“I need ammunition, not a ride”
attributed to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky
from GlobalSecurity.org, July 17, 2023
This article quotes a lot of people who do not agree on what is happening in Ukraine, but it is interesting for that very reason. Pick your poison. But it also describes how they work and what the risks are. Cluster Munitions are clearly a risk to civilians all excuses aside.
Both the Ukrainians and the Russians used cluster munitions during the full-scale war that began in February 2022. A single Dual-purpose improved conventional munitions (DPICM) cluster artillery shell can do the job of 10 conventional high-explosive fragmentation shells when destroying most typical targets, which is extremely important in a situation where the supply of ammunition to Ukraine had faced enormous difficulties.
One obstacle to the transfer of DPICM was legislative. Although Ukraine, like the United States, is not a member of the Convention on Cluster Munitions, the United States has a legal ban on the export of cluster munitions with a failure rate of more than 1%. DPICM shells have a failure rate of 3% and are being replaced by C-DAEMs with less than 1% of failed sub-elements.
National security adviser Jake Sullivan and Undersecretary of Defense for Policy Colin Kahl addressed reporters at the White House and Pentagon respectively 07 July 2023, stating that the US should meet Ukraine’s request notwithstanding risks to civilians. The danger to Ukrainians would be greater if Russia overtook the country, and if Moscow’s tanks rolled into Kyiv “because Ukraine does not have enough artillery, that is intolerable to us,” Sullivan said.
Pentagon spokesman Brigadier General Patrick Ryder at a briefing on 06 July 2023 said “we have multiple variants of DPICMs in our stocks, and the ones that we are considering providing [to Ukraine – ed.] would not include older variants with dud rates that are higher than 2.35%… We are aware of reports out there from several decades ago that indicate that certain 155-mm DPICMs have higher dud rates, so we would be carefully selecting rounds with lower dud rates for which we have … recent testing data.”
For 155mm howitzers, the M864 shell contains 72 submunitions (48 M42 submunitions + 24 M46 submunitions). The M483A1 shell contains 88 submunitions (M42 submunitions x 64 + M46 submunitions x 24). These 155mm shells will probably be the main cluster munitions delivered to Ukraine from the United States. Photographic evidence has already surfaced that the old Turkish M483A1 ammunition was secretly handed over to Ukraine. In late 2022 Türkiye had begun sending Ukraine American-designed cluster munitions after months of Kyiv’s pleas to the Biden administration to provide them. Ukraine denied the reports.
Cluster munitions contain dozens to hundreds of smaller bomblets (they are called submunitions). They can be dropped from airplanes, they can be fired from artillery, rocket launchers, and naval guns. Cluster munitions open at a given height, which depends on the area of ??the intended target, the submunitions contained inside spread over this area. Submunitions are connected using a timer and explode closer to the ground or already on the ground, scattering fragments that attack enemy personnel or armored vehicles, such as tanks.
The Dual-purpose improved conventional munitions (DPICM) rounds that Washington could transfer to Kyiv are fired from 155mm howitzers. Each munition contains 88 bombs with a lethal range of about 10 square meters. So one munition can cover an area of up to 30,000 square meters (it depends on the height of dropping the bombs).
The 155mm cluster shell detonates a small explosive charge which pushes the submunition backward and releases it from the ewe. Since the shell rotates at high speed, the submunitions spread. Each submunition falls at a steep angle with the liner cone of the shaped explosive charge facing downward while the ribbon attached to the rear receives air resistance to stabilize its posture. This is a feature of the DPICM for hitting the tank’s top armor at an angle that facilitates penetration. Submunitions falling at this steep angle have the secondary effect of making it easier to dive into trenches. DPICM cluster bullets can not only cover a wide area in the field, but also demonstrate effective striking power in trench warfare.
In September 2022, an unpaid US advisor to the commander in chief of the Ukraine Armed Forces, Gen. Valeriy Zaluzhnyi, wrote an article in September 2022 advising Ukraine to request dual-purpose improved conventional munition (DPICM) submunitions from US stockpiles for Ukraine to use in its 155mm artillery systems. Since then, several media outlets reported on the Ukrainian government’s requests to be supplied with cluster munitions. At the Munich Security Conference in February 2023, Ukraine’s deputy prime minister, Olexander Kubrakov, and foreign minister, Dmytro Kuleba, appealed for Ukraine to be supplied with cluster munitions. In response, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg told media that “NATO has neither recommended nor supplied these kinds of weapons. We supply artillery and other types of weapons, but not cluster bombs.”
