JDW DEPLETED URANIUM - FAQs
JANE'S DEFENCE WEEKLY
08 January 2001
DEPLETED URANIUM - FAQs
What is Depleted Uranium?
Depleted Uranium (DU) is only used as a penetrator. It
is not a warhead, bomb or explosive.
For what is Depleted Uranium used on the
It is used to penetrate the armour of modern, the
residual penetrator (and the high temperature
fragments created as it passes through the armour)
striking everything inside the tank and setting fire to its
fuel and ammunition. In the Balkans, this would include
the M84A (Russian T-72) main battle tanks of the
Bosnian Serb VRS and the Serbian VJ forces. In the
Gulf war, some of the Iraqi tanks were of the same T-72
type, manned by Saddam Hussein's Republican
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.
What about the British Army?
The British Army fired 88 DU rounds against Iraqi tanks
in the Gulf war; no such rounds were fired during the
Bosnian and Kosovan campaigns. No British aircraft
are equipped with DU warheads on their weapons,
according to official reports. DU rounds are 'war-use
Any other uses?
DU is very dense so is also used as a counter-balance
for large commercial aircraft, including the Boeing 747,
and in yacht keels.
Can Depleted Uranium be replaced?
DU can be replaced (Britain, France, Russia and the
US are the only commonly acknowledged users of DU
as the penetrator material in kinetic energy munitions).
The great majority of armies use kinetic energy
munitions with tungsten alloy penetrators; however,
these have a 20% lower penetrative performance, and
the sintered materials used to make them are more
expensive. Tungsten may not emit radiation, but, in
common with DU, its particles are poisonous.
It is alleged that DU causes leukaemia?
Leukaemia is caused by (inter alia):
- Ionising radiation - x-rays, for example
- Derivatives of benzene (hydraulic fluid, lubricating oil,
fuel oil, ceramic armour and other products found in
modern armoured vehicles)
What happens when a DU round hits a tank?
The DU penetrator hits the tank armour, both the
penetrator and armour partially liquefying under
pressure. Once the armour has been perforated, that
part of the penetrator which has not melted, together
with the molten armour and fragments that break away
from the interior, ricochet inside the vehicle. This
usually causes a fire. Studies in the USA, UK and
France show that when an armoured vehicle burns at
about 10,000 degrees C, the resulting oxidisation of the
materials aboard, including benzene products and
depleted uranium, can create particulates that are
harmful to the human body; ingested they can affect
the lungs and kidneys.