Modern cluster bombs are of two main typesCthose delivered by surface artillery or rockets (including155mm and 203mm artillery projectiles and Multiple-Launch Rocket System rockets), and those delivered by air. The bombs are designed to disperse submunitions (often called Agrenades@ in ground-delivered weapons and Abomblets@ in air-delivered weapons) over a large area, thereby increasing the radius of destructive effect over a target. The large number delivered increases the density of explosives in the target area, with submunitions designed to strike every few feet or so. They saturate an area with explosives and tiny flying shards of steel. Depending on the type, bomblets can be dispersed to areas as large as the size of several football fields. An air attack typically disperses thousands of submunitions within a small space; a common target area for a single weapon covers an area of roughly 100 x 50 meters.
Air-delivered cluster bombs are composed of a large dispenser with attached fins (called the tactical munitions dispenser (TMD) in the newest systems); fuses and electronic devices to control, spin, and direct the weapon during fall; and submunitions or bomblets. The bomblets themselves are of a variety of designs. Submunitions for the older CBU-52/B are softball sized, the CBU-58A/B and CBU-71/B have baseball-sized bomblets, and the Mk20 Rockeye carries dart-shaped bomblets with a small fuse in the point end. Once released, cluster bomb units (CBUs) fall for a specified amount of time or distance before the dispenser opens, allowing the submunitions to cover a wide-area target. Depending on the type, the submunitions are activated by an internal fuse, and can detonate above ground, at impact, or in a delayed mode.
Cluster bombs can be set to determine height of burst and the dispersal pattern. As the aircraft drops the TMD, tail fins open and stabilize the bomb body. At the selected time or altitude, the dispenser begins to spin, the spin rate determining the dispersal pattern. As the bomblets fall and disperse, they arm in different ways depending on their design. In the case of the CBU-87 soda-can sized bomblets (individually called BLU-97s), a Aspider@ cup is stripped off the body, releasing a spring which pushes out a nylon Aparachute@ (called the decelerator), which inflates and then stabilizes and arms the bomblet. The bomblets orient perpendicular to the ground for optimal top attack, and the descent is slowed to approximately 125 feet per second. On impact the primary firing mechanism detonates the bomblet.20 A secondary firing system is included to detonate if the bomblet impacts other than straight on, or if the bomblet lands in soft terrain or water.21
The newest BLU-97s on the CBU-87 are made up of the parachute-like decelerator, the firing system and fuse, and the downward-firing shaped charge, all packed in a steel case with a fire-starting (incendiary) zirconium ring. The case is the main part, made of scored steel designed to break into approximately 300 preformed thirty-grain fragments upon detonation of the internal explosive. The fragments then travel at extremely high velocities in all directions. The explosive shaped charge (a formed molten copper jet slug) is the primary antiarmor weapon. If the bomblet has been properly oriented, the downward-firing charge travels at 2,570 feet per second upon detonation. The zirconium ring provides for fuel and other fires by spreading small incendiary fragments.
The impact diameter of individual cluster bomblets can vary from 250 to 500 feet, depending on the altitude of detonation. The shaped charge has the ability to penetrate five inches of armor on contact. The tiny steel case fragments are powerful enough to damage light armor and trucks at fifty feet, and to cause human injury at 500 feet. The incendiary ring can start fires in any combustible environment.
Widespread Cluster Bomb Use in the Gulf War
The 1991 Gulf war saw the most extensive and widespread use of cluster bombs in the history of armed conflict, both air- and ground-delivered. Given the flexibility in delivery modes for the newer bombs, particularly the capacity for delivery at extremely high speeds, and the reliability in comparison with Vietnam-era cluster bombs, CBU-87s became, according to the U.S. Air Force, the Aweapon of choice.@22 About one quarter of the total number of weapons dropped by aircraft on Iraq and Kuwait were cluster bombs, a total of 62,000 air-delivered cluster bombs. In addition, some 100,000 Dual-Purpose Improved Conventional Munition (DPICM) artillery shells and 10,000 MLRS rockets were expended (see Table 2). This translates, overall, into the dispersal of somewhere on the order of 24-30 million submunitions.23 Assuming a dud rate of 5 percent, the number of individual live submunitions left on the battlefield, and in other areas of Iraq and Kuwait, can be reasonably estimated to be, at a minimum, 1.2 to 1.5 million.