The administration of US President Joe Biden agreed on the supply of cluster munitions to Ukraine. This was reported on 06 July 2023 by The New York Times. Ukraine had publicly asked to be supplied with cluster munitions. Ukrainian leaders are aware of the risks to noncombatants associated with these munitions, which pale in comparison to the existential threat posed by Russia’s invasion and daily acts of barbarity. In June 2023, Deputy Pentagon Assistant for Russia, Ukraine and Eurasia Laura Cooper said that cluster munitions could affect the situation on the battlefield and would be useful to the Armed Forces of Ukraine, especially in the fight “against entrenched Russian positions.”
In a special United Nations meeting on March 2, 2022, UN Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield criticized Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in part for using cluster munitions, which she said have “no place on the battlefield.” Shortly thereafter, her speech was revised, removing that phrase, because the United States itself had yet to renounce these weapons.
The United States last used cluster munitions during Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2003, with the exception of a single attack in Yemen in December 2009. The U.S. has not exported cluster munitions of any kind since 2015, and they are no longer produced by any American company. The United States is also by far the world’s leading supporter of efforts to clear unexploded cluster munitions from battlefields and to aid the victims. The United States has nearly three million of these rounds in its inventory – much of it located on U.S. and allied bases in Europe. Higher effectiveness. A single round can achieve a similar or greater operational effect as five or more rounds armed with GMLRS-U or other high-explosive warheads.
On 21 December 2022 Representative Sara Jacobs (D-CA) joined Chairman Bill Keating (D-MA) of the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Europe, Energy, the Environment, and Cyber; Chair Jim McGovern (D-MA) of the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission; and Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT), Chair of the Senate Appropriations Committee, in sending a letter to President Biden urging him to take all the necessary steps to revise the Department of Defense’s (DoD) 2017 Policy on Cluster Munitions and ultimately ban the development, sale, and use of these weapons while expediting the destruction of the US stockpile of cluster munitions.
Several US lawmakers have called for the United States, which is not a party to the Convention on Cluster Munitions, to transfer stockpiled cluster munitions to the Ukrainian government. The United States relied on similar cluster munitions during the Cold War as a means of offsetting Soviet military advantages in manpower, artillery, and armored vehicles.
On 21 March 2023 US Senators Jim Risch (R-Idaho), ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and Roger Wicker (R-Miss.), ranking member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, along with U.S. Representatives Michael McCaul (R-Texas), chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, and Mike Rogers (R-Ala.), chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, sent a letter to President Biden urging the administration to provide Ukraine with cluster munitions such as dual purpose improved conventional munitions (DPICM).
“We remain deeply disappointed in your administration’s reluctance to provide Ukraine with the right type and amount of long-range fires and maneuver capability to create and exploit operational breakthroughs against the Russians,” wrote the members. “Sadly, the immediate consequences of denying DPICM and other items in a timely manner to the Ukrainian Armed Forces are playing out on the battlefield in Bakhmut and elsewhere in Ukraine today. Providing DPICM will allow Ukraine to compensate for Russia’s quantitative advantage in both personnel and artillery rounds, and will allow the Ukrainian Armed Forces to concentrate their use of unitary warheads against higher-value Russian targets,” the members continued.
Under US arms export rules, the United States can only export cluster munitions that “after arming do not result in more than one percent unexploded ordnance across the range of intended operational environments.” This provision can be waived by the US president in exceptional circumstances to allow for transfers of cluster munitions with higher failure rates.
Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for russia, Ukraine and Eurasia Laura Cooper, stated 22 June 2023 “Our military experts have confirmed that DPICMs will be useful especially against trenches on the battlefield“. Cooper said “In terms of effectiveness on the battlefield, we believe the use of cluster munitions would be beneficial”.
The main ammunition for the Soviet-made multiple rocket launchers Uragan 9M27K and Smerch 9M55K, which are used by both Russia and Ukraine as their main weapons, are cluster-warhead rockets, which have been in constant use since the beginning of the war. In addition, the use of cluster munitions has been confirmed in short-range ballistic missiles, air bombs, field artillery shells, etc. Cluster munitions are not uncommon in this war, and have been used in large quantities since the beginning of the war.
For this reason, Ukraine recognizes that the use of cluster munitions itself is not a problem (however, it condemns the use of cluster munitions in urban areas by the Russian military), and Russia also considers cluster munitions to be no problem at all. cannot condemn the US supply of cluster munitions to Ukraine.
Jen Kirby, writing for Vox July 7, 2023, noted “The cluster munitions debate stands apart …. It is instead a test of the US’s own adherence to international consensus — and how this decision might undermine the broader stigma against the use of these weapons. “It’s really about how is everybody else going to respond to this, NATO allies and the broader international community,” said Jennifer Erickson, an international security and arms control expert at Boston College. “It’s about testing what has been seen as a broader international norm, rather than a question of: ‘Well, if we sell that tank, Russia will take that as an escalation.’ This seems just a different conversation entirely.”
