Cluster Munitions: Background and Issues for Congress
Congressional Research Service
RS22907 v.30
Jan 07, 2019

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Cluster Munitions: Background and Issues for Congress
(Source: Congressional Research Service; issued Jan 07, 2019)
Cluster munitions are air-dropped or ground-launched weapons that release a number of smaller submunitions intended to kill enemy personnel or destroy vehicles. Cluster munitions were developed in World War II and are part of many nations’ weapons stockpiles.

Cluster munitions have been used frequently in combat, including the early phases of the current conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan. Cluster munitions have been highly criticized internationally for causing a significant number of civilian deaths, and efforts have been undertaken to ban and regulate their use.

The Department of Defense (DOD) continues to view cluster munitions as a military necessity but in 2008 instituted a policy to reduce the failure rate of cluster munitions to 1% or less after 2018.

In November 2017, a new DOD policy was issued that essentially reversed the 2008 policy. Under the new policy, combatant commanders can use cluster munitions that do not meet the 1% or less unexploded submunitions standard in extreme situations to meet immediate warfighting demands.

In addition, the new policy does not establish a deadline to replace cluster munitions exceeding the 1% rate and states that DOD “will retain cluster munitions currently in active inventories until the capabilities they provide are replaced with enhanced and more reliable munitions.”

Potential issues for Congress include cluster munitions in an era of precision weapons, other weapons in lieu of cluster munitions, and the potential impact of DOD’s 2017 revised cluster munitions policy.

Note: Because the CRS does not release its reports to the public, this report is hosted on the website of the Federation of American Scientists.


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