Friday, August 11, 2006

Unexploded ordnance danger to Lebanese

When hostilities finally cease, whether attained though force of arms or diplomatic means, Lebanese civilians will still face the danger of unexploded Israeli munitions, especially in southern Lebanon.
According to experts, Israeli forces have been firing around 3,000 rockets, artillery shells, cluster bombs, and other artillery into Lebanon each day, for the past 27 days of the conflict.

It is estimated that around 10 percent of these munitions have not exploded, so it is likely there are more than 7,000 unexploded munitions across the conflict zone.
There's no doubt that some weapons dropped or fired by Israeli forces have turned out "dud." The dud rate for ordinary bombs or artillery shells is extremely low, significantly less than one percent. So far, according to news reports, the IDF (Israeli army) has fired just over 100,000 artillery rounds into southern Lebanon. Not all of these were explosive, though; a large number were illuminating, or flare rounds and some other numbers were smoke for concealment of IDF troops as they moved across the battlefield. Nonetheless, the vast majority would have been explosive rounds or bomblet rounds.

Artillery bomblets, called DPICM, are packed 88 per shell, each bomblet weighing less than a pound. In the air, over the target, the shell casing breaks apart and the DPICM bomblets are dispersed as they fall.

They are principally designed to penetrate light armor. Their dud rate ranges from two to five percent when they fall onto hard-packed soil or rock, and higher when falling upon steeply sloping or soft terrain such as mud or snow.

If only five percent of the IDF's artillery rounds have been DPCIM, though, that means that potentially several thousand bomblets did not explode.

Since 1991's Gulf War, when the US first identified the severe problems unexploded DPICM causes for postwar activities, US DPICM bomblets have been manufactured with a failsafe mechanism that explodes duds after an short interval has passed. Whether the IDF's munitions include this failsafe I do not know.

The IDF has fired some MLRS artillery rockets at Hezbollah positions. These are filled with 644 DPICM per rocket; there are no MLRS rockets with a solid-explosive warhead.

Based on the target types the Israeli Air Force has attacked, the vast majority of aerial bombs dropped have been high-explosive bombs ("iron bombs"), not cluster bombs. Cluster bombs are militarily ineffective against infrastructure targets. Nonetheless, it can be expected that some number of cluster bombs have been used against Hezbollah positions in southern Lebanon. These bomblets are much larger, weighing up to 40 pounds each. They are actually less dangerous to postwar civilians than DPICM because they are much more easily seen and can be avoided.

There is also an artillery shell called FASCAM that lays down instant minefields, with either antipersonnel or antiarmor mines. The mines are of either "short delay" or "long delay," referring to the time that elapses before each mine detonates on its own. These shells, if the IDF is even using them, will present practically no postwar hazard.

Even with the best dud rates of bomblets, there will be a signficant hazard for people after they move back to their homes in southern Lebanon. Particularly dangerous are the DPICM bomblets because they may be covered by a thin layer of soil from wind or rain runoff. They are small and difficult to see even lying on top of the ground. This will indeed be a serious postwar issue.

Update: The United States has agreed to sell Israel more artillery rockets, of the kind fired by the US-made Multiple Launch Rocket System. (I served as operations officer for 3d Battalion, 27th Field Artillery, based at Ft Bragg, NC and which was equipped with 27 MLRS launchers.) A single laucnher holds 12 rockets at a time. They can be fired singly or up to all 12, which takes 48 seconds. One launcher's full load carries more than 7,700 DPCIM bomblets ("submunitions" as they are called). The impact area of all those submunitions encompasses 600,000 square meters, or 60 percent of a square kilometer. This weapon was used with very deadly effect in 1991's Gulf War against Iraqi artilery - so lethal was MLRS that Iraqi soldiers called it "steel rain" (the few who lived through it, anyway).
Israel has long told American officials that it wanted M-26 [MLRS] rockets for use against conventional armies in case Israel was invaded, one of the American officials said. But after being pressed in recent days on what they intended to use the weapons for, Israeli officials disclosed that they planned to use them against [Hezbollah] rocket sites in Lebanon. It was this prospect that raised the intense concerns over civilian casualties. ...

State Department officials "are discussing whether or not there needs to be a block on this sale because of the past history and because of the current circumstances," said the senior official, adding that it was likely that Israel will get the rockets, but will be told to be "be careful." ...

In the case of cluster munitions, including the Multiple Launch Rocket System, which fires the M-26 [rocket], the Israeli military only fires into open terrain where rocket launchers or other military targets are found, to avoid killing civilians, an Israeli official said.
That means that if Hezbollah decides to continue rocketing northern Israel it will simply locate its launchers in urban areas near civilians, as it has been doing all along.

The M-26 standard rocket ranges out to 30 kilometers. There is an extended-range model that flies considerably farther but carries fewer submunitions to make room for more rocket fuel. In the 1980s the US Army developed a rocket called ATACMS that ranges to 150 kilometers, also with a DPICM warhead. This rocket is so large that an MLRS launcher can carry only two, but its DPICM load is much greater. This rocket has been sold to few other countries, Turkey, Greece, South Korea, and Bahrain being examples.

MLRS was designed in the late 1970s to attack large armored Soviet formations if the USSR ever invaded western Europe. It is so powerful that it replaced 8-inch howitzers in the US Army. That the 8-inch howitzer was capable of firing atomic projectiles and the MLRS is not reveals a lot about its destructive capability.


At Mon Aug 14, 01:03:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I just came across your blog today. I am so gratefull for your analysis, for your willingness to use your expertise to give us the details and information mainstream media often neglects.

Your church is lucky to have you--as someone who has a clear understanding of what is happening in the world.

Keep writing.


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