- Nato's use of graphite bombs to put out
of action most of Serbia's electricity supplies is a reminder that the
conflict in Yugoslavia is not just being fought with precision-guided weapons.
- When graphite bombs detonate, they produce
clouds of carbon fibres that cover a substantial area and short-circuit
- They belong to a class of weapons known
as area-impact munitions. Several other types are already being deployed
by Nato forces, and Serbia has similar weapons. Many of these weapons
may leave behind unexploded components that can be as dangerous as anti-personnel
- Cluster Bombs
- The main area-impact weapon used by the
RAF's Harriers is the BL755 cluster bomb produced by Hunting.
- * Each bomb contains 147 grenade-sized
"bomblets" that disperse over an area the size of a football
pitch * Each bomblet detonates, producing up to 2,000 high-velocity shrapnel
fragments * The effect is similar to a large number of miniature nail bombs
exploding simultaneously * The US Air Force has a similar weapon, the CBU87B,
that contains 202 bomblets. More than 10,000 of these were dropped during
the 1991 Gulf War
- One problem with these cluster bombs
is that many of the bomblets can fail to explode, especially if they hit
- Many thousands of unexploded bomblets
were left behind after the Gulf War in 1991, and there were frequent casualties
in Iraq and Kuwait for months afterwards.
- Depleted Uranium Munitions
- Nato spokesman Major Dan Baggio: DU munitions
contain no more radioactivity than is used in glow-in-the-dark watches.
In Kosovo, American A-10 anti-tank aircraft are being widely deployed.
- These planes fire another type of weapon
- depleted uranium armour-piercing shells.
- These are not area-impact weapons as
such, but there are reports that the residual matter left behind can cause
long-term health problems among people in areas where they have been used.
- Multiple-Launch Rocket System
- The Multiple-Launch Rocket System (MLRS)
is being deployed in Albania, close to the Kosovo border.
- * Each MLRS launcher carries 12 missiles
that can be ripple-fired over a range of about 20 miles within a minute
* Each of the missiles is loaded with bomblets, and a single salvo delivers
nearly 8,000 sub-munitions over an area of at least 45 acres * Every bomblet
explodes into a hail of anti-personnel shrapnel fragments
- Fuel-Air Bombs
- The US air force also has fuel-air explosive
bombs that are more devastating than conventional bombs.
- * These are the successors to napalm,
though typically they cover a wider area and spread out more evenly *
There is also a very powerful "slurry bomb" weighing nearly seven
tons and capable of producing blast effects of up to 1,000 psi, not much
less than a small tactical nuclear weapon * So far, neither fuel-air explosives
nor slurry bombs have been used in the Kosovo conflict
- Serbian Arms Manufacturers
- Area impact munitions are not restricted
to Nato, although Serbian forces have not yet used them against Nato targets.
- But Serbian arms manufacturers have plenty
of experience of producing cluster bombs, and several different types are
reported to be deployed.
- They also specialise in very powerful
land mines that can be used to destroy armoured formations. One of the
most remarkable of these is an array of fuel-air explosive mines.
- These are placed in the ground over an
area of at least 1,000 square yards. and are designed to detonate together,
with each mine ejecting a fuel mixture vertically to form a single aerosol
cloud that explodes in a single massive blast.
- This weapon was advertised openly in
defence magazines in the mid-1990s, with the claim that it produced an
effect as damaging as a 1-kiloton nuclear blast.
- Risks To Civilians
- Graphite and cluster bombs have already
been used in the Kosovo conflict, and anti-tank planes with DU weapons
have been deployed.
- If the conflict escalates further - especially
if there is a major ground war - then it is well-nigh certain that other
area-impact weapons will be used.
- They will add greatly to the devastation
caused by the war, and increase the risk of further civilian casualties.
- Paul Rogers is a member of the Department
of Peace Studies at the University of Bradford.