Cluster Bombs and Thermobaric Weapons

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Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have accused Russia of using cluster bombs and vacuum bombs in the ongoing war with Ukraine. According to Amnesty International, international humanitarian law prohibits the use of inherently indiscriminate weapons like cluster munitions. A war crime is the constitution of launched indiscriminate attacks that kill or injure civilians.

International humanitarian law consists of a set of rules that seek to limit the effects of armed conflict. The law protects people who no longer participate in hostilities along with restricting the means and methods of warfare.

Cluster Munitions

  • A “conventional munition is designed to disperse or release explosive submunitions weighing less than 20 kilograms including those explosive submunitions” .
  • These are non-precision weapons designed to injure or kill human beings indiscriminately over large areas along with destruction of vehicles and infrastructure like runways, railways, or power transmission lines.
  • They could be dropped from an aircraft or launched in a projectile which spins in flight scattering many bomblets as it travels.
  • A number of these bomblets end up not exploding continuing to lie on the ground often partially or fully hidden and it becomes difficult to locate and remove them which in turn poses a threat to the civilian population.
  • The Convention on Cluster Munitions identifies specifically “cluster munition remnants” that include:
    • Failed cluster munitions
    • Abandoned cluster munitions
    • Unexploded submunitions
    • Unexploded bomblets

Convention on Cluster Munitions

  • A United Nations adopted legal instrument which prohibits the use, production, transfer, and stockpiling of cluster munitions.
  • For ensuring adequate assistance to survivors and their communities, it establishes a framework for cooperation and assistance along with:
    • Clearance of contaminated areas
    • Risk education
    • Destruction of stockpiles
  • This convention at present has 110 State Parties and 13 Signatory States.
  • India has not signed the convention yet and is not a party to the same including countries like the US, China, Russia, Israel, and Pakistan among others.
  • The countries who have ratified the convention are under an obligation to never use cluster munitions and never:
    • Develop
    • Produce
    • Otherwise acquire
    • Retain
    • Stockpile or transfer cluster munitions to anyone

Thermobaric Weapon

  • These weapons use oxygen from the air for a large, high-temperature blast.
  • Also known as aerosol bombs, fuel air explosives or vacuum bombs.
  • Compared to a conventional bomb of comparable size, a thermobaric weapon causes significantly a great amount of devastation.
  • The weapons going off in two separate stages could be fired as rockets from tank-mounted launchers or dropped from the aircraft.
  • On hitting the target, the bomb՚s fuel container opens due to a first explosion splits resulting in the release of a cloud of fuel and metal particles spreading over a larger area.
  • The second explosion ignite the aerosol cloud into a giant ball of fire sending out intense blast waves that could destroy even reinforced buildings or equipment vaporizing human beings as well.

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