After decades of war, more than 40,000 Vietnamese people have been killed by the landmines and unexploded ordnance (UXO) which still litter this stunning nation, posing a threat to life and economic development.
1.0 – History of conflict in Vietnam
The Vietnam War began on the 1st of November 1955 and ended over 19 years later on the 30th of April 1975.
The war was fought between North Vietnam (supported by China, the Soviet Union, and North Korea) and South Vietnam (supported by the United States, South Korea, Australia, New Zealand, Laos, Cambodia, Thailand, and the Philippines). This war is considered a proxy war between the United States and the Soviet Union, particularly regarding the spread of communism.
It began when the French withdrew from Indochina in 1954, with the US providing military and financial support for the state of South Vietnam. The National Liberation Front, (NLF) supported by North Vietnam initiated a guerrilla war in South Vietnam. North Vietnam had previously invaded Laos, setting up the Ho Chi Minh Trail, which was a supply network which helped reinforce the Viet Cong (NLF).
The conflict escalated, eventually resulting in U.S. service members.
After demoralisation, criticism, protests, and general opposition from the American population – the U.S. withdrew on January 28th, 1973, but the fighting did not cease until North Vietnamese forces captured Saigon – subsequently renaming it to “Ho Chi Minh City”.
2.0 – Deadly ordnance used during the Vietnam War
The Vietnam War saw the advent and use of new weapons, many of which were criticised for their inhumanity. These continue to have a significant impact on the Vietnamese population to this day.
Grenades used included AN-M8s, M15s, M18s, and M34s (smoke grenades), Mark 2s, M26s, M59s, and M67s (fragmentation grenades), M6s, M7s, and XM58s (riot control grenades), and V40s (mini-grenades).
Additionally, the following grenade launchers were used: M1/M2s, M7s and M8s, M9s and M17s, M31 HEAT rifles, China Lake Grenade Launchers, M203s, Mark 18 Mod 0s, Mark 19s, Mark 20s, XM174s, and XM148s.
Rocket launchers were also used, including Bazookas, M72 LAWs (anti-tank), XM202 (four-shot incendiary), FIM-43 Redeye MANPADS (heat-seeking anti-air), and the BGM-71 TOW (wire-guided anti-tank).
Landmines included the M14 (anti-personnel blast mine), M15s and M19s (anti-tank mines), M16s (bounding anti-personnel), and M18s and M18A1 Claymores (command-detonated anti-personnel).
Flamethrowers and mortars (such as the M2, M19, Brandt Mle 27/31, M1, M29, L16A1, 82-BM-37, M30 and M98) were also used, in addition to aircraft ordnance (including precision-guided munitions, cluster-bombs, daisy-cutters, napalm, and high-explosives). Bombs ranged from 250lb (113kg) to 1000lb (453kg).
The Vietnam War also included the extensive (and controversial) use of chemical weapons – most famously agent orange, but also napalm, tear-gas, agent blue, agent white, and rainbow herbicides. Many of these have had a permanent impact on the Vietnamese, making soil infertile and leading to deformities across multiple generations.
2.1 – Explosive remnants of war and landmines in Vietnam
The legacy of explosive remnants of war (ERW) in Vietnam has presented a significant challenge ever since the conflict ended. This is not surprising as over 7 million tonnes of explosives were dropped in Vietnam during the 2-decade war.
From 1975 – 2008, 105,086 casualties from mines and ERW were reported, including 38,849 deaths and 65,852 injuries. This incidence rate has since decreased, with 12 reported casualties in 2018 and 1 reported casualty in 2019.
The threat posed does still remain significant, however. Ports and rivers were heavily mined during the Vietnam War, with sea mines still regularly found off the country’s coast – a prevalent problem, particularly with Vietnam’s
At least 32 of Vietnam’s 63 provinces is affected by cluster munitions. Quang Tri, a province in North-Central Vietnam, is said to be the most heavily contaminated, with the Quang Tri Mine Action Centre (QTMAC) recording up to 437.22km² of contamination in the area.
