April 14, 2009

The Belligerents and the Cluster Munitions Used

The conflict in Georgia highlights the nature of the global problem of cluster munitions. Both sides employed the weapon, causing civilian casualties, yet their military profiles and histories with the weapon are quite different. This case underlines the risks of continued production, transfer, and stockpiling. Whoever the user, and whatever the type used, cluster munitions pose unacceptable risks to civilians and must be eliminated.

Russia produces and exports its own cluster munitions and has stockpiles of millions of submunitions of various types. It has used cluster munitions previously, notably in Chechnya. Georgia does not manufacture its own cluster munitions but is an importer that received the models it used in this conflict from Israel. It has a smaller arsenal than its larger neighbor and claims that it now possesses only one active type. Human Rights Watch is not aware of any evidence that Georgia used the weapon prior to the August 2008 conflict.

Between the two of them, Russia and Georgia also employed cluster munitions that exemplify the variety of the weapon, including both air-dropped and ground-launched models delivered from bombs, rockets, and missiles.

Use, Production, Transfer, and Stockpiling

The two parties to this conflict have participated in the worldwide use, production, transfer, and stockpiling of cluster munitions. At least 77 states stockpile cluster munitions, amounting to caches of at least hundreds of millions of individual submunitions. Thirty-four countries have produced more than 210 different types of cluster munitions, both air- dropped and surface-launched, including projectiles, rockets, missiles, bombs, and other dispensers. At least 13 countries have transferred more 50 different types of cluster munitions to at least 60 other countries as well as non-state armed groups.[36] At least 15 states and a small number of non-state armed groups have used cluster munitions in at least 32 countries and disputed territories.[37]

Russia

Russia has not made information regarding national stockpiles or inventories readily available to the international community, but it is known to be a major producer, exporter, and stockpiler of cluster munitions. Several Russian companies are associated with the production of cluster munitions: Bazalt State Research and Production Enterprise (air-dropped bombs), Mechanical Engineering Research Institute (120mm, 152mm, and 203mm artillery projectiles), and Splav State Research and Production Enterprise Rocket (122mm, 220mm, and 300mm rockets and missiles).[38] Cluster munitions of Russian/Soviet origin have been reported in the stockpiles of at least 29 countries: Algeria, Angola, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Bulgaria, Croatia, Cuba, Egypt, Georgia,[39] Guinea-Bissau, Hungary, India, Iran, Iraq, Kazakhstan, Kuwait, Libya, Moldova, Mongolia, North Korea, Peru, Poland, Romania, Slovakia, Sudan, Syria, Uganda, Ukraine, and Yemen.[40]

Russia’s own stockpiles are estimated to be in the hundreds of millions or more of submunitions. The following chart, which draws on information from open sources, lists current Russian stockpiles for which Human Rights Watch has evidence.

Types of Russian/Soviet Cluster Munitions in Russian Stockpiles[41]

Georgia is not the first location where Russia has used cluster munitions. It repeatedly used cluster munitions in Chechnya between 1994 and 1996 and again in 1999. The attacks led to at least 636 casualties, including 301 deaths, according to Handicap International.[42] The attack on the Grozny market on October 21, 1999, probably the most high-profile one in Chechnya, caused more than 100 deaths according to HALO Trust, a UK-based demining organization.[43] All but 24 of the 636 documented casualties came during strikes, not afterwards. Not all post-conflict casualties, however, may have been reported.[44] Russian forces made use of multiple types of cluster munitions: air-dropped bombs, tactical missiles, and multiple rockets systems.[45] HALO Trust confirmed that the Grozny attack was by an SS-21 missile, a precursor of the Iskander.[46] Russia directed many of its cluster attacks at civilian areas.[47] The Soviet Union also used cluster munitions in Afghanistan during the conflict that lasted between 1979 and 1989.[48]

Georgia

According to then-Georgian First Deputy Minister of Defense Batu Kutelia, interviewed by Human Rights Watch in October 2008, M85s are the only submunitions that Georgia currently stockpiles for active use.[49] He said Georgia bought its M85s from an Israeli company. Although the ministry would not release the name of the company, Israel Military Industries is the only known Israeli manufacturer of the weapon. Israel Military Industries also made the M85s used by Israel during its 2006 war with Lebanon. Those submunitions had high failure rates and caused civilian casualties and socioeconomic harm.[50]

In 2004 Jane’s Information Group reported that the Georgian Air Force also had KMGU and RBK-500 cluster bombs, both of which can carry a variety of submunitions.[51] The Georgian Ministry of Defense told Human Rights Watch in February 2009 that it still has RBK-500 cluster munitions and BKF blocks of submunitions that are delivered by KMGUs, but that their shelf-lives have expired and they are slated for destruction.[52] Kutelia said its air force planes are not fitted for delivering these air-dropped weapons.[53] Human Rights Watch is not aware of any evidence that Georgia used cluster munitions before the 2008 conflict. Georgia is also not known to have produced or transferred cluster munitions.

