Artillery: June 22, 2003


Cluster bombs, a technology that was developed four decades ago, is becoming obsolete because of smart bombs and bad publicity. Cluster bombs are usually  a one thousand pound bomb that releases up to 200 or more smaller bomblets, were used widely during the Vietnam war. It's estimated that some 285 million bomblets were dropped on Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos during the war. The cluster bombs ability to cover a large area with lethal bomblets had great appeal to the air force. But five percent, or more, of the bomblets did not go off when they were supposed to. Or if they were delayed action bomblets, they did not self destruct when they were supposed to. This meant that there were at least 14 million of these bomblets lying around. Many, no one is sure how many, were really duds. But others would, if handled, explode, killing or maiming whoever was nearby. There have always been dud munitions, be they bombs, shells, mines or hand grenades. These lethal "duds" are still being encountered after being used in wars over a century ago. But the 20th century put the most dud munitions into the ground. The problem with cluster munitions (now used in artillery shells and rockets as well) is that there are more of them, they are on the surface (not buried like dud bombs and shells) and they are smaller (and thus harder to spot, and easier for kids to pick up and turn into a plaything). You can reduce the dud rate to less than one percent, but this doubles the price of the bomblets and you still have duds out there. These dud bomblets are a risk to your own troops as well. After the 1991 Gulf War, over sixty coalition troops were killed or injured by dud bomblets. The trend is away from lots of bomblets, towards larger, "smarter" and more reliable submunitions. The SADARM submunition was used for the first time in Iraq and was very successful. This anti-vehicle weapon is delivered by artillery shell (two SADARM per 155mm shell), MLRS rocket (six SADARM) or by bomb (a dozen or more SADARM). An even "smarter" anti vehicle weapon, BAT, is just entering service. But the army still likes cluster bomb because of their effectiveness against enemy troops and their cost (SADARM costs over a hundred times as much as a bomblet). But the downside of cluster bombs may bring about their demise. Just like chemical weapons were dropped for psychological, not military, reasons, the same may happen with cluster munitions.


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