DU in Afghanistan
----- Original Message -----
From: Dai Williams
Sent: Tuesday, November 06, 2001 10:19 AM
Subject: Depleted Uranium in the Afghan War
This analysis has been sent to
the UK Government and media requesting an
urgent answer to the questions it contains. Is Depleted Uranium the "dense metal"
used in the new generation of hard-target smart bombs and cruise missiles? If so
how many have been used in the Afghan war and where? What precautions are
intended for ground forces and civilians?
Depleted Uranium in the Afghan War:
ground troops and civilians at risk in "hard target"
smart bomb and cruise missile target zones?
Update by Dai Williams, independent DU researcher, 30 October 2001
Internet sources from 1997
to date indicate that several 'hard target' versions of smart bomb and
systems used by Allied forces in Afghanistan may contain Depleted Uranium (DU) as a major component to
increase their penetration effect.
Of particular concern are
systems that use the US "Advanced Unitary Penetrator" technology, or UK
MWS technology with "shaped charge" penetrators.
Reports from the Center for
Defence information suggest that at least 500 tons of smart bombs and cruise
missiles have been used in the first three weeks of the Afghan war. They are most likely to have been used on
"high value targets" e.g. Taliban and Al-Qaeda command centres, airfields and other military installations.
This information is offered
for verification with governments and military authorities out of concern
DU exposure to UK, US and other Allied ground troops expected to be involved in search missions for Osama
bin Laden and other Al-Queda or Taliban leaders. Also due to concerns for potential exposure to local civilians,
international aid workers and media personnel.(1)
The US and UK governments
take the view that use of Depleted Uranium in weapons presents no significant
hazards to human health. They have also denied that it is used in missile systems. However information from
Jane's Defence indicates that it has been used in at least one anti-tank missile system and in "shaped charge
warheads".(2) Analysis of multiple sources suggest that it may be a key component of several recent guided
weapon system upgrades.
This report is based on three direct Internet sources plus links to manufacturers' websites from these prime sites:
Jane's Defence Information http://www.janes.com
General information about weapons systems, manufacturers bulletins and actions in the Balkans (4). Huge
range of subjects, informed summaries but detailed information about weapons systems only available to
subscribers. More DU information was available during the Balkans war. Good access.
Federation of American Scientists http://www.fas.org
Extensive information about weapons systems (5), historical records of government procurement plans and
weapons development. Some pages seem quite old so need verification for most recent progress from other
sources (e.g. Jane's).
Center for Defence Information, Washington http://www.cdi.org
Very concise strategic summaries of US military information by ex-military personnel. Its Terrorism Project
gives a daily assessment of Afghan war operations and prime systems (6). Not as detailed as Jane's or
FAS but easy to access, good links and useful for cross-referencing with other sites.
Military uses and health aspects of Depleted Uranium
DU has been used in weapons
systems in the USA, UK, Russia and Israel for at least 15 years and exported
over 20 nations. It has two special qualities for use in military applications:
a) Very high density (1.7x heavier than lead) which gives it high kinetic energy for its volume.
b) Pyrophoric properties - DU ignites at high temperature, melting through
armour and adding
incendiary effects to its munitions.
Depleted Uranium (Uranium
238) is the main by-product of refining Uranium ore for nuclear fuel. It
energy but very short range Alpha radiation. In its pure metallic state it is relatively stable and safe to handle (e.g.
if ammunition is handled with gloves). However it presents two main health hazards:
DU ignites at high temperature and burns into DU Oxide - a fine, Alpha-radioactive,
toxic dust, easily
inhaled, widely dispersed by wind and water, very hard to detect and to remove from the environment or the
Military DU is not pure. It includes small quantities of highly radioactive and toxic isotopes including U236
and Plutonium due to recycling nuclear fuel rods in DU processing. It was probably these other elements
that enabled the UNEP survey team to trace DU in Balkans target zones.(3)
DU oxide contamination has
been suspected as one source of Gulf War syndrome for several years. Other
recently acknowledged radioactive elements may be an additional factor in long-term illnesses, cancers and birth
defects suffered by civilians and veterans or their children exposed to DU during the Gulf War, and in Leukaemia
deaths of some NATO troops following the Balkans war.