Cluster Munitions Used in Georgia and their Submunitions

During the 2008 conflict in Georgia, Russia used two types of submunitions, the AO-2.5 RTM (carried in RBK bombs) and 9N210 (carried in Uragan rockets), and Georgia used one, the M85 (carried in Mk.-4 rockets). According to a Dutch investigation discussed later, Russia also used the surface-to-surface Iskander missile carrying unknown types of submunitions.[54] Human Rights Watch researchers found physical evidence of each of these weapons, including submunitions and the canisters they were carried in, in the towns and villages they visited. All these types, like most cluster munitions, endanger civilians because of their broad area effect and the fact that they leave unexploded duds after the conflict.

AO-2.5 RTM Submunition

The air-dropped AO-2.5 RTM submunition used by Russia is an antipersonnel and anti-materiel weapon. It is designed to attack both troops and equipment with its blast and fragmentation. The silver submunition has spherical ends and a spin, or separation, ring around the middle. The latter consists of a circular metal band with five semicircular pieces attached. The submuntion weighs 2.5 kilograms and measures 90 by 150mm. Upon impact, it splits into two halves before detonating. It has a kill radius of 30 meters for materiel and 20 meters for personnel. In Georgia, Russia delivered these submunitions by RBK series bombs. The RBK-250 contains 60 bomblets, and the RBK-500 series contains 108 bomblets.[55]

9N210 Submunition

The ground-launched 9N210 submunition used by Russia is also an antipersonnel and anti-materiel weapon. It is designed to attack both troops and most types of equipment with its blast and fragmentation. The silver submunition consists of a soda can-sized cylinder with six flat fins at the tail end and weighs 1.8 kilograms. A hard plastic-like core just inside the cylinder contains 370 metal fragments, which spray out in every direction upon detonation. The fragments are identical small cylinders, measuring six millimeters in length and having a six millimeter diameter. The 9N210, which has an explosive mass of 0.3 kilograms, has a self-destruct device that is supposed to detonate the submunition within 110 seconds if it does not explode on impact.[56] As shown during this conflict, however, it often fails. In one area being cleared in Ruisi, NPA reported a 35 percent dud rate.[57] In Georgia, Russia delivered its 9N210s in 220mm surface-to-surface Uragan (Russian for Hurricane) rockets, each of which carry 30 of these submunitions.[58]

Iskander Missile

According to a Dutch investigative report into an attack on Gori, Russia also used at least one surface-to-surface Iskander (also called SS-26) missile carrying submunitions. Little is know about this weapon, except that it is in Russia’s arsenal and, according to the Dutch report, carries 20 submunitions.[59] Russia has denied using the Iskander in this conflict, but as will be explained below, both Human Rights Watch and the Dutch investigative team found evidence of the weapon.

M85 Submunition

The ground-launched M85 submunition used by Georgia is a type of Dual-Purpose Improved Conventional Munition (DPICM) bought from Israel. It is an antipersonnel and anti-armor weapon, designed to attack troops and armored vehicles, including tanks, with blast, fragmentation, and a penetrator. This black, cylindrical-shaped submunition with one open end is often said to resemble a battery or light socket. It is topped with a red or white ribbon[60] that unfurls upon discharge, releasing a firing pin that arms the submunition and directing the open end with a shaped charge downwards.[61] The shaped charge is a concave copper cone that turns into a molten slug and pierces armor when it hits perpendicular to its target. The outside fragmentation shell, which consists of a series of stacked rings, is designed to shoot out metal shards and kill people. In Georgia, Mk.-4 160mm rockets delivered 104 M85s each.[62] The GRADLAR 160 multiple launch rocket system launched the Mk.-4s, which have an outside range of 45 kilometers.[63]

M85s come in two models, with and without self-destruct devices. Human Rights Watch found many unexploded M85s in Georgia, and they were only of the non-self-destruct variety. Then-First Deputy Minister of Defense Kutelia said Georgian military deminers also found primarily non-self-destruct models, but he could not explain their presence. He claimed Georgia bought M85s exclusively with self-destruct mechanisms from Israel.

