Artillery: August 17, 2003

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Dud bomblets from DPICM (Dual Purpose Improved Conventional Munition) 155mm artillery shells and MLRS rockets continued to cause problems in Iraq. The bomblets have been redesigned several times since the 1960s to reduce the dud rate (failure of the detonation or self-destruct mechanism) but there appears to still be a dud rate of at least a few percent. This was a problem 1991, during the Kuwait campaign. In Iraq, as it is in any combat situation, the dud bomblets are a danger to American troops as well as civilians. Each 155mm shell carries 88 bomblets, while each MLRS rocket has 644. A typical MLRS attack using 38 rockets, putting 24,320 bomblets into action. But from 480-1200 of these bomblets would be duds. Not only are people walking over the ground these duds are on at risk, but low flying aircraft are as well. Helicopters hovering low over areas containing dud bomblets have set some of them off, damaging the aircraft.

But the DPICM is very, very effective against enemy troops. The bomblets are basically anti-vehicle weapons with a fragmentation effect that kills or injures most people within 20 feet of one going off. The MLRS rockets only use bomblets. The DPICM was particularly useful in Iraq, where many Iraqi units were caught in the open. While the next version of DPICM (due out soon) many get the dud rate down to under one percent, another new bomblet (SADARM) proved very effective and suffered no duds (at least that anyone has found.) But SADARM is a larger and more expensive bomblet. There are only two in each 155mm artillery shell (more, when dropped in a bomb). One battalion fired 108 SADARM shells and destroyed 48 enemy vehicles. SADARM uses radar and heat sensing to detect vehicles as it descends, and uses a special shaped charge explosive to destroy armored and unarmored vehicles. 

What some American artillery officers are calling for are GPS guided MLRS rockets carrying high explosive. This would deliver a "smart bomb" equal in destructive capability to something between a 250 or 500 pound bomb. The air force is building 250 pound GPS guided bombs because they have found these can be as destructive as unguided 2000 pound bombs. GPS guided artillery shells are too expensive, but regular high expensive artillery shells proved accurate enough in Iraq. These shells were especially useful in urban areas, especially Baghdad, where DPICM are less useful (because there are too many places for enemy troops to take cover from the effects of bomblet fragments.)

The Iraq campaign gave American artillery more of a workout than did the 1991 war, and many changes can be expected to result. 

 


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