U.S. Cluster Munitions Arrive in Ukraine

July 14, 2023

Cluster munitions supplied by the United States have arrived in Ukraine, the Pentagon confirmed Thursday. 

The cluster munitions are part of a 42nd drawdown of military assistance package to Ukraine, according to the Defense Department.

Cluster munitions, or cluster bombs, are canisters that carry tens to hundreds of smaller submunitions. They can be dropped from aircraft, launched from missiles or fired from artillery, naval guns or rocket launchers.

The munitions canister then breaks open at a specified height and the submunitions, or “bomblets,” spread out over an expanse of that area. They are timed to explode close to or on the ground, where they spread shrapnel. 

Both Ukraine and Russia have used cluster bombs since Moscow’s forces invaded its sovereign neighbor in February 2022. Ukrainian forces have recently begun using Turkish-provided cluster munitions.

Cluster munitions have been banned by more than 120 countries, though not the United States, Ukraine or Russia, in part because of their high failure, or “dud,” rates. Somewhere between 10% to 40% of the munitions fail, according to the International Committee of the Red Cross. 

However, Pentagon’s latest assessments, based on testing as recent as 2020, show U.S. cluster munitions have dud rates of 2.35% or less. 

Even so, on Thursday nearly 50 House Democrats voted for an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) that would have sought to block sending cluster munitions to Ukraine. Ultimately, though, the amendment led by Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA) failed to pass by a floor vote of 147-276.

Last week, President Biden defended the decision to send Ukraine the cluster munitions, saying, “The Ukrainians are running out of ammunition.”

He added that his decision was only on a temporary basis “to allow for this transition period where we have more 155 [mm howitzer] shells for the Ukrainians, to provide them with something that has a very low dud rate.”

On the sidelines at this week’s annual NATO Summit in Lithuania, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelesnky thanked Biden for making the “difficult political decision” to send his country’s military the cluster weapons.

PHOTO: File photo of cluster bomb, Elgin Air Force Base

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