TechLithuania considers leaving cluster bomb ban amid Russian threats

Lithuania considers leaving cluster bomb ban amid Russian threats

Cluster munitions
Cluster munitions
Images source: © Licensor
Przemysław Juraszek

9 July 2024 13:56

At the beginning of July 2024, the Lithuanian government positively approved the Ministry of Defence's proposal to withdraw from the states that are signatories to the convention banning cluster munitions. This is a response to Russia's aggressive policy and the ongoing war in Ukraine, where cluster munitions are one of the most effective means of combat.

According to the portal Soldat und Technik, Parliament still needs to approve the decision to withdraw from the 2008 Oslo Convention. The Lithuanians argue that cluster munitions are very effective in defence, as seen in Ukraine, and much more economical to use.

They allow for achieving a similar effect by using half the logistical effort and costs necessary with conventional projectiles. Moreover, the convention also impacts the armed forces of allies, which, in the case of Lithuania, for example, prevents the use of cluster munitions on its territory by Americans.

Convention on the prohibition of the use of cluster munitions - what it prohibits

The Oslo Convention of 2008, signed by 124 countries, 112 of which ratified it, bans the production, possession, use, and transfer of controversial cluster munitions weighing 5 kilograms (11 pounds) or less by any of the signatory states.

The only exceptions are solutions containing up to 10 submunitions weighing between 5 and 20 kg (11 and 44 pounds), which can independently target and self-destruct after a specified time. This category includes, among others, Bonus artillery shells, SMArt 155, or AT2 scatterable mines.

In contrast, traditional projectiles with cluster warheads containing, for example, DPICM bomblets (Dual Purpose Improved Conventional Munition) fall under the prohibition. Each warhead, depending on its size, includes dozens or even hundreds of M85 cumulative-fragmentation bomblets, each weighing about 300 grams (11 ounces), with a fragmentation range of several metres and capable of penetrating 100-120 mm (4-5 inches) of armour steel.

They are scattered in the air at high altitudes, allowing them to cover an area of even several thousand square metres (~1-2 acres). It is worth noting that these are very simple bomblets equipped with a primary impact fuse, which can fail. When landing on concrete, everything will work as planned; however, a fall in muddy terrain might not cause an explosion. Americans had up to 15 percent duds in such conditions. Then, such a bomblet becomes dangerous unexploded ordnance, posing a considerable threat even decades after the war has ended.

What Lithuania could obtain after withdrawing from the convention

Lithuania is most likely interested in acquiring MGM-140 ATACMS ballistic missiles with cluster warheads, which have proven to be very effective in Ukraine in eliminating Russian personnel on training grounds during exercises and anti-aircraft system batteries. These will be a significant asset for the purchased M142 HIMARS systems.

Lithuania will most likely want to acquire the M39A1 variant of the missile, which has a range of 300 km (186 miles) and is guided to the target using a combination of satellite and inertial navigation. The warhead consists of 300 M74 APAM bomblets.

These are spherical with a diameter of 60 mm (2.4 inches) and a weight of 590 grams (21 ounces), characterized by an effective fragmentation range of a few metres. The bomblet's casing is made of tungsten, which produces fragments capable of penetrating bulletproof vests when the internal explosive charge detonates. Additionally, the explosive charge is mixed with incendiary material, which, when scattered, also causes fires.

It seems that the harsh geopolitical reality has forced Lithuania to reconsider the ideally justified ban on cluster munitions.

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