dumb” anti-personnel mines.
Activist groups are asking supporters to write to Donald Rumsfeld to voice their concerns. They are questioning how soldiers will be able to identify a target from many yards away, and whether civilians could accidentally set off a mine.
Representatives from the Pentagon and the Picatinny Arsenal which developed Matrix along with Alliant Techsystems and Textron Systems would not comment for this story.