Suspected of DU in hard target guided weapons
Since the Gulf War it has
been known that several weapons systems use DU e.g. 30 mm armour piercing
fired by A10 planes and 120 mm shells fired by tanks. Both were used in the Gulf war. 30 mm shells were the only
DU munitions declared by the USA / Nato during the Balkans war.
The use of DU in smart bombs
and cruise missiles was denied by Nato spokesmen during the Balkans war.
However, as a result of anomalies between UNEP findings early this year and radiation reports during the
Balkans war this possibility was researched again in January and February this year.(2)
The US and UK governments
have been reluctant to discuss military uses of DU and its potential hazards.
declare that research proves DU is not a hazard to troops or civilians but take radiation precautions when using it
in test situations.
In April 1999 Greek scientists
reported a dramatic increase in atmospheric radiation levels two weeks
start of the Balkans air war. I have been informed that they subsequently lost their jobs and their research was
One explanation for the Greek
measurements might be that DU has been used in larger weapons systems,
therefore in far larger quantities and different locations than previously declared or studied.
Hard target guided weapons used to date in the Afghan War
First clues to the potential
use of DU in guided weapons were picked up in the following document on
[Air Force Mission Area Plan (MAP)]
ANNEX F Common Solution/Concept List (U)
[as of 11 July 1997 - Rev 10]
This included references
to introducing or upgrading at least 9 systems to include "dense metal"
ballast to increase their penetration effect and hard target capability. NB most cruise missile and guided bomb
systems have several warhead options e.g. for blast, sub-munitions (e.g. cluster bombs) or hard target capability.
It is the hard target versions that are of concern here.
Only two high-density metals
are usually mentioned in descriptions of kinetic energy weapons - DU and
Tungsten. Both are similar in density (Specific Gravity 18+) but very different in material and manufacturing costs.
They may also be used in alloys.
Study of the Jane's, FAS
and CDI websites indicates a number of smart bomb and guided missile systems
upgraded features matching those described in the 1997 concept document. [NB: Abbreviated names / code
numbers may be confusing. Some refer to guidance systems, some to the main vehicle and some to warhead
types. The following notes have tried to make these distinctions clear].
Of these hard target systems
the following have been reported on the CDI website, or expected to have
used by the Jane's website, in Afghanistan since 7 October 2001.
For health and safety reasons
the crucial question to ask the US and UK governments is this: Is the
'dense metal' used in any of these systems Depleted Uranium, or an alloy including DU?
1. Laser or GPS Guided Bombs
GBU 28 Bunker Buster bombs and the upgraded version GBU 37: 5000 lb bombs
of which 4,400 are
"dense metal" penetrators. The GBU-37 upgrade uses a BLU-113 penetrator, improving on the converted gun
barrels used for the original GBU-28 version improvised in the Gulf War.
CDI's Action Update for Oct 11 refers: "Underground bunkers were also targeted
using the 5,000 lb bunker
buster… B-52's and B-1's with cluster and other penetrating bombs (possibly the BLU-109 and BLU-113 -
DoD would not specify); enormous secondary explosions reported."
GBU 24 Paveway III. 2000 lb bombs using the BLU-116 Advanced Unitary Penetrator
(AUP) weighing 1700
lbs. "The AUP features an elongated narrow diameter case made of a tough nickel-cobalt (steel) alloy called
Air Force 1410. The AUP maximises sectional density by reducing the explosive payload and using heavy
metals in the warhead case." (Note: this FAS description is the most explicit about the combination of alloy
casing and dense metal ballast that seems to define the AUP penetrators, produced in several sizes). Designed
to destroy hardened aircraft hangers and underground bunkers. Designed to replace the BLU-109.
2. Joint Direct Attack Munitions (JDAM)
GBU 29, 30, 31, 32 feature 250, 500, 2000 and 1000 lb bombs respectively
with all-weather GPS
guidance systems. Originally designed by adding control fins to the BLU-109 and 110 hard target bombs.
The new AUP warheads are designed to be direct substitutes for the 109 and equivalent bombs with twice
the penetration power for the same size and weight. Refer 1997 proposed specifications on the FAS
website and summary table in Tip of the Iceberg (2). Are AUP warheads now in use in JDAM systems?
CDI reported 500 JDAMs used in week 1.