The 2006 Lebanon war demonstrated that M85s have unacceptably high dud rates regardless of the type. Many military experts had argued the self-destruct version was one of the most reliable and sophisticated submunitions in existence.[64] In testing, the M85 has a 1.3 to 2.3 percent reported failure rate. Based on a study of strike locations where the self-destruct models landed in Lebanon, however, weapons experts and United Nations (UN) deminers estimated that the self-destruct M85s had an actual failure rate of 10 percent or higher.[65]

 

[36] Human Rights Watch, “Overview of Cluster Munitions in Eastern Europe, the Caucasus, and Central Asia,” September 2008, http://www.hrw.org/sites/default/files/related_material/ClusterFactSheet_ECA.pdf, p. 2. The true scope of the global trade in cluster munitions has not been fully determined. Mark Hiznay, “Operational and Technical Aspects of Cluster Munitions,” Disarmament Forum, vol. 4 (2006), p. 20.

[37] Human Rights Watch, “Cluster Munition Information Chart,” March 13, 2009, http://www.hrw.org/en/news/2009/03/19/cluster-munition-information-chart.

[38] SeeRobert Hewson, ed., Jane's Air-Launched Weapons, Issue 44 (Surrey, UK: Jane's Information Group Limited, 2004), pp. 414-415, 422-432; Leland S. Ness and Anthony G. Williams, eds., Jane's Ammunition Handbook 2007-2008 (Surrey, UK: Jane's Information Group Limited, 2007), pp. 572, 597-598, 683, 703-706, 715-716, 722-723; US Defense Intelligence Agency, “Improved Conventional Munitions and Selected Controlled-Fragmentation Munitions (Current and Projected),” DST-1160S-90, June 8, 1990 (partially declassified and made available to Human Rights Watch under a Freedom of Information Act request); Human Rights Watch, “Overview of Cluster Munitions in Eastern Europe, the Caucasus, and Central Asia,” p. 5.

[39] The Georgian Ministry of Defense reports having RBK-500 cluster munitions and BKF blocks of submunitions that are carried in KMGUs, but it told Human Rights Watch that their shelf-lives have expired and they are slated for destruction. Response of Georgian Ministry of Defense to Human Rights Watch Questions, February 12, 2009.

[40] See, for example,Hewson, ed., Jane's Air-Launched Weapons, pp. 835-848; Jane’s Air-Launched Weapons, Issue 24, July 1996, pp. 840-841; Ness and Williams, eds., Jane's Ammunition Handbook 2007-2008; US Defense Intelligence Agency, “Improved Conventional Munitions and Selected Controlled-Fragmentation Munitions (Current and Projected)”; Human Rights Watch, “Overview of Cluster Munitions in Eastern Europe, the Caucasus, and Central Asia,” p. 4.

[41] This chart comes from a tabulation of information in Hewson, ed., Jane's Air-Launched Weapons, pp. 414-415, 422-432; Ness and Williams, eds., Jane's Ammunition Handbook 2007-2008, pp. 572, 597-598, 683, 703-706, 715-716, 722-723; US Defense Intelligence Agency, “Improved Conventional Munitions and Selected Controlled-Fragmentation Munitions (Current and Projected).” This chart has been previously published in Human Rights Watch, Survey of Cluster Munition Policy and Practice, February 2007, http://www.hrw.org/sites/default/files/reports/cluster0207web.pdf. 

[42] Handicap International, “Circle of Impact: The Fatal Footprint of Cluster Munitions on People and Communities,” 2007, http://en.handicapinternational.be/Circle-of-Impact-,-report-on-the-human-impact-of-cluster-bombs_a467.html (accessed April 1, 2009), p. 85.

[43] Mennonite Central Committee, “Clusters of Death: Global Report on Cluster Bomb Production and Use,” 2000, http://mcc.org/clusterbombs/resources/research/death/chapter3.html (accessed January 28, 2009), chapter 3. The chapter cites an email attachment, “Summary of Incidents in Chechnya,” from HALO Trust to Virgil Wiebe, Landmine Monitor Researcher, May 10, 2000. This report also has information on additional civilian casualties caused by cluster munitions in Chechnya. See also Human Rights Center Memorial, “Counterterrorist Operation: Starye Atagi, September 1999–May 2002,” 2002, http://www.memo.ru/hr/hotpoints/N-Caucas/atagi/Chapter3.htm (accessed February 17, 2009). It reports approximately 140 people killed and more than 200 wounded, the “absolute majority” of whom were civilians.

[44] Handicap International, “Circle of Impact,” p. 85.

[45] Mennonite Central Committee, “Clusters of Death,” chapter 3.

