Cluster munitions will be crucial to Ukraine’s efforts to end the Russian invasion. At least that’s what Ukraine’s defense minister said on Tuesday.
In Russia, the news was not so well received. On the same day, Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu threatened to use their own cluster munitions against Ukraine, claiming they had refrained from doing so.
“Russia is aware of the threat that such munitions pose to the civilian population and has refrained from using them in a special operation,” the minister said on Tuesday. “If the United States supplies cluster munitions to Ukraine, Russian forces will be forced to use similar weapons against Ukrainian forces in response.”
Shoigu wasn’t telling the truth. In fact, Russia has been using cluster munitions since the beginning of the conflict. Moscow has not held back on its conventional systems, from cluster munitions to thermobaric weapons.
“The Kremlin had to react according to the usual pattern – with lies and boasting”
However, the threats show how seriously the Russian military takes the prospect of a Ukrainian military with large stockpiles of cluster munitions – and with good reason.
The Biden administration announced that it would send improved conventional munitions (DPICM) to Ukraine on July 6 to fill Ukraine’s artillery shortage. These cluster shells are artillery shells made up of smaller bomblets that are scattered over a large area and detonate one at a time. Contrary to previous US announcements of sending HIMARs, Patriot missiles and Abrams tanks to Ukraine, the shipment of cluster munitions excited commentators and human rights activists like never before in the conflict. For them, the issue is less about an escalation of the conflict and more about the perceived danger to civilians and the impact on international law.
The arguments for using cluster munitions are clear: the shells spread the bomblets over a larger area than a traditional artillery shell, so Ukrainian gunners need to use fewer shells to achieve the same effect. Using fewer rounds for the same effect reduces the need for ammunition, which is in short supply in Ukraine, and increases the life of the artillery pieces themselves, which require replacement and repair after intensive use. While Ukraine is in the midst of a counteroffensive, Kiev is betting that these weapons will make the fight easier.
The arguments against sending cluster munitions are more varied. Critics typically raise concerns that cluster munitions are increasing the amount of unexploded ordnance (UXO) on Ukrainian soil, question the legality of their use under international law, and claim their use will provoke a symmetric Russian escalation.
Unexploded ordnance (UXO) may pose a problem for the Ukrainian military now and endanger civilians in the future. Because cluster munitions contain so many submunitions, if they malfunction, the target area can remain intact for years and explode if stepped on. Over the past several decades, several US soldiers have been killed or injured when stepping on duds. Unexploded ordnance, whether cluster munitions or non-cluster munitions, may continue to pose a threat to civilian populations for years to come. Proponents of the use of cluster munitions against Russia do not deny the risks of UXO – rather, they see Russia’s ouster from Ukrainian soil as an absolute priority to end the conflict.
Since the main objection to clusters is the number of duds, submunition failure rate is a serious issue. The US claims it only ships ammunition with a dud rate of two percent or less, meaning that a significant deployment would leave numerous unexploded bomblets on the battlefield. Groups like the Red Cross claim the actual rate is much higher – well over 10 percent.
Not all cluster munitions have the same failure rate. The dud rate in Ukraine will depend on how the submunition is constructed and how long it has been stored. UXO appears to be an explicit concern of the Biden administration. In announcing the transfer, Pentagon officials said they would “carefully select cartridges with lower dud rates, for which we have up-to-date test data.”
In a way, the die has been cast. The US has already decided to send cluster munitions, and the Ukrainians want to use them to support their counter-offensive. Questions about duds, casualties, and future harm to civilians will depend on how widespread they are, whether the cluster makers have been honest with their dud rates, and how well Ukraine is able to handle the vast amount of duds found in the north of the Uds Land are scattered, disarm and eliminate and east.
Meanwhile, the Kremlin, unable to prevent the ammunition from being delivered, must respond in the usual way: with lies and boasting.
“It should be noted that Russia, as they say, is armed with cluster munitions for all occasions. At the same time, they are much more effective than the American ones, their range is longer and more diverse,” Shoigu said this week, adding that the Russian armed forces are “taking additional measures of an organizational and technical nature to protect personnel and equipment from attacks.” elements of cluster munitions.”