3. Cruise missiles
AGM-86D CALCM (air-launched cruise missile). New version converted by Boeing
from earlier nuclear
warhead versions to include a 2000 lb Lockheed Martin Advanced Unitary Penetrator (AUP-3M) using "dense
metal ballast". Long range missiles for hard target capability e.g. underground command bunkers. Most likely
for targeting command posts in mountain caves as well as open locations.
Jane's reports expects use of CALCM's in the Afghan operation but CDI reports
do not mention them, except
perhaps included in total cruise missile numbers (50-60 in week 1).
US Navy sources denied use of DU in BGM-109 Tomahawk missiles during the
Balkans war except for testing
dummy nuclear warheads. But the Tactical Tomahawk Penetrator Variant commissioned in May 1999 "will be
modified to incorporate the government-furnished penetrator warhead (AUP?) and the hard-target smart fuze".
Delivery was scheduled for 2003 so it seems less likely that DU has been used in Tomahawk attacks in
Afghanistan yet - unless for testing pre-production prototypes. This increases the likelihood that the AGM
86D has been the cruise missile of choice for strategic "high value targets".
The 1997 procurement plans
included a series of Small Smart Bombs (SSB's) weighing 250 lbs with 'the
penetration capabilities as the BLU 109' - using "boosted penetrators with high density payloads". Proposed
applications included delivery as sub-munitions by Tomahawks and Joint Stand Off Weapons (JSOWs). Whether
these have been actually been developed for use in Tomahawks or JSOW's is not known.
Jane's refer to other guided
systems in Afghanistan that include sub-munitions options with anti-armour
shaped charge penetrators e.g. the AGM-154 JSOW (Joint Standoff Weapon), and SLAM-ER (Standoff Land
Attack Missile - Expanded Response). There is insufficient data to know whether these systems include suspected
DU components. However the UK BROACH warhead system (see below) was evaluated for the JSOW in 1998.
The AGM-158 JASSM (Joint
Air to Surface Standoff Missile) has not been referred to in Jane's or
However its 1000 lb P31 penetrator with "dense metal case or dense metal ballast" was specifically identified in the
1997 procurement list. So far there is insufficient information to know whether it has been discontinued, is under
development, or has been used in prototype or production form in Afghanistan. It may be included in the unspecified
air launched systems used in Afghanistan. If so it is another potential DU based missile system. Further information
Potential UK involvement in DU guided weapons systems
Another form of hard target
system is the UK developed BROACH two stage MWS (Multiple Warhead System)
with a "shaped charge" penetrator.
The 2000 lb version was developed
to prototype trial stage in summer 1998 for competitive evaluation with
Lockheed Martin AUP for the upgraded Boeing AGM 86D CALCM. It was ground tested in South Wales and
may have been field tested in the Operation Desert Fox and the Balkans War. But British Aerospace Royal
Ordnance lost the Boeing contract to Lockheed Martin later in 1999.
The 1997 procurement list
source suggested that a 1000 lb version of this alternative MWS hard target
technology was also under consideration for other applications e.g. the AGM 158 JASSM. It is not known
whether BAe/RO have continued development or production of BROACH /MWS warheads.
The BROACH system needs similar
DU investigation with the UK government, even if it has been discontinued.
it is currently in use, in production or prototype form, and if it has or may be used in Afghanistan, its "dense metal"
specifications need to be investigated. It is very curious that Jane's' description of DU uses included "shaped
charge warheads" in February 2001 (quote below) but that this description has been edited out of the current
website version (link below):
Extracts from Jane's Defence website (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 http://www.janes.com/defence/news/jdw/jdw010108_1_n.shtml
Evaluation of potential DU hazards in Afghanistan
One disturbing comment from
Jane's was that the Military do not always know the materials used by
manufacturers since some may be used interchangeably. Since the US DoD and UK MoD both take a public
view that DU is not hazardous (at least in its metallic form) then the Military do not need any special instructions
for munitions that may contain DU. If this logic is sustained there is no reason to conceal the past or current use
of DU in smart bomb or cruise missile systems.
However if Military commands
from any of the Allied forces have doubts about the potential use of DU
against hard targets in Afghanistan this will be a matter for urgent and full information exchange between the
forces and governments concerned.