Vietnam’s biggest problem lies in ERW contamination more so than land and sea mines, however. According to ReliefWeb, it is estimated that 64,793.6 hectares of land is still contaminated. However, the full extent of ERW contamination in Vietnam is still unknown. It is estimated, however, that up to 19% of Vietnam’s land surface area has been affected by ERW.
3.0 – How SafeLane Global's land and marine teams have helped Vietnam
Vietnam is facing an economic boom – industries are thriving, and with this, international companies are flocking to invest in the country. This means it is critical that clearance operations keep up the pace so that development can continue. Renewable energy is a particularly prominent industry in Vietnam currently, and one that SafeLane is actively supporting.
Recently, SafeLane performed a desktop survey for a client who was planning to construct in an area which was heavily involved in the US-Vietnam conflict. This area was a frequent target of US bombing raids. Unexploded air-dropped bombs in Vietnam are easily unobserved , mainly due to the fact most are buried underground, but also due to the tropical terrain, and jungle-like ground cover.
Cluster munitions also present a complication, with over being scattered across Vietnam during the war. Cluster munitions are indiscriminate and unreliable – they are often spread across wide areas and are even more invisible.
The US also utilised air-delivered mines during the Vietnam War within SafeLane’s client’s project area. These mines are designed to stay dormant until activated and could have presented a risk during the client’s construction project.
Through its detailed desktop survey, SafeLane was able to identify historical incidents and events that occurred within the client’s project area. Furthermore, SafeLane was able to assess whether any clearance activities had already taken place. Based on this detailed study, we were able to present a risk level (low, medium, or high), and recommend a risk mitigation strategy tailored to the client.
This meant that the client was able to safely proceed with their project with all contingencies accounted for.
3.1 – SafeLane Global’s commitment to Vietnam
SafeLane Global will continue to support its clients with their projects in Vietnam and across the globe – ensuring that ERW and UXO does not impact upon them and that they will not face any losses in terms of finance, reputation, timelines, or lives.
If you need rapid deployment to Vietnam and want a UXO risk mitigation service provider with proven experience in country, contact SafeLane today
Frequently Asked Questions About Vietnam
What is unexploded ordnance or UXO?
According to The International Mine Action Standards (IMAS) definition, UXO is explosive ordnance that has been primed, fuzed, armed or otherwise prepared for use or used. It may have been fired, dropped, launched or projected yet remains unexploded either through malfunction or design or for any other reason.
What is abandoned explosive ordnance or AXO?
Again, according to IMAS, AXO is explosive ordnance that has not been used during an armed conflict, that has been left behind or dumped by a party to an armed conflict, and which is no longer under control of the party that left it behind or dumped it. Abandoned explosive ordnance may or may not have been primed, fuzed, armed or otherwise prepared for use.
What are explosive remnants of war (ERW)?
The acronym ERW encompasses both unexploded ordnance (UXO) and abandoned explosive ordnance. Explosive remnants of war does not include landmines - these are designated differently.
How can landmines or ERW affect my project?
Landmines and explosive remnants of war (ERW) create risks that can affect lives, finances, reputation, and project timelines. It is imperative that the necessary precautions are taken to avoid accidental detonation of any explosive device, which can create dire consequences. To ensure your project and personnel are safe, start with a desktop study of your work site to understand any risks you may face.
Why are landmine and UXO surveys necessary and how do they benefit me?
Surveys are utilised to assess the risk posed by landmines or explosive ordnance within a given area. Their findings then inform the correct risk mitigation strategies. Our surveys safeguard our clients against threats posed by ERW and landmines - threats to their finances, project timelines, reputation and lives.
How much unexploded ordnance (UXO) is in Vietnam?
It is reported that over 7 million tonnes of ordnance were dropped in Vietnam by the US during the Vietnam War. There are still explosive remnants of war (ERW) in Vietnam and there are still landmines. It is still largely unknown how much of this ordnance remains in Vietnam. However, estimates suggest that 19% of Vietnam’s land surface is affected by explosive remnants of war. The Quang Tri province is the most heavily contaminated area and, despite clearance efforts, Quang Tri does not expect to be UXO-impact free until at least 2027.