The world’s largest humanitarian landmine clearance and weapons disposal organization, The HALO Trust, is taking advantage of advancements in GNSS-enabled solutions and flexible correction services—including Trimble® DA2 GNSS receivers with Trimble Catalyst™ GNSS positioning service—to complete its mission.
A technician in Laos uses a Trimble DA2 GNSS receiver to mark the spot where an unexploded cluster bomb from the 1970s had been found in a family garden.
Mapping and surveying technology plays an essential role in every aspect of The HALO Trust’s efforts to remove landmines and pieces of explosives left behind by war.
Since its founding in 1988, this British-American charity has become the world’s largest humanitarian landmine clearance and weapons disposal organization. Through its global work, HALO, which stands for Hazardous Area Life-Support Organization, has cleared almost 14 million landmines and pieces of unexploded ordnance across 30 countries and territories. The organization currently employs over 12,000 locally recruited staff from around the world.
Throughout its history, HALO’s primary mission has remained the same: clear minefields so that people can return home. At any one time, its survey and clearance teams are deployed to hundreds of minefields.
Luan Jaupi, HALO’s Head of Information Management, said, “As fighting ceases, HALO’s work is critical to enable the delivery of humanitarian aid and allow reconstruction, resettlement and development to take place.”
To those familiar with the organization, it’s no surprise that the group is highly active in Ukraine given recent events. Clearing these landmines is essential to the economic future of this country. It is one of the world’s top agricultural producers and exporters. Today, an estimated 470,000 hectares of prime agricultural land is contaminated with landmines—that’s an area three times the size of London.
Key to HALO’s success is the ability to perform highly accurate surveys. It’s a mapping pursuit with life and death consequences. In the last five years, advancements in GNSS-enabled solutions have helped this extraordinary organization facilitate its all-important mission with speed, quality and safety.
A mine clearance team in Ukraine setting up a Trimble R2 GNSS receiver that is used to map landmines and cleared land at 2cm spatial accuracy.
The GNSS Challenge
The maps developed by the HALO team include boundaries of land to be cleared, cleared land, and actual positions of landmines found and destroyed. Obtaining high accuracy in the field to develop the maps has long been a challenge. Cost, portability, efficiency, and ease of use are all factors for HALO when it comes to conducting minefield surveys and clearance.
Jesse Hamlin, senior GIS officer for HALO, confirmed, “We can’t be two, three or four meters off—accuracy is as essential as speed.”
A mine clearance team in Ukraine using a Trimble R2 GNSS receiver to map the boundary of land cleared of landmines.
And the scope and scale of the areas is also an issue. Some minefields might include hundreds of potential ordnance locations. GNSS technology is an obvious choice.
“We always knew there was potential to make use of high-accuracy technology, but the cost of these systems can be problematic. It adds up when we need hundreds of systems to deploy worldwide when you are a non-profit organization,” Hamlin explained.
Portability and ease of use are other concerns. HALO teams typically work in remote places, with some communities not even on the map. “The idea that every team needs to carry and set up a base station is not really feasible,” Jaupi confirmed. “And while our teams are very skilled and know surveying techniques, ease of use is essential so that we work quickly and gather as much detail as possible about locations.”
Wireless technology and correction services provided a solution. About five years ago, HALO worked with KOREC Group, a surveying equipment distributor, to test compact, durable GNSS solutions — in this case, the Trimble R1 and Trimble R2 GNSS receivers. The Trimble R1 connects to any mobile device with Bluetooth connectivity and has the ability to deliver 20–50-centimeter accuracy. The Trimble R2 is similar but can deliver sub-meter and centimeter positioning accuracy in real time using correction sources from Satellite-based Augmentation System (SBAS) and Virtual Reference Station (VRS) networks to Trimble RTX correction services.
“Better yet, they don’t require any base stations,” Hamlin added. “We learned quickly that these lightweight portable units are easy to transport and use. We have used them for a range of tasks from mapping urban areas in the Middle East to minefields in thick jungles of Asia to recording the location of landmines.”