Note: although this paper
concerns guided weapons that may contain DU any use in conventional systems
armour-piercing shells from the AC 130 gunship matter too.
The immediate operational
concern is the likelihood that Special Forces will be expected to enter
strategic target locations, underground bunkers and caves if accessible. Unlike anti-tank shells which leave
distinctive entry holes there may not be obvious way for troops to distinguish potentially DU contaminated
locations from other bomb damage.
Local geography and climate
may be important if significant quantities of DU have been used. Afghanistan
more in common with Iraq than the Balkans - arid terrain prone to strong winds and dust storms. 300 tons of DU
was declared in the Gulf War. Elevated radiation readings are still reported in some areas, years later.
The new generation (post
1997) of guided bombs and cruise missiles with hard target capability may
DU in considerable quantities to achieve the increased penetration effects claimed by several upgraded systems
- possibly 50% of the overall weight.
The majority of hard target
bombing appears to have been accomplished in the first two weeks of the
What's done is done. Potential DU use remains to be acknowledged, quantified and target locations identified.
The 18 months delay for the UNEP survey after the Balkans war will not be psychologically or politically
acceptable in the current conflict. However if DU has been used and this becomes known to the Taliban and Al
Quaeda it may encourage them to evacuate strategic target locations at the earliest opportunity, and not attempt
If DU munitions have been
used in populated areas then contamination levels need to be assessed at
earliest opportunity - not only for Allied troops but for the welfare of local civilians, aid and media workers. Scarce
water supplies are a special concern.
Unlike anti-tank shells guided
bombs and missiles containing DU seem likely to oxidise most of the ballast
and to dissipate the resulting DU oxide (and embedded isotopes) over a considerable area in debris and
Weapons designers and commissioning
forces should have already evaluated these effects if the DoD and MoD
acknowledge the potentially toxic and carcinogenic effects of DU oxide dust. No DU safety evaluation data for
these systems has been located yet.
Questions for the US and UK Governments
The basic questions asked in Tip of the Iceberg remain to be asked and answered publicly:
weapons systems (i.e. guided missiles, smart bombs and sub-munitions) use
Uranium as the "dense metal" involved in hard target penetrators, by itself or in alloy with other metals?
2.How many of the 1997 hard target system concepts have been produced in prototype or production form,
or are still under development?
3.How many of these systems or their derivatives have been used in live tests and military operations since
Operation Desert Storm?
4.How many countries currently have stocks of DU in guided or other weapons systems?
And now these questions about its suspected use in Afghanistan:
Which and how many weapons containing DU have already been used in the
current Afghan War, and
where? Have DU weapons been used there before?
What is the estimate dispersal pattern of DU oxide fallout for each weapon?
Will independent observers
e.g. UNEP be allowed to commence environmental monitoring immediately?
What precautions will be taken to protect Allied ground troops from potential
exposure to DU
precautions will be taken to protect civilians and international aid teams,
media, water supplies and
agricultural land in potentially contaminated regions?
These concerns were submitted
to the UK Government by Sir Paul Beresford MP at my request last week.
answers are urgent in view of the imminent despatch of UK and other Allied ground forces, and the welfare of
those already there.
These questions also have
implications for communities and veterans involved in several recent conflicts
may have been in the vicinity of smart bomb or cruise missile targets. They may require fundamental
re-evaluation of the consequences of DU health hazards and whether DU weapons systems comprise weapons
of indiscriminate effect.
The potential use of DU in
hard target guided weapons has obvious tactical military advantages. But
effects in large scale bombing campaigns may cause long term hazards for troops and civilians that seriously
outweigh most military justifications.
Dai Williams, independent
References to previous discussion papers available from the author
1. Need for a DU Civilian Safety Handbook. 10 January 2001
2. Tip of the Iceberg? -
apparent use of Depleted Uranium in bombs and missile systems. 25 Feb 2001.
more links to original sources.
3. Use of Depleted Uranium
in the Balkans War: will the UNEP report include "Dirty" DU and missile
March 2001, updated 5 June 2001
Links used in this report
4. Janes report on Air and Missile strikes in the Afghan war
5. FAS links to guided missile and bomb specifications:
6. CDI Terrorism Project Action Update:
DU in Afghanistan
DU in Iraq