Ukraine Situation Report: U.S. Sending ‘Hundreds Of Thousands’ Of Cluster Munitions

With Ukraine’s counteroffensive going “a little slower than some had thought,” a top Pentagon official on Friday said that the U.S. will provide Ukraine with “hundreds of thousands” of rounds of controversial cluster munitions known as Dual-Purpose Improved Conventional Munitions (DPICMs). They are part of an $800 million aid package to boost Ukraine’s chances of victory that also includes 32 more Bradley Infantry Fighting Vehicles, 32 more Stryker Armored Personnel Carriers, as well as a range of other weapons and munitions which you can read more about later in this story.

The counteroffensive, now into its second month, has been “hard sledding, because the Russians had six months to dig in,” Under Secretary of Defense for Policy Dr. Colin H. Kahl told reporters, including from The War Zone, Friday. “And so those defensive belts that the Russians have put in place in the east in the south are hard. They’d be hard for any military to function.”

As a result, “we want to make sure that the Ukrainians have sufficient artillery to keep them in the fight in the context of the current counteroffensive,” he said. “And because things are going a little slower than some had hoped, there are very high expenditures of artillery.”

The DPICMs are being provided for two main reasons, Kahl explained. The U.S. has a large stock of them and giving some to Ukraine won’t have the same effect on supplies as the donation 155mm unitary rounds. The U.S. alone has donated more than two million of those to Ukraine

The other main reason Kahl stated is that the rounds contain many individual submunitions or bomblets that scatter over a wide area. That will help Ukraine defeat the massive amount of fortifications Russia has built up, especially trenches.

A US Army briefing slide discussing the functioning of a more modern DPICM-XL projectile. US Army

“I think they will help in some of these security belts that the Ukrainians are pushing against – some of the dug-in formations that that the Russians have,” said Kahl. “I think they will also be useful for troop concentrations and concentrations of armored vehicles and lighter-skinned vehicles.”

You can read our complete profile on the capabilities, availability, and controversy in regards to DPICMs and Ukraine here.

DPICMs, however, are no “silver bullet,” said Kahl, adding that they will join Ukraine’s stable of other donated munitions like unitary high explosive rounds, M982 Excalibur guided rounds and Guided Multiple Launch Rocket System (GMLRS) rounds for U.S.-donated M142 High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems, or HIMARS. “No one thing is gonna make a difference, but I think this gives them an extra arrow in their quiver.”

Beyond these reasons, sending DPICMs to Ukraine will send a message to the Russians that “the Ukrainians are going to stay in the game.” 

The U.S. has “substantially increased the production of unitary 155mm rounds and the Europeans and others are also investing in their defense industrial base,” said Kahl. “That’s good news, and it’s starting to pay dividends. But the reality is we’re going to need to build a bridge to the point at which that capacity is sufficient on a month-to-month basis to keep the Ukrainians in the artillery fight.”

A Ukrainian artillery unit fires towards Russian positions outside Bakhmut. (Photo by BULENT KILIC/AFP via Getty Images)

That’s important, said Kahl, because “Vladimir Putin has a theory of victory. His theory of victory is that he will outlast everybody. He’ll outlast the Ukrainians. He’ll outlast the United States. He’ll outlast the Europeans. He’ll outlast the international community. He will simply brute-force his way through. Having failed achieving a lightning victory. he’s now going to play a long game. That’s why President Biden has been clear that we’re going to be with Ukraine as long as it takes.”

Cluster munitions are so controversial because, in the past, many of the submunitions have failed to explode, thus becoming a threat to civilians during and after a conflict.

An unexploded cluster bomb identified by members of the Mine Advisory Group (MAG) rests in a backyard garden August 21, 2006 in Yohmor, Lebanon. (Photo by Scott Peterson/Getty Images)

Kahl said the U.S. is providing newer DPICMs that have a dud rate of less than 2.35%. 

“Compare that to Russia, which has been using closed cluster munitions across Ukraine, with dud rates of between 30% and 40%. During the first year of the conflict alone, Russia fired cluster munitions deployed from a range of weapon systems and likely expended tens of millions of submunitions or bomblets across Ukraine.”

