Cluster bombs; legality and ethics

Could arrsers help me out slightly?

In discussion with a good friend recently, who unfortunately is an activist for the green party. He was claiming he respects Hilary Benn for his stance on Cluster bombs; trying to get them banned internationally. I couldn't believe this stance.

Basically my understanding is that the British Army does not (or rarely) uses cluster bombs in urban areas, marks the locations of all bombs dropped and cordons + clears the area afterwards. Is this the case?

My argument is that (as far as I know) cluster bombs are used "ethically" by the British Army - more so than an example used of Israel - and for that reason cluster bombs should not be banned. They are effective and I'd rather them used and we lose as few soldiers as possible, than other means and run the risk of more deaths.

His argument was based on two ideas;
1. there is no such thing as ethical use; it is indiscriminate (and classed as an area denial weapon - which surely in the case of runways etc is).
2. The failure rate is very high (relatively), meaning high civilian casualties. I thought Brimstone was almost foolproof. Also even if we can use them "ethically" with others not using them in the same way they should be banned.

So basically; what are the opinions and arguments of those more in the know?
blokes an arrse like his father. Wants wars but doesn't want anyone to get hurt. W4nker
Brimstone isn't a cluster weapon - it is a development of Hellfire and is an anti-armour guided weapon.

As far as runway denial weapons, we've not had JP233 in service for quite some time - 'twas a silly weapon and well and truly got rid of.

If the Army uses anything 'cluster' can you tell me what it is? I was under the impression we didn't - and I'm damned sure the RAF doesn't have anything.
Your tree-hugger is both right and wrong:

1. It all depends on what is considered ethical. If they are used on a target that is solely occupied by the enemy, or which is not occupied by any civilians, (such as the middle of the desert on GRANBY) then, by my standards, they can be ethically used. It is also feasible to build in fail - safes, so that the sub-munitions self-detonate after a set period, typically well before hostilities have ceased.

2. The failure rate is high, including with US/UK weaponry. Memory fails me at this point, but I think the international planning figure is a 10% failure rate (you'll have to check with some of the demining organisations, or any EOD buddies). This means that the area remains a hazard, as any fail-safe devices are also liable to, themselves, fail.

When all's said and done, there is still a requirement for Area Denial, be it by submunitions or pre-laid mines. Why look for a firefight with an en BG, when you can surround them with AT submunitions and stop them going anywhere?

My opinion is that they can be ethically used, but in a very restricted set of circumstances. And that more work needs to be done on reducing the failure rates. I would suggest asking your tree-hugger (who is, I am sure, a perfectly reasonable chap), how he would reach deep behind enemy lines and stop the bad guys from repairing a critical crossing point, without causing significant risk to his own side. Then again, if he can understand the requirement for such an act, he's probably not much of a hippy?
...I would also add that banning the " Good Guys " from using a weapon does not prevent the " Bad Guys " from using it themselves. AP landmines ring a bell? Anyone think the Chinese / Iranians etc don't use them?

It's the way that the weapon is used that counts, not the weapon itself.
The term Cluster-bomb tends to be used for anything that drops submunitions these days. So in terms of UK (although I'm not sure what is still in use these days) think, 155 & MLRS. Even AT-2 is considered a cluster bomb by some.

Modern submunitions all have a self destruct mechanism these days... thus cutting down on the ethical (anti-pers-type) problem of duds (which sometimes ran up in the 20% bracket). Those that were designed to carry anti-personel mines are banned by the Ottawa Convention.

Crabby... I think you ought to ask your freind to define Cluster Bomb. If he can't then he's an arse. Then ask him why dispensing munitions in this fashon increases the collateral risk over an above any other conventional munition released at a high rate of fire. Then suggest he focus on banning anti-tank mine booby trapping and all other forms of victim operated switching including banning fuses which when dud act in the same manner. I agree that the cluster bomb has had a chequered past, but I don't think it's to do with the "Cluster bomb" dispenser itself.


The Army's ownership of "cluster" munitions is limited to certain 155 Howitzer rounds and MLRS warheads. The intended effect of these rounds were to have an anti armour and limited AP effect over a largish area.

The intended target was the massed armoured forces of the Soviet Union crossing the German border. They were all designed as impact weapons and do not have an intended subsidiary effect (ie they are not scatterable mines by design). This is not to say that they have a significant failure rate and that the UXO after effect is not significant, but this is more down to cutting corners in procurement than intended outcome.

I suppose this is yet another example of unintended consequences.....

One theory about all these scatterable munitions places the blame squarely with the West Germans. It goes like this...

Sometime in the seventies the W German government changed the warning times for the deployment of defensive works. Essentially they cut the time available for NATO to lay defensive minefields to the point where manual laying was impossible and mechanical solutions had to be developed. Most NATO countries went out to tender to procure scatterable mine systems and the arms industry geared up to supply.

Over about three or four years NATO had procured and stored all these new systems, but the arms manufacturers (particularly those which has developed systems that were not bought by NATO) still had the manufacturing lines to make scatterable mines, so what did they do... run em on and flog the ouput to all comers....