One country benefiting from HALO’s humanitarian work is Ukraine, an effort that began in 2016 primarily in the eastern part of the country. After Russia launched a full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, HALO shifted to areas around Kyiv where the fighting had stopped. Currently, HALO has more than 1,000 personnel conducting non-technical surveys and quantifying the threat in the area.
More recently, HALO, with help from industry supporters, has looked to deploy even smaller, lighter and more flexible GNSS solutions.
It can take considerable time to walk around an area and record the boundaries of a minefield where there’s unexploded ordnance,” Hamlin said. “We don’t want our people to spend time transcribing data from a GNSS receiver to another digital document or even a piece of paper, as there’s too much chance of error. Some of the minefields have hundreds of coordinates that need to be recorded and the ability to collect position data quickly and automatically streamlines our data flow considerably.”
With help from the Trimble Foundation Fund, Trimble Geospatial, and Trimble Advanced Positioning teams, the HALO team was provided over 250 next-gen Trimble DA2 GNSS receivers with 3-year subscriptions of the Trimble Catalyst GNSS RTX corrections service from Trimble’s Positioning Services. The team has tested them in combination with Esri Survey123 software in Ukraine, Afghanistan, Angola and Colombia.
A survey team leader in Ukraine recording coordinates for the perimeter of a minefield using the Trimble DA2 and Survey123.
A clearance supervisor recording the location of unexploded ordnance using the Trimble DA2 and Survey123.
Complex clearance polygon (with 674 vertices) of a minefield that was cleared in Angola where nearly 600 mines were located and destroyed. Nearly 1,300 coordinates were taken using the Trimble DA2 and Survey123 on this one minefield. Before the DA2 GNSS, (digitally) mapping this level of detail would have been impossible.
“In some applications, sub-meter accuracy is enough,” Hamlin continued. “However, decimeter accuracy is essential for pinpointing landmines. The DA2 with Catalyst is easy to connect to whatever correction accuracy we need. It’s also easy to use so that we can collect large amounts of data very quickly, and then push that data straight into our mapping systems, rather than going from paper form to our mapping database.”
“Our teams can see and check the data in the field on their tablets,” Jaupi added. “They don't need to wait for the data to be digitized and checked back in the office. The DA2 arrived in Ukraine for testing in late 2022 and our people love it. They say it's so much easier than previous systems, especially with Catalyst. We connect the DGPS to the Trimble Mobile Manager software—no need for license codes or to download firmware. The new DA2 takes care of all of that.”
Just as important, the Trimble Foundation made a grant to the HALO Trust, specifically for building capacity in Ukraine. “Government funding for landmine clearance is paramount but it is restricted and not flexible, and it doesn’t allow us to train staff and deploy new technological systems in the field. With a corporate partner like Trimble and the Trimble Foundation, we can deploy the best technology fast and train necessary personnel in-country.”
“We’re seeing an increase in the number of accidents, particularly in agricultural areas,” Jaupi said, “because farmers want to plant their land to support their families and their communities. From the land we have surveyed so far, the length of time and cost to clear the area through traditional mine clearance methods can take up to 20 years."
"We believe that with the buildup in capacity and resources as well as deployment of technology and new methods, that timeframe can be cut by two-thirds. The landmine problem in Ukraine is a moonshot challenge,” Jaupi said.
“And each survey takes time,” Hamlin added. “We have some minefields that have as many as 1,300 points just for the cleared area. We are, of course, very detailed about where we're clearing in and around trees and other landmarks.”
Mapping cleared Cluster Munitions in urban areas where accuracy is critical.
Once the data is collected and processed, it’s published as web service layers in Esri’s ArcGIS Enterprise and shared across the entire program and to stakeholders such as the Mine Action Center and the Ukrainian government.
With continued support from global companies and individuals both in training and technological resources, HALO can continue its mission to help war-torn communities recover by finding and removing landmines and explosives with speed, precision, and safety.