Kahl said that the 2.35% dud rate figure was “demonstrated through five comprehensive tests conducted by the Department of Defense between 1998 and 2020.” He declined to provide copies of those tests because they are currently classified.

The Biden administration only signed off on providing Ukraine with the DPICMs after Kyiv promised in writing about how it will use the munitions.

“The Ukrainian government has offered us assurances in writing on the responsible use of DPICMs, including that they will not use the rounds in civilian populated urban environments, and that they will record where they use these rounds.” That, said Kahl, will allow Kyiv to know where to concentrate future demining efforts, which Ukraine agreed to conduct “to mitigate any potential harm to civilians.” 

In addition to providing the rounds themselves, the U.S. will train, coach and mentor the Ukrainians on how to best use them, said Kahl. As for concerns that Ukraine might not abide by the U.S. restrictions, Kahl said they deserve “the benefit of the doubt.”

“In the past when we have asked the Ukrainians to offer us explicit assurances they’ve stuck by those assurances,” he said. “We will, of course, be watching how Ukrainians use these systems. They will be reporting their usage back to us. And so we can always make judgments later if you feel like those assurances are happy or not being done. But I’m confident that the Ukrainians will be true to their word.” 

While acknowledging the DPICMs do present a risk to Ukrainian troops, Kahl said that the greater concern “is that they wander into a Russian minefield, or areas where the Russians have expended weapons with a much higher dud rate.”

As for potential harm to civilians, ”none of us should minimize this issue,” said Kahl.This is an issue Ukrainians are gonna have to grapple with regardless. If we had never made a decision on DPICMs, the Ukrainians would be demining. It’s going to be a generational effort because of the amount of landmines, anti-personnel and anti-tank mines, and cluster munitions that the Russians have been using. So this is an issue we have to tackle.”

The U.S. he said has pledged $95 million to those efforts and will provide more in the future. 

While U.S. law prohibits providing cluster munitions with more than a 1% dud rate, a president can waive that restriction, as Biden has, said Kahl.

Kahl declined to offer a public timeline for when the munitions will be delivered or exactly how many out of “operational security concerns.”

But, given the rampant use of social media in this war, we will no doubt see evidence of their use in fairly quick order once they hit the battlefield.

Before we head into the latest from Ukraine, The War Zone readers can catch up on our previous rolling coverage here.

The Latest

In addition to the aforementioned DPICMs, Bradleys (of which the U.S. has now provided 190 to Ukraine) and Strykers (now totaling 157), this 42nd Presidential Drawdown Authority Package includes:

•       Additional munitions for Patriot air defense systems;

•       AIM-7 missiles for air defense;

•       Stinger anti-aircraft systems;

•       Additional ammunition for High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems (HIMARS);

•       31 155mm Howitzers;

•       155mm artillery rounds, including DPICM, and 105mm artillery rounds;

•       Mine clearing equipment;

•       Tube-Launched, Optically-Tracked, Wire-Guided (TOW) missiles;

•       Javelin and other anti-armor systems and rockets;

•       Precision aerial munitions;

•       Penguin Unmanned Aerial Systems;

•       27 tactical vehicles to recover equipment;

•       10 tactical vehicles to tow and haul equipment;

•       Demolitions munitions and systems for obstacle clearing;

•       Small arms and over 28 million rounds of small arms ammunition and grenades;

•       Spare parts and other field equipment.

M2 Bradley Ukraine
Combining the Abrams tanks with the M2 Bradley Fighting Vehicles, seen here in Ukrainian digital camouflage, will give Ukraine an advantage on the battlefield, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs said Friday. (Ukrainian Defense Ministry photo) via Ukrainian Ministry of Defense/Twitter

On the battlefield, Russian troops are “trapped” in the city of Bakhmut, Ukraine’s Deputy Defense Minister Hanna Maliar said Friday on her Telegram channel.

