Discussion Forum

Battlefield Litter

Posted by Simon Stewart,
Wednesday, April 23, 2003

'In Kosovo, preliminary statistics for the British RBL755 show that the failure rate is about 11-12%.' UN Mine Action Co-ordinating Centre, Kosovo.

Not satisfied with poisoning Iraq with depleted uranium, letting its National Museum be looted, we and the US are leaving Iraq one vast minefield through our use of cluster munitions.

Most will have heard of cluster bombs. For example, the BL755, the standard British cluster bomb contains 147 bomblets that can be dispersed over an area the size of a football pitch, or more - the US has bigger bombs that function over a wider area. Each bomblet explodes into around 2,000 fragments, that means nearly a third of a million shrapnel fragments per bomb. Not wishing to go on an anorak's ride of the technicalities of sub-munitions it is sufficient to know that cluster bombs are not the only type of cluster munition. They also exist as artillery shells and rocket payloads. The type of ordinance a cluster munition carries can be anti-tank, anti-material or antipersonnel or dual purpose, etc. They can be designed to explode on impact (area impact weapon) or to act as an area denial weapon, ie a mine.

And, boy, you'll love this one, an artillery rocket system known as MLRS. It can ripple fire 12 missiles over 40k in under a minute on an area of a 100 hectares: each missile being made up of 644 bomblets producing high velocity shrapnel fragments. That's 7,500 bomblets on an area the size of a kilometre grid square. Goodbye, Hebden Bridge.

Another point to remember about shrapnel, over high explosive, is that a wounded or maimed person is more of a drain on resources than a dead person is. Ain't weapons designers wonderful!

The problem with cluster munitions, as with any munition, is the failure rate of the bomblets. In the case of the British BL755 cluster bomb, Hoon, the defence secretary, would like you to believe that the failure rate is 5%. You are being lied to - double that, and add some; if used on a wood, as in Kosovo, or on soft ground double it again. This means that every time a cluster munition is used there are unexploded 'duds' lying around: from Laos to Gulf War One, Kosovo to Afghanistan. They lie around killing people; make farmland hazardous to plough; they act as mines, they turn civilians into targets. I need hardly mention the resources and time that has to go into clearing the ground of these things, or the pittance the US is setting aside for doing so. However, one also has to wonder how much of this failure is actually designed in there being tactical advantages in a weapon that can double up as an area denial weapon.

Also, they sometimes look like balls; someone of them are yellow and look like a soda can - the same colour as the ration packs the US have been handing out; and some even look like lawn darts with streamers attached. Very, very attractive to kids - and even adults - almost impossible not to be attracted to, to pick up and kill or maim yourself with. They're still killing at the rate of one a week in the Balkans; still killing in Laos and Afghanistan; and from Gulf War One. And they're doing it again, now, in Iraq - even to US Marines. I wonder what report the military will suppress on their effectiveness this time, what lies the government will spew this time? Oh, they've already started; they never really stopped.

Posted by Robert Collins,
Saturday, May 3, 2003

You confidently repeat the claim that depleted uranium "pollutes for 4,500 years million years" (sic). I think I am right in saying that the radioactive half-life of Uranium 238 is indeed 4.5 billion years but somehow I cannot see the significance of the number in this context. Can you please explain exactly why 4.5 billion years is the length of time that depleted uranium weapons will pollute for?