What is a cluster bomb, the controversial weapon the U.S. is sending to Ukraine?

What is a cluster bomb, the controversial weapon the U.S. is sending to Ukraine?
What is a cluster bomb, the controversial weapon the U.S. is sending to Ukraine?

The Biden administration introduced Friday {that a} new weapons package for Ukraine will embody cluster bombs — a controversial kind of weapon the U.S. has not offered to the nation earlier than. Particularly, the bundle will embody 155mm DPICMs, which stands for dual-purpose improved standard munitions. 

What’s a cluster bomb?

A cluster bomb is a sort of weapon that’s designed to disperse smaller bombs over a big space. They’re often known as cluster munitions, with the smaller bombs known as submunitions or bomblets.

A cluster bomb capsule is seen on the ground in Ukraine
A cluster bomb capsule is seen on the bottom amid the Russia-Ukraine battle in Avdiivka, Ukraine, on March 23, 2023.

Getty Photographs


Cluster bombs could be dropped from the air or shot from the bottom or sea, and the handfuls or a whole lot of bomblets they launch can disperse over a big space. They have been first utilized in World Struggle II for the aim of destroying a number of dispersed navy targets or combatants.

Any individuals in that space on the time a cluster bomb is detonated might be killed or severely damage. Past that, most of the bomblets fail to blow up instantly, which means they’ll injure or kill individuals years later.

Why are cluster bombs controversial?

A major variety of bomblets don’t explode on first impression as supposed. In keeping with the Worldwide Committee of the Pink Cross, the submunition failure charge — known as the “dud charge” — has assorted from 10% to 40% in current conflicts.

“Giant-scale use of those weapons has resulted in nations and areas being infested with tens of 1000’s, and typically tens of millions, of unexploded and extremely unstable submunitions,” the group stated.

Along with posing an instantaneous menace to civilians dwelling in areas the place cluster munitions are used, the bomblets that stay unexploded are small, can have fascinating shapes, and could be colourful, which means those who do not instantly detonate can appear as if toys to kids, who would possibly attempt to decide them up and be maimed or killed.

Civilians are the first victims of cluster bombs, in keeping with the Landmine and Cluster Munitions Monitor, a gaggle that does analysis on behalf of the Worldwide Marketing campaign to Ban Landmines-Cluster Munitions Coalition. In 2021, the newest yr for which information was revealed, the group stated that of 141 casualties from cluster bomb remnants, 97% have been civilians, and two-thirds of these have been kids.

“It’s a horrible reminder of the dire want for speedy clearance of contaminated areas, age-appropriate training on the dangers of unexploded bomblets, and larger devoted help to the victims and their households,” Loren Persi, editor of the Cluster Munition Monitor 2022 report, stated in a press release. 

Are cluster bombs banned?

100 and twenty-three nations have joined the 2008 Conference on Cluster Munitions, a world treaty which entered into pressure in 2010. The conference bans the manufacturing, switch, stockpiling and use of cluster munitions in all circumstances and requires related states to implement sufferer help measures.

Neither Russia, Ukraine, nor the USA are signatories or state events to the conference. Cluster bombs have been used extensively within the Gulf Struggle, Chechnya, Afghanistan and Iraq.

Cluster bombs in Ukraine

Quite a lot of cluster bombs have been utilized by Russia on the battlefield in Ukraine, each in opposition to Ukrainian troops and in city areas, Sidharth Kaushal, a analysis fellow on the protection and safety suppose tank RUSI, advised CBS Information. He stated Ukraine additionally has a restricted variety of cluster munitions from Turkey.

“Cluster munitions are particularly helpful for clearing out giant numbers of infantry,” Kaushal stated. “Given Russia’s shift in the direction of combining restricted numbers of expert assault troops with bigger numbers of expendable ‘Storm Z’ models, the power to interact and destroy giant concentrations successfully is vital to the Ukrainians. They will also be used in opposition to armor, and to assault mounted positions extra successfully.”

Kaushal stated cluster bombs would assist Ukrainian troops in a number of methods as they battle in opposition to Russia’s invasion.

“They’re a pressure multiplier for the Ukrainian artillery in each offensive roles and defenses in opposition to native Russian counterattacks,” Kaushal stated.

Regardless of their potential effectiveness on the battlefield, the U.S. has been reluctant to supply cluster munitions to Ukraine.

“Our navy analysts have confirmed that DPICMs [cluster bombs] could be helpful, particularly in opposition to dug-in Russian positions on the battlefield,” Laura Cooper, the U.S. deputy assistant secretary of protection for Russia, Ukraine and Eurasia, stated throughout congressional testimony earlier this summer time.

“The explanation why you haven’t seen a transfer ahead in offering this functionality relates each to the present Congressional restrictions on the availability of DPICMs and issues about allied unity,” Cooper stated.

Most of the states get together to the 2008 Conference on Cluster Munitions are NATO allies.

“NATO as an Alliance doesn’t have a place on the Conference on Cluster Munitions, as a result of quite a few Allies have signed the conference however quite a few Allies haven’t signed the conference,” NATO Secretary Normal Jens Stoltenberg stated Friday. “It’s for particular person Allies to make selections on the supply of weapons and navy provides to Ukraine.”

Decrease “dud charge”?

The “dud charge” of the weapons the U.S. is getting ready to ship to Ukraine is lower than 2.35%, Pentagon press secretary Brig. Gen. Patrick Ryder advised reporters on Thursday.

U.S. legislation at present restricts the transfer of cluster munitions if the “dud charge” is over 1%, which means President Biden could waive the requirement.

“We might be fastidiously choosing rounds with decrease dud charges for which we’ve current testing information,” Ryder stated, including that Russia had already been utilizing cluster munitions in Ukraine that reportedly have considerably increased dud charges. 

Eleanor Watson contributed to this report

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