Cluster bombs were used in attacks demanding dispersed yet fairly accurate damage against fixed Asoft@ targets (for example, radar, surface-to-air missile, and communications installations). Air-delivered cluster bombs were also in high demand for attacks intended to destroy Iraq=s widely dispersed tanks, armored personnel carriers, and artillery guns. They were extensively used in attacks on the Iraqi transportation system as part of the effort to find and destroy mobile Scud missiles. Aircraft patrolling from medium and high altitudes randomly delivered cluster bombs on roads and highways, and around culverts and bridges suspected of being missile traveling routes or hide sites.24 From February 19 onwards, in addition, B-52 heavy bombers flying at extremely high altitudes dropped cluster bombs on suspected Scud launch areas and on roads leading to these areas, releasing bombs at timed intervals.25 Towards the end of the war, B-52 bombers, together with many types of tactical fighter aircraft, also delivered cluster bombs on tank and vehicle columns retreating from Kuwait, including along the so-called Ahighway of death.@26 In northern Iraq, in addition, aircraft flying from Turkey dropped cluster bombs on military and dual-purpose civilian installations.
Bombing from medium or high altitudes had a significant impact on both cluster bomb accuracy and reliability. Not only was there a greater dispersal pattern for the submunitions than was intended with low-altitude delivery, but pilots were outside the range needed to make sighting corrections or assess damage.27 Vietnam-era CBU-52/58/71 cluster bombs, intended originally solely for low-altitude delivery, also Aperformed poorly throughout the war,@ according to the Gulf War Air Power Survey.28
One of the unexpected problems involved in medium- and high-altitude delivery of cluster bombs in Operation Desert Storm, even with the newer CBU-87s, was that the weapons began to experience what has been termed Aexcessively high dud rates.@29 Despite contact fuses and secondary firing systems, an enormous number of submunitions failed to detonate, particularly when landing in soft sand, shallow water, or mud.
One of the most immediate problems raised by the large number of unexploded bomblets that was being observed on the ground was the threat to U.S. and coalition forces in ground operations. The situation became so critical that the use of cluster bombs by aircraft was cut back by U.S. Central Command during the ground war for fear of friendly casualties.30 As the ground war began, in some instances, Aground movement came to a halt because units were afraid of encountering unexploded ordnance.@31 Troops with the U.S. 1st Armored Division said that the principal threat they faced was Aunexploded ordnance believed to have been left over from an earlier American bombardment.@32 The Washington Post observed on March 3 that Aunits of the army=s 1st Cavalry Division that had suffered no combat casualties in their unopposed drive through southern Iraq have seen several of their soldiers killed or wounded by bombs or mines in the area they are holding.@33
Post-war injuries to U.S. and U.K. soldiers from submunitions on the battlefield, mostly because of excessively high dud rates of one type of grenades in the 155mm artillery projectile and MLRS rockets, subsequently received much press attention in the United States and Britain, as well as U.S. Congressional interest. The General Accounting Office (GAO) concluded that during Operation Desert Storm at least twenty-five U.S. military personnel were killed and others were injured by submunitions fired by their own forces.34 Unexploded submunitions also caused many casualties among disposal specialists.35
Dangers to the Civilian Population
The use of cluster bombs in Kuwait, on and around roads in southern, northern, and western Iraq, as well as in urban areas in Iraq led to a particularly hazardous situation for the noncombatant civilian populations of both Iraq and Kuwait.36 Almost immediately after the end of the fighting, the civilian impact from the large scale-use of submunitions became evident. Soldiers found large amounts of unexploded submunitions and air-delivered mines in areas outside the immediate battlefield. In the Iraqi town of Safwan, for example, as the refugee population swelled after the cease-fire, Athe number of injuries caused by unexploded ordnance rose alarmingly.@37 There were widespread and consistent reports of Iraqi and Kuwaiti civilians being killed or injured by unexploded bomblets from coalition cluster bombs. Unexploded submunitions were a hazard to Kurdish refugees and foreign relief operations in the north.38
The widespread and indiscriminate use of cluster bombs in civilian areas thus generally impeded post-war recovery for the civilian population. Iraqi authorities claim to have cleared over one-half million items of unexploded ordnance in urban areas of the country, and removed tens of thousands of unexploded submunitions from electrical power plants and telephone, television, and radio communications installations, from the approaches to bridges, and from civilian neighborhoods.39 Even if the Iraqi authorities and the experiences of other observers in Iraq were not to be believed, one of the first tasks of the Allied forces in extinguishing the oil fires in Kuwait after the war was clearing unexploded ordnance, particularly coalition submunitions. The Kuwaiti minister for electricity and water stated that delays in restoring services were caused by the discovery of Aunexploded cluster bombs and minefields at crucial spots in the electric grid.@40
Cluster bomb submunitions that failed to detonate were also responsible for a considerable portion of the immediate post-war civilian injuries in Iraq.41 It is estimated that more than 1,600 civilians (400 Iraqi and 1,200 Kuwaiti) were killed and over 2,500 injured in the first two years after the end of the Gulf war from accidents involving submunitions.42
A particular problem for the civilian population, particularly children, was the very design of the submunitions. AToy-size bombs designed to kill tanks and soldiers [also] appear as white lawn darts, green baseballs, orange-striped soda cans,@ one report from Kuwait reported almost a year after the war ended. These attractively arrayed and intriguing unexploded submunitions Aproved deadly to children.@43 Kuwaiti doctors stated that some 60 percent of the victims of unexploded ordnance injuries were children aged fifteen and under.44
The Alawn darts@ referred to are Vietnam-era Rockeye submunitions that were used in huge numbers in 1991. The baseball-like remnants are from older CBU-52/58/71 cluster bombs and the ground artillery- and rocket-delivered bomblets. The orange-striped Asoda cans@ are the distinct remnants of the BLU-97 bomblets from the CBU-87 and the British BL755.
