Taiwan is currently waiting for the U.S. Congress to sign off on a deal to buy high-speed mine-laying systems that the U.S. State Department has already approved. Congress is widely expected to give approval for the sales agreement, which would allow Taiwan to buy $180 million worth of M136 Volcano land-based mine-laying systems. These systems are made to be installed on helicopters and trucks, which would then fly low or drive at a set speed while the Volcano systems would shoot out anti-tank and anti-personnel mines to cover hundreds of square meters.
It is significant that Taiwan has stated that it will only buy the Volcano’s anti-tank mines and not its anti-personnel mines, as the use of the latter is against the Ottawa Treaty. This treaty is supported by 165 countries, with the notable exception of the U.S., China, Russia, India and Pakistan. The Ottawa Treaty is aimed at eliminating anti-personnel landmines around the world, because these widely scattered death traps can often maim and kill civilian children and adults long after a conflict has ended. Anti-tank mines require much more downward pressure to detonate than anti-personnel mines do, so they are supposed to only detonate when heavy armored vehicles drive over them.
Taiwan’s military was further able to address such safety fears raised by Taiwanese opposition parties by pointing out that the mines can be set to switch themselves off after a predetermined period of time has passed. This feature means the mines will become non-lethal at a specific point, allowing mine-clearing personnel to safely remove them. The mines also contain metal parts, so they can be easily detected with traditional mine detectors used by mine-clearing personnel.
Unfortunately, this safety feature means that enemy forces would be able to clear the mines relatively quickly, which is why the Volcano system is normally used to create a quick minefield that is designed to hamper advancing enemy forces while under direct fire. The idea is to quickly spray the mines out at a point where the enemy will have no time to find and clear them, such as on beaches just before an invasion force is expected to land. Once an invasion force tries to get on to a beach covered by these anti-tank mines, the defenders simply have to focus accurate fire on the invaders and wait for their maneuvering armored vehicles to hit the mines.
Taiwan said it only wants to buy the truck-mounted Volcano systems, and not the helicopter-mounted variety. The sales agreement will allow Taiwan to buy an undisclosed number of Oshkosh 10-ton M977A4 trucks that are designed to be fitted with Northrop Grumman’s M136 Volcano systems, plus an undisclosed number of the systems themselves. These systems consist of a launch control system, launch racks and expendable canisters that are filled with anti-tank mines and which can easily and speedily be plugged into the launch racks. The trucks would be able to scatter up to 960 mines in under 12 minutes, laying a minefield that’s 1,100 meters long and 120 meters wide.
An official at Taiwan’s Institute for National Defense and Security Research, Shu Hsiao-huang (舒孝煌) told reporters that a theoretical invasion of Taiwan by China would probably start with a missile barrage, followed by a naval onslaught. Shu said that if such an invasion force does manage to make it on to a Taiwanese beach, it is necessary for Taiwan’s military to have weapons like the Volcano that afford flexibility. It is a way to let the enemy know that even if they win the war in the air and on the sea, they will still have to face many obstacles on land, Shu added.
The Volcano-equipped trucks would therefore add to Taiwan’s asymmetric warfare capabilities. Asymmetric war tactics are designed around small but deadly systems that are easy to hide and can therefore easily survive a massive missile and aerial bombardment. These systems can easily be deployed by small groups of soldiers. Examples include man-portable air defense systems (MANPADS) like the Stinger missile launcher, which can be carried and fired from the shoulder by one soldier. Another example is portable anti-tank missile launchers like the Javelin and NLAW, which can be carried and operated by small teams of soldiers.
Apart from its built-in safety features, the Volcano system can easily be hidden away from missile barrages and would provide Taiwan with a way to very quickly and easily turn its beaches into death traps that would destroy or badly damage Chinese armored vehicles on contact. Combined with accurate fire from defending missile and gun teams, these mines would sow chaos inside any contested chokepoint. It is a relatively inexpensive weapon that adds yet another risk factor and complication that invasion forces would have to deal with.