This is why the Falklands are still lousy with these mines!


All the toe rag states are able to buy cut price mines and scatter them wherever they fancy, but legitimate armies are denied the ability to sleep sound in forward areas without deploying 2/3 rd of the troops on stag!

Brilliant - now how does it go? Foot - Bullet - Shoot!


Modern DPICM as used by Royal Artillery PLC have a very low dud rate. ERBS L20 A1 has a black powder charge that begins to burn once the Bomblet is dispensed - if the munitions fail to function this charge causes them to self destruct.

The Israelis’ are using the M483 US Shell which is available in huge numbers but has a very poor dud rate - we stopped using this years ago


Mr_C_Hinecap said:
Brimstone isn't a cluster weapon - it is a development of Hellfire and is an anti-armour guided weapon.

As far as runway denial weapons, we've not had JP233 in service for quite some time - 'twas a silly weapon and well and truly got rid of.

If the Army uses anything 'cluster' can you tell me what it is? I was under the impression we didn't - and I'm damned sure the RAF doesn't have anything.

We lost 75% of the jets on Op Granby on JP233 drops.Problem with that thing was the pilot had to fly straight & level along the target strip,ie runway.
And it was a pain in the arrse to load up onto the Tornado!We used a hovecraft like loader & quite often the bl**dy thing would break down!


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... a classic example of bad use of the weapon. Dropping submunitions in a wooded area is guaranteed to give you a very high dud rate. Combine that with the relatively high level of civvy occupation and you have a recipe for disaster.

Bos/Kos is absolutely not the right place to use them.
My apologies on the Brimstone c0ck up.

Thanks for the info; I was still thinking of JP233 and didn't realise it was out of service.

I'd have thought MLRS could count; due to capability of dropping "bomblets" and "mines".

He would not accept my argument on our "ethical"/"appropriate" use of these technologies; saying they should be banned due to other countries making a mess of things (not just 2nd rate 3rd world, but Israel etc).

I was trying to convince him that UXO or unmarked landmines are a pain in the arrse for an army; not useful. All minefields (AP and AT) in WWII were marked (as deterance; land denial), most covered by fire (pointless otherwise) and locations were clearly kept as when you want to advance through that ground a hidden mine doesn't know friend from foe. However this just got me into deeper trouble trying to defend use of AP mines (when countries such as Russia, Serbs, Iran, Iraq, African nations etc etc have such awful track records), which didn't really help
crabby said:
My argument is that (as far as I know) cluster bombs are used "ethically" by the British Army -

Somewhat of an oxymoron but yes I gt your point.

more so than an example used of Israel - and for that reason cluster bombs should not be banned.

A good reason to ban them me thinks. If your side use them 'etthically' but the opposing side don't surely it is more in your intrest to not have them at all. OK there is still the risk that they will be used illegally but not as much risk as if they were legal.


My 10p's worth is based on a short visit I undertook on behalf of Landmine Action to their project in Western Sahara during which I did a bit of light reading on this topic.

The European Parliment Resolution on Cluster Bombs in 2001 calling on States Parties to the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons(CCW) to 'declare an immediate moratorium until an international agreement has been negotiated on the regulation, restriction or banning of the use, production and transfer of cluster munitions and sub-munitions delivered by missiles, rockets and artillery projectiles.

As of early 2006, however, only the Holy See and Mexico have endorsed wide ranging international moratorium calls such as those made by the European Parliment and members of the Cluster munitions Coalition. While not regarding cluster munitions illegal under International Humanatarian Law (IHL) Australia forgoes the use of these weapons because of said use. In 2006 the Belgium Parliment adopted a law banning the national use, production, stockpiling and transfer of cluster submunitions. In Norway a clear committment to work towards an international ban on cluster munitions has been issued. In the March 2006 meeting of the CCW, Sweden indicated it's support for those calling for a negotiating mandate within the CCW that would address cluster munitions.

The International Committee for the Red Cross, has previously proposed that cluster munitions should be required to have self-destruct mechanisms fitted for the obvious purpose.


Dammit, just re-read and spotted your 'failure rate' remark. We Brit mil types have been exceptionally helpful to the various organisations looking into this topic.

In Sept'05 the first in-service safety and performance test was carried out by the Director of Munitions Integrated Project Team supported by the Royal Artillery Trials and Development Unit and range staff at Hjerkinn Range Dombass Norway. During the test, 175 shells were fired of which NONE failed; 8,575 bomblets deployed of which 197 failed, giving a bomblet failure rate of 2.3%.

However MOD officials added to the data above another set of data gathered during 'acceptance proof' testing during which they report a failure rate of 0.74%. On this basis they assert that "across both in-service and proof tests the failure rate is 1.9%

Some 2 years prior to the Norway tests, the UK Minister for Armed Forces had stated in Parliment that the "artillery-delivered L20 extended range bomblet shells have a proven maximum bomblet failure rate of 2%
In an age when parties have nuclear weapons ,bio/chemical weapons, thermobaric weapons,fuel air explosives the lefties are worried about cluster bombs ?