Ukraine Aims to Use Cluster Ammunition to Break Russian Defense Line

Ukraine wants to use DPICM cluster ammunition provided by the US to increase firepower against trenches in the Russian line, although this is a controversial weapon.

The Pentagon on July 7 announced the 42nd package of military aid to Ukraine, including the Advanced Conventional Multipurpose Ammunition (DPICM), which is rated as “highly effective and reliable.” The agency said it had consulted extensively with the US Congress, its allies, and partners on the decision to provide DPICM to Kyiv.

US President Joe Biden, on the same day, said it was “very difficult” to make a decision to provide cluster munitions but that the Ukrainian army “is running out of ammunition”.

DPICM is a general term for many types of artillery shells and rockets carrying submunitions, with similar designs. The majority of DPICM ammunition was built in the 1970s-1990s, including 105, 155 and 203 mm artillery shells, as well as 227 mm rockets and Army Tactical Missiles (ATACMS) launched from M270 MLRS and M270 MLRS rockets and rockets. M142 HIMARS.

DPICM was developed from the Advanced Conventional Ammo (ICM) family. The term “multi-purpose” shows that DPICM can deal with both armored vehicles and soft targets like soldiers and normal weapons. Each DPICM submunition is equipped with an armor-piercing concave (HEAT) warhead, surrounded by a metal shell that can shatter into pieces and shoot around at extremely high speeds when the main warhead explodes.

The DPICM parent projectile usually launches a series of sub-bullets at a pre-set position on the flight path. Submunitions have the same size and mass as infantry grenades and do not have a guidance device. After separating from the main projectile, they are fitted with a cloth stopper to stabilize the trajectory.

DPICM has the ability to damage a wide area depending on the version. A 227 mm M26 rocket launched from the HIMARS system can hold 644 M77 submunitions and disperse them in a circle with a radius of 200 m.

Ukraine’s Defense Minister Oleksii Reznikov assessed that the cluster munitions that the US aided could help speed up the process of recapturing the area controlled by Russia. Mr. Reznikov also pledged not to fire cluster munitions on “internationally recognized Russian territory.”

Western experts say DPICM can help Ukraine deal more effectively with Russia’s dense network of trenches and minefields, which is causing heavy damage and hindering its long-awaited counter-offensive campaign.

“The trenches are an effective countermeasure against conventional artillery shells, forcing the attackers to use large amounts of shells to bombard them without much effect. In contrast, cluster munitions can cover an area. A large area in a short time, using much less total ammunition. Sub-munitions can also fall directly into the trenches and cause heavy casualties to the defending infantry,” expert Joseph Trevithick wrote on the military website Warzone of America.

This is especially beneficial for Kyiv, in the context of military commander-in-chief Valery Zaluzhny on July 1 admitting that the limited supply makes Ukrainian artillery firepower in the counter-offensive campaign equivalent to only 10% of the Russian army.

“One DPICM can be as effective or even superior to five conventional rockets,” Trevithick said.

The number of DPICM ammunition in the US stockpile must be very abundant. The United States possesses nearly 3 million rounds of this type of ammunition, most of which are located at home and bases in Europe, Republican senators wrote in a letter to President Joe Biden in March.

However, this type of ammunition is controversial because the submunitions that do not explode can be scattered over a large area and threaten civilians after a conflict, just like an infantry mine. Cluster bombs and munitions used since World War II have killed tens of thousands of civilians around the world.

Pentagon press secretary Pat Ryder on July 6 said there are “many variations” of cluster munitions, emphasizing that Washington will not provide Kyiv with those with a non-explosive sub-munition rate above 2.35% but choose the lowest possible rate.

However, many human rights groups argue that the Pentagon is not transparent about the data and are calling for more clarification. There are also concerns about accuracy, and some cluster munitions, including the 155 mm shell, have a much higher percentage of unexploded submunitions than reported.

Marc Garlasco, a former intelligence expert at the Pentagon and now an adviser at the United Nations Human Rights Council, questioned the US military’s testing methods.

“DPICM submunitions have a non-explosive rate of about 20% in real combat, which is far from the statistics in tests conducted under perfect and unrealistic conditions. I have seen too many Georgians, Iraqis, Lebanon and Afghanistan are crippled because they cannot accept such bullshit numbers,” he said.