[46] Ibid. The chapter cites HALO Trust, “Summary of Incidents in Chechnya.”

[47] Ibid. See also O. Orlov and A. Cherkasov, “Russia–Chechnya: A Chain of Mistakes and Crimes,” Human Rights Center Memorial, http://www.memo.ru/hr/hotpoints/chechen/checheng/czecz.htm (accessed April 1, 2009).

[48] Human Rights Watch, “Cluster Munition Information Chart”; Mennonite Central Committee, “Drop Today, Kill Tomorrow: Cluster Munitions as Inhumane and Indiscriminate Weapons,” June 1999, http://www.mineaction.org/downloads/1/MCC_drop%20today%20kill%20tomorrow.pdf (accessed February 18, 2009), p. 5.

[49] Human Rights Watch interview with Batu Kutelia, then Georgian first deputy minister of defense, Tbilisi, October 21, 2008.

[50] Human Rights Watch, Flooding South Lebanon, pp. 45-48.

[51] “Country Inventories: Analysis,” in Hewson, ed., Jane's Air-Launched Weapons, p. 839.

[52] Response of Georgian Ministry of Defense to Human Rights Watch Questions, February 12, 2009.

[53] Human Rights Watch interview with Batu Kutelia, October 21, 2008.

[54] Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs, “Report of the Storimans Investigative Mission,” October 20, 2008, http://www.minbuza.nl/binaries/en-pdf/scannen0001.pdf (accessed January 28, 2009), p. 6.

[55] “RBK-500 AO-2.5 RTM Cluster Bomb,” in Hewson, ed., Jane's Air-Launched Weapons, p. 425.

[56] “220 mm Uragan Rockets,” in Ness and Williams, eds., Jane's Ammunition Handbook 2007-2008, p. 716.

[57] Human Rights Watch interview with Amir Musanovic, technical advisor, Norwegian People’s Aid, Ruisi, October 15, 2008.

[58] For information on how many submunitions Uragan rockets carry, see “220 mm Uragan Rockets,” in Ness and Williams, eds., Jane's Ammunition Handbook 2007-2008, p. 716.

[59] Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs, “Report of the Storimans Investigative Mission,” p. 6. See also Human Rights Watch telephone interview with Adriaan Jacobovits, former ambassador and head of Storimans Investigative Mission, November 19, 2008.

[60] Human Rights Watch has not been able to determine the significance of the difference between the red and white ribbons. This conflict was the first in which it saw the red ribbons. British forces used white-ribboned versions in Iraq, and the Israelis did the same in Lebanon. Norway possesses, but has not used, the red-ribboned variety. The Georgian Ministry of Defense told Human Rights Watch it knows of “no technical difference” between the two models. Response of Georgian Ministry of Defense to Human Rights Watch Questions, February 12, 2009.

[61] “Ribbon Oriented Dual Purpose Submunition,” Database of Demining Incidents and Victims, 2008, http://www.ddasonline.com/SubsKB1-M42.htm (accessed November 17, 2008).

[62] “IMI LAR-160 and AccuLAR 16 mm Rockets,” in Ness and Williams, eds., Jane's Ammunition Handbook 2007-2008, pp. 714-715.

[63] For technical information, see “Georgian Ministry of Defence's Response to the Human Rights Watch Inquire [sic] about the Usage of M85 Bomblets,” Georgian Ministry of Defense press release, September 1, 2008, http://www.mod.gov.ge/?l=E&m=11&sm=0&id=1046 (accessed March 30, 2009).

[64] Military experts from numerous countries that stockpile the M85 or variants of it have made this claim in discussions with Human Rights Watch during sessions of the CCW in recent years.

[65] For a detailed discussion of the M85 with self-destruct device and its failure in Lebanon, see C. King Associates, Ltd., Norwegian Defence Research Establishment, and Norwegian People's Aid, M85: An Analysis of Reliability (Norway: Norwegian People's Aid, 2007). See also information provided by Ove Dullum, Chief Scientist, Norwegian Defence Research Establishment, April 19, 2007; Chris Clark, program manager, Mine Action Coordination Center–South Lebanon, "Unexploded Cluster Bombs and Submunitions in South Lebanon: Reliability from a Field Perspective," presented at the International Committee of the Red Cross Expert Meeting, Montreux, Switzerland, April 18-20, 2007; email communication from Dalya Farran, media and post clearance officer, Mine Action Coordination Center–South Lebanon, to Human Rights Watch, January 16, 2008. For further information on the use and failure of M85s in Lebanon, see Human Rights Watch, Flooding South Lebanon, pp. 30-32, 45-48.