How Landmines Work

Anti-personnel Mines

Close-up of a bounding anti-personnel mine exposed by the shifting sands of an unspecified desert
Close-up of a bounding anti-personnel mine exposed by the shifting sands of an unspecified desert
Photo courtesy United Nations

Anti-personnel landmines are designed specifically to reroute or push back foot soldiers from a given geographic area. These mines can kill or disable their victims, and are activated by pressure, tripwire or remote detonation. There are also smart mines, which automatically deactivate themselves after a certain amount of time. These are the most common types of mines currently used by the U.S. military.

Anti-personnel mines fit into three basic categories:

  1. Blast - The most common type of mine, blast mines are buried no deeper than a few centimeters and are generally triggered by someone stepping on the pressure plate, applying about 11 to 35.3 pounds (5 to 16 kilograms) of pressure. These mines are designed to destroy an object in close proximity, such as a person's foot or leg. A blast mine is designed to break the targeted object into fragments, which can cause secondary damage, such as infection and amputation.
  2. Bounding - Usually buried with only a small part of the igniter. When activated, the igniter sets off a propelling charge, lifting the mine about a meter into the air. The mine then ignites a main charge, causing injury to a person's head and chest. protruding from the ground, these mines are pressure or tripwire activated. You may also hear this type of mine referred to as a "Bouncing Betty."
  3. Fragmentation - These mines release fragments in all directions, or can be arranged to send fragments in one direction (directional fragmentation mines). These mines can cause injury up to 200 meters away and kill at closer distances. The fragments used in the mines are either metal or glass. Fragmentation mines can be bounding or ground-based.

There are several-hundred different kinds of anti-personnel mines in use by many countries. For the purposes of this article, we have chosen two landmines developed by the United States military that demonstrate the varying characteristics of landmines. The first landmine, the M14, is a pressure-operated blast mine. We also examine the M16 bounding/fragmentation landmine.