As if the depleted uranium shells weren’t bad enough!
The top Republicans on the House and Senate foreign affairs and armed services committees sent a letter to President Joe Biden last week urging him to supply Ukraine with cluster munitions, specifically the Dual-Purpose Improved Conventional Munition (DPICM). While not without risks, providing DPICMs could ease Kyiv’s artillery ammunition shortage, which undermines Ukraine’s ability to repel Russian advances and may hamper its upcoming counteroffensive.
The DPICM is a type of warhead that releases smaller explosive submunitions, increasing lethality. Most relevant for Ukraine are the M483A1 and M864 artillery shells, which Ukraine’s Western-made 155mm artillery systems can fire.
As the lawmakers note, DPICMs “are highly effective against personnel — both enemy troops in the open and entrenched infantry — and mechanized vehicles.
The United States relied on similar cluster munitions during the Cold War as a means of offsetting Soviet military advantages in manpower, artillery, and armored vehicles.”Russia today possesses similar numerical advantages against Ukraine, using some of the same Soviet-era vehicles that DPICMs were originally intended to defeat.
Cluster munitions are controversial because some of their submunitions typically fail to detonate, leaving behind unexploded ordnance (UXO) that can harm civilians or friendly forces.Like Washington, neither Kyiv nor Moscow has joined an international convention banning cluster munitions. (Nor has Poland or Romania, through whose territory the munitions would be delivered.) Both Russia and Ukraine have already used cluster munitions in the war.
If the cluster bombs “typically fail to detonate” it seems most likely that is a desired feature of these munitions. Or else that problem would have long been addressed
Kyiv has been asking Washington for U.S.-made cluster munitions since last summer. But the Biden administration has demurred, perhaps fearing political blowback at home and in parts of Europe. U.S. law generally prohibits the transfer of cluster munitions with a “dud” rate of over 1 percent, but the president can waive this prohibition under Section 614 of the Foreign Assistance Act. Some of the DPICM rounds in the U.S. arsenal have a dud rate of just above 1 percent, according to Under Secretary of Defense for Policy Colin Kahl.
DPICMs would ease Kyiv’s dangerous shortage of artillery ammunition. This “shell hunger” has already undermined Ukraine’s ability to repulse Russian advances around the eastern city of Bakhmut and may worsen as Western stockpiles continue to dwindle. Unless resolved, this shortage would likely hinder Ukraine’s much-anticipated counteroffensive — in which Washington and its allies have invested billions of dollars — later this spring.
DPICMs offer an untapped source of supply. According to the lawmakers, the United States possesses nearly 3 million DPICM rounds. Some are likely past their shelf life or otherwise unsuitable for Ukraine. (They’ll send the unsuitable and past their shelf life munitions) But even a few hundred thousand could make a critical difference to Ukrainian forces, who are currently firing around 3,000 to 4,000 artillery shells per day.
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