“Our troops made the movement of the enemy as difficult as possible and made it impossible to get out,” she said. “Shelling continues from both sides.”

Ukrainian forces have advanced more than a kilometer on the southern flank of the city, Maliar claimed, while battles rage on the northern flank “without changing positions.”

The Russians, meanwhile, are continuing offensive actions in the Donbas, around Avdiivka, Kupiansk, Lyman and other areas, she said.

They are “trying to break through our defenses. Unsuccessfully. Fierce battles continue everywhere without a change in positions.”

In the southern portion of the front, Ukraine is continuing offensive operations toward Melitopol and Berdyansk.

“Ours are entrenched at the reached borders, take measures against battery fighting.

In addition, our defenders are actually crushing the enemy’s equipment and weapons there, destroying weapons depots, striking the locations of the Russian military’s compact locations – significantly reducing the enemy’s offensive and defensive capabilities.”

The Russian Defense Ministry (MoD) has a different take, saying that it’s repulsed attacks in the Donbas, incurring heavy losses on Ukrainian forces while striking targets in the south.

And in Kherson Oblast, the battle for the Antonovksy Bridge continues. The video below shows a Russian First Person Video (FPV) drone striking a Ukrainian boat on the Dnipro River.

The Kursk region of Russia was “massively attacked” by Ukrainian drones Thursday, the Russian Baza news agency reported Friday on its Telegram channel.

“Around 5 a.m., a Ukrainian UAV dropped two rounds of ammunition on an electrical substation in the village of Lyubimovka,” Baza reported. “Closer to 11 a.m., a drone that arrived from Ukraine dropped ammunition near the Medvezhiy farm, 700 meters from the border.”

There were four similar attacks that followed, Baza reported, including another attack on the electric substation at 9 p.m.

“No one was injured in the explosion,” Baza said.

The outlet did not offer a damage assessment, but the video below, apparently from one of the attacks, does not appear to show much destruction as a result of the attack.

International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) experts have received additional access at the site of Ukraine’s Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant (ZNPP), without – so far – observing any visible indications of mines or explosives, Director General Rafael Mariano Grossi said today.

Those experts had wider access yesterday, but want to inspect more of the nuclear plant, Europe’s largest.

“Following our requests, our experts have gained some additional access at the site. So far, they have not seen any mines or explosives. But they still need more access, including to the rooftops of reactor units 3 and 4 and parts of the turbine halls. I remain hopeful that this access will be granted soon. I will continue to report about developments in this regard,” Director General Grossi said.

Ukraine’s Energoatom agency said Wednesday that Russians have placed machine gun nests atop some of the reactors (something Russia has apparently done before) and Kyiv’s spy boss Maj. Gen. Kyrylo Budanov recently told us that Russia has put in place a way to create a disaster at the plant.

But the American Nuclear Society (ANS) is downplaying concerns.

“Our experts have carefully considered ‘worst case scenarios,’ including bombardment and deliberate sabotage of the reactors and spent fuel storage canisters. They cannot foresee a situation that would result in radiation-related health consequences to the public,” ANS said in a press release Wednesday.

ZNPP’s six reactors have been shut down for over 10 months and are no longer making enough heat to cause a prompt radiological release, ANS noted.

“ZNPP is designed to withstand natural and man-made hazards. Thick, steel-reinforced concrete containment buildings protect the reactor cores and are designed to keep any radioactive materials isolated from the environment.”

Should one ore more of the structures be breached, “any potential release of radiological material would be restricted to the immediate area surrounding the reactors. In this regard, any comparison between ZNPP and ‘Chernobyl’ or ‘Fukushima’ is both inaccurate and misleading.

More Iranian-made munitions are showing up on the battlefield for Ukraine, in this case 152mm howitzer ammunition. The appearance of these munitions from time to time has raised the question of whether the U.S. has transferred any of the weapons and munitions seized from interdictions to Ukraine. In the past, the Pentagon has declined to answer our questions about whether that has happened. We reached out again today and will update this story if any answers are provided.

