Breaching a minefield is one of the more nerve-wracking endeavors an Army unit can face. When I was in mechanized units, we practiced that mission quite often. In a mechanized, combined arms force, minefields were breached with “SOSR” foremost in our minds:
Suppress- gain enough fire superiority to deny the enemy effective fires on you as you try to breach the obstacle
Obscure- liberal use of artillery delivered smoke, smoke generator vehicles, and smoke pots reduces the enemy’s ability to observe your actions at the breach site.
Secure- as you make the initial breach of the minefield, place enough forces on the shoulders of the penetration to prevent a local counterattack from taking over your toehold.
Reduce- continue to breach lanes through the obstacle, and mark those lanes clearly, to allow you to push your forces through the site with a minimum of delay, so you can continue with your primary mission.
One of the primary tools used to breach minefields in the mechanized world has long been the MCLIC, or Mine Clearing Line Charge. The MCLIC is a tube of explosives that is dragged across the minefield by means of a rocket. After it is laid upon the minefield, it is detonated. The blast overpressure detonates mines in the obstacle, or at least uncovers them to make them easier to dispose of. MCLICs can be mounted on a variety of vehicles and trailers, or on the Assault Breacher Vehicle.
Now, that’s all well and good if you’re making an mounted assault in Western Europe, or even somewhere in Iraq. But what do you do if you are a dismounted foot patrol in the mountains of Afghanistan, with little or no armored vehicles in support?
Not surprisingly, the MCLIC has a baby brother, APOBS, or Anti-Personnel Obstacle Breaching System. Utilizing the same concept of an explosive tube dragged over an obstacle by a rocket, APOBS gives dismounted troops a safer, faster way of breaching a minefield or wire obstacle than older methods.
Back in my days as a lightfighter, we didn’t have APOBS. Our options were a little more primitive. We could probe for mines using a sharpened stick, or we could throw a grappling hook and drag it across the minefield a few times to try to snag any tripwires. And THEN we could probe with a sharpened stick.
The other option was a Bangalore Torpedo. The Bangalore was just a metal tube stuffed with explosives. Screw several of the together, and slide them into the minefield. Once in place, you could then detonate them to clear a lane. There were a couple drawbacks to the Bangalore, however. First, it was big and heavy. Second, what happened to you if you were pushing a metal tube filled with explosives and the front end of the tube tripped a land mine? Nothing good, I’m guessing.
By letting APOBS do the hard work, our troops have yet another tool available to save lives and enhance mission accomplishment. And you get a couple of cool ‘splodey vids.