Armor: August 22, 2001


After some depleted uranium penetrator rods were found in a scrap metal yard, South Africa admitted that Armscor had briefly produced DU ammunition in the early 1980s. The impetus for this program was the arrival of Cuban T-55 tanks in Angola in the late 1970s. At that time, South Africa's army had only ancient Centurion tanks with 87mm guns and Eland-90 armored cars with low-pressure 90mm guns. As South Africa was involved in the Angolan War, Cuba's involvement threatened to spark a larger African war, one in which the South African armor could not compete. South Africa launched a crash program to upgrade its Centurions into 105mm guns. But even this was considered insufficient, and Armscor began work on a depleted uranium penetrator for the 105mm guns. About 2100 penetrators were made (only a few of which were installed in shells and test fired). The project was terminated a few years later. South Africa had pulled out of Angola, its defense budget was shrinking, environmental concerns over DU ammunition were growing, and alternative ammunition (tungsten) was proving to be nearly as effective. The penetrators were handed over to the Nuclear Energy Council and the few that had been fired were dug out of the target ranges. No one can explain how three of them ended up at a scrap metal company.--Stephen V Cole


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