The Cluster Munition Monitor 2022 found that in 2021, civilians represented 97 percent of casualties (144 people) from unexploded submunitions. More than 60 percent were children in cases where the ages were known. People in Vietnam and Laos are still finding the remnants of cluster bombs dropped by the US decades ago.
At least 38 human rights organizations publicly opposed a delivery of cluster bombs to Ukraine and expressed concern over the weapon’s ability to drop bomblets that can endanger civilians for years by failing to detonate and remaining as explosive hazards.
Human Rights Watch , an international non-governmental organization , warned the United States against handing over cluster munitions to Ukrainian forces, saying it would inevitably lead to long-term suffering for the civilian population and nullify international condemnation of their use. Cluster munitions can be delivered by aircraft or ground-launched missiles, projectiles, and rockets. They open in mid-air and disperse dozens and even hundreds of smaller submunitions, also called bomblets, over an area the size of a city block. Many submunitions fail to explode on initial impact, leaving duds that act like landmines, posing a threat to civilians for years and even decades. Cluster munitions are comprehensively banned by the Convention on Cluster Munitions, which 123 countries have joined, although not Russia or Ukraine. Regardless, the use of cluster munitions in areas with civilians makes an attack indiscriminate in violation of international humanitarian law,
“These are already all over the country and will need to be cleaned up. That is not a good enough excuse for the United States to be sending more. Legislators, policymakers and the [President Joe] Biden administration will probably think twice when the pictures start coming back of children who have been harmed by American-made cluster munitions,” Sarah Yager, Washington Director at Human Rights Watch, said.
The American non-governmental Arms Control Association condemned the intention of the US administration to start supplying cluster munitions to Ukraine. In a written statement released 06 July 2023, the association called the US government’s plans a “wrong move.” The document says that “[US President Joe] Biden’s administration will change course” and begin transferring cluster munitions to the government of Ukraine. The decision on this matter by the White House and the State Department has already been made, the statement said. Association leader Daryl Kimball described Washington’s current actions as “escalatory and counterproductive.” As he warned, such deliveries to Kyiv “only increase the danger for the civilian population, who ended up in the war zone and who will one day return to their cities” and to the countryside.
House Rules Committee ranking member Jim McGovern (D-MA) urged to listen to “NATO allies,” pointing out that “the United Kingdom, France, Germany and Spain…oppose sending cluster munitions to Ukraine for the same reasons.” Chrissy Houlahan, House Armed Services member and Air Force veteran, said in her statement that the decision by the Biden administration was “blurring the lines of moral high ground.” “Cluster munitions are illegal under international law,” Rep. Ilhan Omar, D-Minn., reiterated, as she announced that together with Rep. Sara Jacobs, D-Calif., she would co-lead an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act prohibiting the sale of cluster munitions.
“We have to be clear: if the US is going to be a leader on international human rights, we must not participate in human rights abuses. We can support the people of Ukraine in their freedom struggle, while also opposing violations of international law. (In fact, the innocent victims of the cluster munitions will almost exclusively be Ukrainian civilians)…. I will continue to stand with the people of Ukraine and support their struggle against Vladimir Putin’s tyrannical war of aggression. I will also continue to stand for human rights. I hope we as a country do the same.”
Kyiv reacted with irritation to such a position. “Just think about it: absolutely insane Russian thugs are invading Ukraine, unleashing a brutal genocidal war, killing civilians, carrying out public executions, raping women, kidnapping children, attacking big cities with cruise missiles … At the same time, a “human rights organization” is standing nearby and accuses… the Ukrainian people of not disarming themselves sufficiently following the results of the international conventions of 2005 and the Budapest Memorandum,” Mykhailo Podolyak, adviser to the head of the Office of the President of Ukraine, wrote.
The decision by the United States to deliver cluster munitions to Ukraine was denounced as a provocation, Russian Ambassador in Washington Anatoly Antonov said on 07 July 2023.
“With tenacity worthy of a better use, Washington continues to ‘raise the stakes’ in the conflict,” Antonov said in a statement, adding: “No one doubted the deep involvement of the United States in the confrontation in Ukraine even without cluster munitions. However, the current level of American provocations is really off scale, bringing humanity closer to a new world war.”
The use of cluster munitions is a terrorist method of warfare, Russia will respond based on military expediency, and the Federation Council can discuss the situation, Viktor Bondarev, head of the Federation Council’s defense committee, said 08 July 2023. The US announced Friday that it is transferring cluster munitions to Ukraine that are prohibited by an international convention that 123 countries have ratified, not including the US and Ukraine. The Armed Forces of Ukraine, according to the Russian military, have already used cluster munitions to shell Donbass , in particular the large city of Donetsk . According to the official representative of the Ministry of Defense of the Russian Federation, Major General Igor Konashenkov , this suggests that the task of the Ukrainian troops is to kill the maximum number of civilians.