The distinct shapes and colors of cluster bomb submunitions have posed particular hazards in Iraq and Kuwait, but even so, these live submunitions have been far less detectable than large unexploded bombs, particularly as they were covered by shifting sand or pools of water. In addition, with anti-handling fuses on some submunitions, and a deterioration of inexpensive electronic components caused by the passage of time and widely fluctuating temperatures, there came to exist Aperhaps the most dangerous pieces of ordnance in our arsenal, from a dud-fired standpoint...They can only be blown in place or neutralized remotely.@45
20 A crushed piezoelectric crystal generates an electrical pulse that is sent through a cable to the Mk 96 detonator, initiating the explosion. Capt. Kelly Leggette, AThe Air Force=s New Cluster WeaponCThe Combined Effects Munition,@ USAF Fighter Weapons Review, Spring 1986, pp. 24-32.
21 The working of the secondary firing mechanism is described as follows: AAt impact, a loose steel ball at the base of the secondary fuse moves outward, regardless of the impact angle, forcing a sleeve upward....This movement releases the secondary firing pin release balls and allows the firing pin spring to force the firing pin into a Mk 55 stab detonator which in turn crushes a second piezoelectric crystal. The resultant burst of electrical current is routed to the Mk 96 detonator and initiates the explosive train in the same manner as the primary fuse. Ibid.
22 U.S. Air Force, Gulf War Air Power Survey (GWAPS), vol. 3, part 1 (1993), p. 246 (hereafter referred to as GWAPS).
23 This is based on the calculation of the number of artillery shells times seventy-two submunitions each, rockets times 644 submunitions each, and bombs times an average of two hundred submunitions each.
24 F-16 aircraft primarily delivered CBU-87s in eastern Iraq as part of these operations, and the F-111F aircraft delivered CBU-89 Gator antitank and antipersonnel mines in western Iraq. GWAPS, vol. 4, part 1, pp. 43, 48.
25 Ibid., p. 290.
26 Ibid., p. 231.
27 Ibid., vol. 2, part 2, pp. 162-163.
28 Ibid., vol. 2, part 1, p. 261. See also Ibid., vol. 4, part 1, p. 222.
29 Ibid., vol. 2, part 1, p. 261. See also GWAPS, vol. 4, part 1, p. 222.
30 ALarge quantities of cluster bombs were never used after the start of the ground war because of the rapid advance of allied forces and the fear that they would encounter undetonated bomblets.@ U.S. Congress, General Accounting Office, ALimitations on the Role and Performance of B-52 Bombers in Conventional Conflicts,@ B-252126, June 22, 1993, p. 61.
31 U.S. Congress, General Accounting Office, AOperation Desert Storm: Casualties Caused,@ p. 9.
32 Douglas Jehl, Los Angeles Times, Pool Report with the 1st Armored Division, February 25, 1991.
33 William Branigan, AGruesome Examples of Horrors of War Abound in Iraqi Desert,@ Washington Post, March 3, 1991.
34 U.S. Congress, General Accounting Office, AOperation Desert Storm: Casualties Caused.@ The GAO investigation solely related to the Army=s experience with its own M42, M46 and M77 artillery- and rocket-delivered submunitions. According to AEOD Alert,@ Marine Corps Gazette, January 1994, p. 9, thirty U.S. soldier deaths and 104 injuries were caused by unexploded ordnance overall.
