United States To Supply Depleted-Uranium Munitions To Ukraine
United States to supply depleted-uranium munitions to Ukraine as the Pentagon includes 120 mm depleted-uranium tank ammunition as part of a $175 million security assistance package, which was officially disclosed on Wednesday. This announcement coincided with a surprise visit to Kyiv by the US Secretary of State, Antony Blinken.
Among the various military capabilities provided in this aid package, which will be sourced directly from Pentagon stocks, are artillery, missiles, anti-armor systems, and ammunition designed for the High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems (HIMARS).
These depleted-uranium rounds are intended for use with American M1 Abrams tanks, which are scheduled to be delivered to Ukraine sometime in the coming fall. Earlier this year, the US announced its intention to send older, but refurbished, M1A1 variants to Kyiv on an expedited timeline. Ukrainian soldiers have spent the summer undergoing training on Abrams tanks in Germany.
Depleted uranium is a dense material, and it possesses some level of radioactivity. The US military has been using it for several decades in the production of tank armor, mortar shells, and ammunition.
This material proves particularly valuable in the production of penetrator rods for tank rounds due to its unique properties. When used as a penetrator, it undergoes a sharpening process upon impact with enemy armor, allowing it to effectively pierce through the hard outer shell of the vehicle.
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In contrast, rounds made from alternative materials tend to deform upon impact, limiting their penetration capability. Additionally, this material is pyrophoric, meaning that the penetrator generates heat as it enters the target vehicle. The resulting small dust and fragments have the potential to ignite and even start fires.
Consequently, when these rounds strike their target, they do more than merely explode on the exterior or penetrate and release shrapnel. The impact event is characterized by high levels of heat and pressure, and the extent of damage it can inflict inside a tank or armored vehicle is substantial, particularly if it ignites the ammunition stockpile.
"With a tank round, it's all about getting inside the tank, penetrating the armor and getting into the crew compartment and destroying the tank," Thomas Spoehr, a retired lieutenant general in the US Army who served in the military for decades with the 1st Armored Division, previously told Insider.
Since the introduction of depleted uranium rounds, concerns have arisen regarding their environmental and health implications. These concerns led to prior debates in Washington over whether the US should supply this ammunition to Ukraine.
Depleted uranium is a byproduct of the nuclear enrichment process, in which highly radioactive uranium (U-235) used in nuclear weapons is extracted from natural uranium ore.
Depleted uranium itself contains relatively low levels of radiation and doesn't pose a significant health risk to individuals unless ingested or introduced into the body as shrapnel in substantial quantities. However, if such ingestion or entry occurs, whether through metal fragments or dust particles, it can potentially result in severe health complications, including kidney failure.
It's worth noting that the US is not the first NATO member to provide depleted uranium ammunition to Ukraine. In March, the UK announced its intention to supply these rounds, which a British official described as "highly effective in defeating modern tanks and armored vehicles," alongside the advanced Challenger 2 tanks pledged earlier in the year.
This move prompted Russian President Vladimir Putin to issue threats of escalation, alleging that the West was escalating nuclear tensions. However, the UK countered by stating that it had been using depleted uranium in tank rounds for decades.
The United States also responded to the situation. A spokesperson for the White House National Security Council, John Kirby, pushed back against concerns about depleted uranium ammunition, stating, "This kind of ammunition is a fairly commonplace, been in use for decades." He suggested that Russia's objections were driven by its desire to prevent Ukraine from effectively disabling its tanks in combat.
Indeed, Russia has suffered significant losses in armored assets, with nearly 2,300 tanks lost since the start of its full-scale invasion in February 2022, according to open-source intelligence collected by Oryx. Moscow's losses also include over 2,700 infantry fighting vehicles and more than 960 armored fighting vehicles, further increasing its tally of neutralized armor.
While Ukraine has also incurred losses in terms of tanks, it has managed to acquire new ones, such as the British Challenger and German-made Leopard tanks. The recent announcement of US security assistance, which includes the provision of depleted uranium tank rounds, comes at a critical juncture for Ukrainian forces. They have been steadily advancing in the occupied eastern and southern regions through a counteroffensive that has gained momentum, despite some initial setbacks when it was launched three months ago.
We are determined in the United States to continue to walk side by side with you. And President Biden asked me to come, to reaffirm strongly our support, to ensure that we are maximizing the efforts that we're making and other countries are making for the immediate challenge of the counteroffensive as well as the longer-term efforts to help Ukraine build a force for the future that can deter and defend against any future aggression. But also to work with you and support you as you engage in the critical work of strengthening your democracy, rebuilding your economy.- US Secretary of State, Antony Blinken
Recent weapon assistance packages for Ukraine have encompassed artillery, air defense missiles, and ground vehicles, supporting Ukraine's ongoing counteroffensive. Reuters was unable to ascertain the full contents of the package, aside from the inclusion of depleted uranium rounds.
The funding authorization for this aid package operates through the Presidential Drawdown Authority. This authority allows the president to transfer items and services from U.S. surplus inventory during emergencies without requiring congressional approval. Since the commencement of the full-scale Russian invasion in February 2022, the total security assistance provided to Ukraine has exceeded $43 billion.