Yesterday, we wrote about Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky’s complaint that the slow provision of arms from allies has negatively affected his country’s ongoing counteroffensive. Today, a new report was releasing saying that the actual deliveries of arms to Ukraine have been well below pledges. 

“In general, only slightly more than half of the heavy weapons committed have been delivered,” the Keil Institute For The World Economy said in its latest Ukraine Support Tracker report released Friday. 

Western partners the U.S., Germany, and the United Kingdom “were fast to increase their committed sums, but deliveries remain well below promises,” the report noted. “In contrast, Eastern European countries like the Czech Republic, Slovenia, Poland, and Slovakia, have delivered upwards of 80% of their promised heavy weapons.”

In addition to slow deliveries, new promises have fallen off as well, the organization said.

“After a spike in new pledges before the anniversary of the start of the war, the overall level of new commitments from Ukraine supporters has trended downward again. Military pledges gain in importance with the duration of the war and Ukraine’s offensive plans. But the gap between promised and delivered military aid is wide. This is especially true for EU countries and the United States,” says Christoph Trebesch, head of the team producing the Ukraine Support Tracker and director of a research center at Kiel Institute.

Ahead of next week’s NATO summit in Vilnius, Lithuania, Secretary General Jens Stoltenberger told reporters on Friday that Ukraine will one day join the alliance, but nothing is imminent, nor is there a specific timeline.

“We agree that NATO’s door is open,” Stoltenberg said at a press conference. “We agree that that Ukraine will become a member, which is an important message. And then we agree that it’s for the NATO allies and Ukraine to decide when the time is right, and not for Russia to have a veto.”

Stoltenberg added that additional aid is on the way as well.

“The most urgent task and all analysts agree on that is that we will stand by Ukraine, we will provide support for it to Ukraine for as long as it takes, because unless Ukraine win this war, there is no membership issue to be discussed at all. And that’s reason why allies are stepping up and providing donations of military support in an unprecedented way.”

In a meeting with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, Czech Republic Prime Minister Petr Fiala confirmed he promised Ukraine “more attack helicopters to Ukraine and hundreds of thousands more pieces of large-calibre ammunition in the coming months,” Fiala said in a Tweet. “We will also help Ukraine with pilot training, including training for F-16 aircraft, and we will deliver flight simulators to Ukraine so that training can take place not only in the West but also in Ukraine.”

Fiala did not specify the type or number of helicopters.

In a new report, the KSE Institute, a Ukrainian think tank, estimated that the destruction of the Nova Kakhovka Dam on the Dnipro River last month caused $2 billion in direct economic losses and $1.5 billion in direct environmental losses.

Direct damages are concentrated in the residential, communal, and energy sectors, with indirect losses to agriculture resulting from the loss of irrigation, said Tymofiy Mylovanov, president of the Kyiv School of Economics.

But while there are still promises yet fulfilled, Ukraine’s allies have also provided a lot of heavy weaponry, like the Swedish-donated CV-90 Infantry Fighting Vehicle, considered one of the best in Europe. You can read more about it in our coverage here.

The Ukrainian crew of a German-supplied Leopard 2A6 main battle tank recently videotaped itself cruising at a pretty good clip somewhere in country.

Another Russian soldier has apparently surrendered by drone to Ukrainian forces. In the video below, you can see the soldier look up and follow the unseen drone through a crater-pocked field until he comes to a Ukrainian position.

Another Russian soldier was captured in drone video surrendering, this one looking a little bit like Forrest Gump as he ran down a cratered road to a Ukrainian position.

Ukrainian forces are seen in the video below taking over a position from Russian troops, who were apparently killed in the battle.

That’s it for now. We’ll update this story when there’s more news to report about Ukraine.

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Howard Altman

Senior Staff Writer

Howard is a Senior Staff Writer for The War Zone, and a former Senior Managing Editor for Military Times. Prior to this, he covered military affairs for the Tampa Bay Times as a Senior Writer. Howard's work has appeared in various publications including Yahoo News, RealClearDefense, and Air Force Times.