DU in Afghanistan

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To: <>
Sent: Tuesday, November 06, 2001 7:15 PM
Subject: Re: [du-list] Re: Dai's inquiry re d.u. in Afghanistan

<< I am not a materials scientist, but from my understanding of ductile
[Malleable, not brittle, easily drawn into wire or molded or shaped or
hammered thin.] I would not consider ductile as a virtue for large
penetrating bombs. >>

Thanks for asking Jack.   I'm not a materials scientist either!  But I did check out Jane's informal reply to my enquiry.  I was told that
DU was not strong enough for hard target penetration.  I checked with technical folk who know something about it and the web links at the end of this message.

[Note: Government specialists who probably monitor this site know the answers already.  It must quite amusing for them watching us trying to get nearer to the actual facts.  It might save media speculation if they will posted the relevant specifications.  They may not have been aware of the contamination issues we are picking up].

Properties of DU I was referring to Jane's original website quote (see below) that "DU's ductility is suitable for making penetrators ..." (see References
below).  Ductility ranges from very soft (or malleable) to very hard.  The Jane's website reference in February (since removed) meant
fairly hard.  But their recent phone comments tried to suggest this was unsuitable for targets other than armour. "Ductility" is a bit
vague but 30 mm DU penetrators (with some added Titanium) don't seem to bend when they hit armor at high speed.

So how is DU too soft for other hard targets?  We aren't employed to be weapons designers - that's why I am asking for the facts from
Government.  But we need enough information to avoid being put off with patronising or misleading comments by politicians or PR
people for manufacturers, the DoD or MoD.  We got enough of that in the Balkans War.

It appears that several different physical qualities are involved in materials "strength" e.g. Young's modulus, different hardness ratings,
tensile strength etc.  The properties needed of the "dense metal" in Advanced Unitary Penetrators also depends on different
manufacturing processes, alloy mixes and physical design.  Its looks as if basic DU comes out a lot harder and less likely to bend
than a lot of other metals, similar to the Co/Ni/Fe alloy used for the outer casings. Are these properties unsuitable for hard targets?
- not on this data.

Only the weapons designers know exactly what qualities are wanted for specific hard target penetrators.  For non-engineers these
seem to be the main factors:

Properties needed in hard-target penetrators
The main reason for using  "dense" or "heavy metal" in new version hard target bombs and cruise missiles is the increased kinetic
energy available for an existing delivery system.   High density metal (DU is 2.4 x heavier than Iron) means that the same weight and
length penetrator can be smaller diameter.  This is important because new upgrades have to fit the same size missile bodies or bomb
dispensers.  See the FAS site  Research data on ground penetration
weapons relates penetration effectiveness to length against cross section area - thinner ones go deeper for the weight, whatever they
are made of.

The pyrophoric (burns in air) quality of DU that helps it burn its way through armor is not relevant for the first stage of hitting hard
targets.  Bombs and cruise missiles go slower than anti-tank shells so DU is less likely to ignite on initial impact at slower speeds.
Kinetic energy and nose cone design are most important to go through earth and concrete.  Tungsten may be best for the tip if is not
too brittle.  But it would be far more expensive than DU for the main ballast or liners.

BUT once inside the target (recognised by the AUP's Hard Target Smart Fuze) and ignited by the weapon's explosive charge, DU's
pyrophoric quality are likely to make it an effective incendiary device as in tanks.  Tungsten would not do this.

Incendiary effects may be important because one requirement for the new generation of penetrators is for use against suspected
chemical and biological weapons facilities (see FAS link above). We are not talking GBU-28 technology here (old gun barrels with
explosives and fins).  These are highly strategic, high value targets.  The FAS link above refers to the AUP (BLU-116) for the GBU-24.
See also  The same AUP technology seems to apply to the AUP-113 used in
the GBU 37 bunker busters used since 1997 according to FAS.

DU still seems as functional as Tungsten for hard-target penetration effect, far more effective for incendiary effect and far cheaper,
except in health and environmental costs.  In military terms it seems suited to purpose.  Whether environmental consequences are
acceptable, and what precautions are therefore  needed, are political, not military questions.

DU hazards in the Afghan - facts needed urgently
We are concerned citizens, not munitions experts.  The points above are taken from available websites, comparing information and
using it to test denials that DU is being used in the Afghan war.  On 1st November the UK Defence Minister Geoff Hoon told the UK
Parliament on 1st November "It is not being used at present".

The UK Government has its own definition of truth - known in UK as "spin".  Taken literally Mr Hoon's comment that DU is not being
used at present literally means "not at the time I am speaking".  It does not answer the questions "has DU been used in the Afghan
war in the last 4 weeks?" or " Will it be in the near future?".  It does not give the facts needed for the central question - "What is the
dense metal used in the latest hard-target smart bomb and cruise missile systems?"

I am an occupational psychologist.  I am concerned about the potential occupational health and safety hazards of DU for aid workers,
media teams and public health and safety for civilian communities.  There is a special concern for troops sent to check out targets hit
by hard target guided weapons munitions - the highest DU risk locations if these suspicions are correct.   Employers including
NGOs and other allied forces  need these facts urgently NOW - to take precautions or increase medical support.  Political
delay will cost more lives.

Political responsibility for answers
Thank you for checking the interpretation of my data Jack.  I hope this is sufficient explanation to keep asking the main questions.   It
is important that we check our case before going public to politicians or media.  The reasons above increase my suspicions that DU is
most likely to be the dense metal in the AUP series of hard-target warheads.

Now it is up to our elected representatives, employers (e.g. NGO's and media companies) and the media to help put these questions
to the US and UK governments.  We need answers fast.  Every day more bombs and missiles are being used and more ground forces
being sent into the Afghan War.  If DU is being used in some of these systems every day delay will risk more lives.

Dai Williams, UK


Extracts from Jane's Defence website
Depleted Uranium - FAQs (Feb 2001)
DU is a heavy metal that, when alloyed with titanium (up to 0.75% by weight), becomes a material with a density (18,600kg/m3) and
ductility suited to making penetrators for kinetic energy anti-tank munitions, or liners for shaped-charge warheads.
During the Balkans operations from 1992 to 1996, only the US Air Force acknowledges its use in some of its 30mm cannon shells
fired from the GAU-8A cannon.
It is true that some guided weapons used depleted uranium to increase the penetration effect and that the 20mm Phalanx
close-in weapon system, used to protect warships at sea from sea-skimming missiles, also has a percentage of DU rounds.

Current description at
(Jane's Depleted Uranium - FAQs, 7 Nov 01 )
What is Depleted Uranium?
Depleted Uranium (DU) is only used as a penetrator. It is not a warhead, bomb or explosive.

Who used it in the Balkans?
During the Balkans operations from 1992 to 1996, only the US Air Force acknowledges its use in some of its 30mm cannon shells
fired from the GAU-8A cannon. It is true that some guided weapons used depleted uranium to increase the penetration effect and that
the 20mm Phalanx close-in weapon system, used to protect warships at sea from sea-skimming missiles, also has a percentage of
DU rounds.

Other online sources:

Properties of elements:
see Uranium (238)  Youngs modulus 208 similar to Cobalt, Nickel and Iron.  Tungsten much higher.
Density very similat to Tungsten.  Hardness (Brinell) similar to Tungsten, 3-4x higher than Co, Ni, Fe.
Properties of alloys:
Enter Uranium 50%+ and submit for data.  See tensile strength for cast, annealed and wrought versions.
Enter Cobalt 5%+, Nickel 5%+ and Iron 5%+ and see properties for some kinds of copper/nickel/steel alloys as used in the GBU 24
outer casing.

DU in Afghanistan