35 A90 Explosive Experts Killed So Far -- Heat May Add to Pollution Problem,@ Arab Times, July 8, 1992.
36 Frank P. Ragano, AOperation Desert Sweep Ousts Battlefield Waste,@ National Defense, March 1994, p. 30; Pamela Pohling-Brown, ACMS Goes Clean and Green,@ International Defense Review, February 1993, p. 132; John Boatman, ASweep up after the Storm,@ Jane=s Defence Weekly, May 9, 1992; Ron Martz, AMines Pose Hidden Danger in Kuwait,@ Atlanta Journal & Constitution, December 15, 1991; John G. Roos, ACMS Encountered Minefield in US Before Winning Kuwait Clean-Up Award,@ Armed Forces Journal International, November 1991, p. 24; Nash, ARO in Kuwait@; Atkinson, ADoing a Bang-up Job@; and Branigan, AGruesome Examples.@
37 U.S. Army, Office of the Chief of Staff, Certain Victory: The U.S. Army in the Gulf War (1993), pp. 321, 328.
38 U.S. Congress, Senate Armed Services Committee, Operation Desert Shield/Desert Storm, Hearings, 1991, p. 35. See also Clyde Haberman, AIn Kurdish Havens, the Big Danger is Underfoot,@ Washington Post, May 27, 1991. According to 39th Tactical Group, Incirlik Air Base, Turkey, AChallenges Overcome During Operations Desert Storm and Provide Comfort,@ n.d. (1993), released under the Freedom of Information Act, explosive ordnance disposal experts cleared 2.7 tons of unexploded ordnance from the runways and operating areas of the northernmost Iraqi airfield bombed in Sirsenk. Of course, the major danger to the Kurdish population was presented by the landmines emplaced by Iraq both during the Iran-Iraq war and the Gulf war. See Middle East Watch, Hidden Deaths: Land Mines and Civilian Casualties in Iraqi Kurdistan (New York: October 1992).
39 This is based on testimony and observations of the first Harvard Study Team in Iraq in May 1991, and by the International Study Team in Iraq in August-September 1991. See also ATeams Defuse 11 U.S.-Made Bombs in Ninawa,@ Baghdad INA (Iraqi News Agency), FBIS-NES-93-099, May 25, 1993, p. 35; ACluster Bombs Kill Boy 16 Apr,@ Baghdad INA, FBIS-NES-93-073, April 19, 1993, p. 22; AEngineers Clear Saddam Dam Area of Cluster Bombs,@ Baghdad INA, FBIS-NES-93-071, April 15, 1993, p. 19; ACivil Defense Says 464,599 Bombs Defused Through Feb,@ Baghdad INA, FBIS-NES-93-040, March 3, 1993, p. 18; ABombs, Other Ammunition Defused in Dhi Qar,@ Baghdad INA, FBIS-NES-92-245, December 21, 1992, p. 32; A16 Cluster Bombs Defused in al-Muthanna Province,@ Baghdad INA, FBIS-NES-92-218, November 10, 1992, p. 34; ARecent Destruction of Munitions in al-Basrah,@ Baghdad INA, FBIS-NES-92-128, July 2, 1992, p. 21; AExploding War Bombs Causing Civilian Casualties,@ Baghdad INA, FBIS-NES-91-243, December 18, 1991, p. 22; AOrdnance Defused in al-Anbar,@ Baghdad INA, FBIS-NES-91-243, December 18, 1991, p. 22; A>Text= of Ministry Statement on Defused Bombs,@ Baghdad INA, FBIS-NES-91-228, November 26, 1991, p. 21; and AU.S.-Kuwaiti Force Reportedly >Infiltrated= Farms,@ Baghdad INA, FBIS-NES-91-204, October 22, 1991, p. 12.
40 Tom Diaz, ABasic needs still unmet in Kuwait,@ Washington Times, March 18, 1991. See also Eliot Marshall, ATo Stop Kuwait=s Fires, First Clear the Mines,@ Science, June 21, 1991, p. 1609. The submunitions were not limited to purely military targets. At one elementary school alone in Fahaheel neighborhood of Kuwait City technicians recovered 1,220 Rockeye submunitions. Brady, AKuwaitis dying.@
41 This was certainly the case in the immediate post-war period (see, for example, Nora Boustany, ABorder Town Becomes Wasteland of Refugees,@ Washington Post, March 20, 1991; and Susan Okie, A30,000 Fleeing War Get Shelter in Iran, U.N. Officials Say,@ Washington Post, March 20, 1991), and continues even to this day.
42 The Iraqi figures are derived from interviews conducted by the author of this report, William Arkin, with Iraqi civil defense officials in August-September 1991 and February 1993. The Kuwaiti figures were estimated by the Kuwaiti Defense Ministry and from discussions with analysts at the National Ground Intelligence Center. See also Brady, AKuwaitis dying@; NBC Nightly News, April 29, 1991; Matthew L. Wald, AMines and Old Bombs Are Still a Threat in Kuwait,@ New York Times, May 12, 1991; Nora Boustany ABorder Town@; and Susan Okie, A30,000 Fleeing War.@
43 Cited in Brady, AKuwaitis dying.@
45 AOrdnance advice ignored,@ Letter to the Editor, Army Times, May 18, 1992, p. 30.
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