Cluster Bombs

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Cluster Bombs being moved aboard the United States aircraft carrier USS Independence.

Cluster Bombs are a type of military weapon primarily used because of their effectiveness against tanks and large areas. All cluster weapons consist of two primary elements: a container or dispenser; and sub munitions, often called bomblets. These bombs can be dropped from medium to high altitude.[1] Although cluster bombs can cover large areas they do not have the procession guidance that other bombs have, this is why cluster bombs are known as "dumb bombs". Although cluster bombs have some drawbacks, military officials state that they are necessary and needed. [2].

Types of Cluster Bombs

Name Use[3] Amount of Bomblets in Bomb[4]
CBU-52B Softball sized bomblets used on enemy light skinned vehicles and also against enemy soldiers 220
CBU-58A/B Similar ti the CBU-52, this cluster bomb is also used for light skinned vehicles, although this weapon contains more baseball sized bomblets in its dispenser. It is particularly good at attacking large areas. 650
CBU-59B Rockeye II A more modern cluster bomb, this bomb carries dart shaped bomblets that can be used against more modern armor. 700
CBU-71/B Similar to the CBU-58, this bomb is good when attacking large areas. It contains a “random delay fusing option.” 650
CBU-72 Fuel Air Explosive This bomb, containing three deferent types of bomblets, is used to detonate minefields, demolish bunkers and aircraft. This bomb uses a incendiary to help create an explosion on impact. n/a
CBU-87 CEM Combined Effects Munition This weapon is composed of multipurpose is a free-fall cluster bomb, each bomblet is capable of penetrating up to 177 mm of armor( seven inches) Bomblets can cover an area of 800 feet by 400 ft. 202
CBU-89 This dispenser holds 72 anti-armor mines and 22 anti-personal mines. This weapon contains a “kill mechanism” which can magnetic influence the fuse to go off on enemy armor. 92
CBU-97 Sensor Fused Weapon This weapon combins a “cosmic cluster munitions” with a skeet type warhead. Using a parachute and an infrared sensor, this bomb is effective on motorized vehicles. 40
CBU-97/B Sensor Fused Weapon Used in NATO’s Kosovo campaign, this weapon can cover an area the size of a football field. Its warhead can contains a Explosive-Formed Projectile that destroys hard and soft targets. 40
MK-20 Rockeye Dispenser holds dart shaped bomblets used against armor and enemy soldiers. 247


In May of 1974, the United States Air Force awarded a contract to Aeroget for the design, development, fabrication, and test of what became know as a Combined Effects Munitions (or cluster bomblet). The United States awarded a second contract to Honeywell, Inc, which later spun off into Alliant, in 1984. These two providers were the sole providers of cluster munitions to for the United States Military. [5]

Gulf War

The first major use of cluster bombs by the United States was the first war with Iraq, Operation Desert Storm. In this operation the United States dropped 1,100 cluster bombs munitions. [6]Most of these were CBU-87S, a bomb which is designed to destroy light armor vehicles and enemy soldiers. The bombs had an approximately five percent dud rate[7] </ref>. Leaving 1.2 million cluster bomblets left, critics estimated that they killed nearly one thousand six hundred Kuwaiti and Iraqi civilians. [8]


In NATO's air assault of Kosovo, NATO allies used more then 1,765 cluster bombs.[9]The U.N. Mine Action Coordination Center reported that these bombs had an estimated seven percent due rate, which they estimated as 20,000 bomblets left after the war. Human Rights organization like Human Rights Watched, claimed that these bombs led to over, “150 civilian deaths, or 18 to 30 percent of all civilian deaths.”[10]


Despite criticism the United States continued use of cluster weapons in Afghanistan, although their use was less in number then previous operations. Critics claimed that the United States was not doing enough to work on a solution to the dud rate. This time organizations estimated that the United States left 12,400 explosive duds in its efforts to defeat the Taliban.[11] It is estimated that the total amount of yellow soda-can sized, yellow-colored deadly sub-munitions was 48,884 [12]. Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Richard Myers, stated during the Afghanistan mission that, "We only use the cluster munitions when they are the most effective weapon for the intended target," Myers said. "There have not been a great number of them used, but they have been used [13].


Amid criticism the United States continued work on improving the cluster munitions to reduce the dud rate. The United States military began to improve its weapons for its new operation in Iraq. The United States used nearly 10,800 cluster weapons; their British allies used almost 2,200.[14] This time the improvements showed, as the new bombs only had a one percent dud rate. The Department of Defense described cluster bombs a vital and versatile, but admitted that they are aware of there flaws. In 2007 the Pentagon adopted the Cohan policy, which requires the military to purchase only cluster munitions that have a one percent dud rate or less.[15]


One of the main arguments for the use of cluster bombs is that they are the best alternative, causing the least unnecessary damage. The Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs found that cluster bombs caused less damage then a regular (250-1,000 kg) bomb.[16] The United States Airforce Review wrote that,"The use of cluster munitions may actually reduce collateral damage. As pointed out at the Lugano Conference, without cluster bombs, air forces must use more high explosive ordnance to accomplish the military goal, creating the increased possibility of a weapon missing its target and causing unintended collateral damage." [17] Cluster bombs are continuously being improved as shown by its decrease in dud rate from the Gulf War(5%) to the current operation in Iraq(1%).


Military stratigist state that cluster bombs are a "necessity" for military operations.[18] Forces value cluster bombs because a single volley can impede advancing troops, destroy airfields, and surface-to-air missile sites.[19] According to UK Secretary of State for Defense, Mr Geoffrey Hoon," [Cluster Bombs] These are extremely effective weapons. They are the most effective weapons against armored and certain kinds of soft skinned vehicles…"[20] United States officials have stated that there is no available alternative that offers the same effectiveness as cluster bombs.[21]