The cluster munitions that the US decided to supply to Ukraine are actually useless against the positions of the Russian army. Washington passes them on, as it simply has no other shells left, said ex-US intelligence officer Scott Ritter. As Ritter told RIA Novosti , the M864 155-mm caliber artillery shells in question have, in fact, been in the warehouses of the US Armed Forces since 2016: they are not used due to “incompatibility with moral standards.” These are the only artillery shells available for the supply of the Armed Forces of Ukraine, and the rate of unexploded ordnance in them is not 1%, but 14% or even more.
The former intelligence officer explained the ineffectiveness against the Russian forces by the fact that the RF Armed Forces are not now carrying out massive attacks with armored vehicles, against which such shells were developed. Much more damage could have been caused by conventional high-explosive 155-mm shells, but the United States did not have them. “The only reason why cluster munitions are being sent to Ukraine today is because the US simply doesn’t have any other projectiles for them. This is the last thing we have in our arsenals,” Ritter concluded.
German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock stressed Berlin’s opposition to delivering cluster munitions to Ukraine. Baerbock expressed a negative attitude to the much-criticized weapons during a climate event in Austria on07 July 2023. “I have followed the media reports. For us, as a state party, the Oslo agreement applies,” she told journalists, when asked about US plans.
Germany’s president on 09 July 2023 said the country should not “block” the United States from sending cluster bombs to Ukraine, while defending its opposition to the use of the controversial weapon. “Germany’s position against the use of cluster munitions is as justified as ever. But we cannot, in the current situation, block the United States,” said President Frank-Walter Steinmeier in an interview with German broadcaster ZDF. If Ukraine no longer has the means to defend itself or if those supporting the war-stricken country back down, “it would be the end of Ukraine“, said the president, whose powers are largely ceremonial.
“Vladimir Putin continues to commit war crimes and atrocities against the Ukrainian people. In April, I had an extensive, in-depth discussion with President Zelenskyy and his national security team in Kyiv on what was working on the battlefield and what was not. They are outmatched by Russia’s use of tens of thousands of artillery cluster rounds that are more effective against certain targets, and it’s part of what’s preventing them from getting the upper hand,” said combat Veteran and Senate Airland Armed Services Subcommittee Chairman Mark Kelly. “Ukraine’s success is a national security imperative for us, and they have asked for these rounds to deploy in self-defense on their own soil because they see it as critical to their survival. I appreciate the work from the administration that went into this plan and will continue working with them and my colleagues in the Senate to provide Ukraine with the weapons and support they need to beat Putin and win this war.”
Members of the House of Representatives on 13 July 2023 rejected a proposed amendment to the draft defense budget for the next fiscal year (begins October 1), which provides for a ban on the sale and transfer of cluster munitions by Washington to Kiev. The amendment had been introduced by Rep. Marjorie Taylor-Green (R-Georgia). The initiative was supported by 147 legislators, 276 opposed it.
Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said that if American cluster munitions are delivered to Ukraine, Russian forces will be forced to use similar weapons against the Ukrainian army. He also added that Russia refrained from using cluster munitions during the special operation, realizing the threat they pose to the civilian population. According to Shoigu, the supply of these weapons by the Americans will prolong the conflict.
American right-wing huckster and billionaire Elon Musk warned 15 July 2023 of the negative consequences of the transfer of cluster munitions by the United States to Ukraine, noting the hypocrisy of such supplies. “Nothing good will come of this,” he wrote on Twitter, commenting on the shipment of cluster shells to Kyiv. Musk pointed out that the US has “always condemned as evil” those who use cluster munitions, but now the US itself is sending them for use in combat. “Fate loves irony, but hates hypocrisy,” the confidence-man said.
In his first comments on the delivery of cluster munitions to Ukraine from the US, Russian President Vladimir Putin said that Russia has not used cluster bombs in its war in Ukraine so far, despite widespread evidence to the contrary. “Until now, we have not done this, we have not used it, and we have not had such a need,” he said 17 July 2023. The use of cluster bombs by both Russia and Ukraine has been widely documented, including by The Associated Press and international humanitarian organizations, and cluster rounds have been found in the aftermath of Russian strikes.
*Featured Image: Ukrainian Cluster Munitions from the U.S. used in Bakhmut region. src:Yahoo News, note that this is an unexploded bomblet, which is exactly the problem as it may explode at any time. You drop it on your enemy, but it sits there and explodes when a civilian walks by.