Russian Submunitions in Ukraine
by Mr. Shai Arbel, CEO of Terrogence Global, USA
Since the Russian invasion of Ukraine on February 24, 2022, there has been widespread use by Russian military forces of a variety of different types of rockets and missiles carrying cluster bombs containing submunitions of various types, which have been fired into the different fighting arenas. Most of the ammunition, weapons and systems that have appeared to date are known from their use by the Russian military and its allies in other battlefields in recent years, including Syria and Azerbaijan. The current fighting makes it possible to review in detail a variety of veteran submunition systems used by the Russian military forces.
Russian cluster munitions and submunitions have been documented in different areas of fighting in Ukraine, including Kyiv in northern Ukraine; Kharkiv in the northeast of the country; Mykolaiv and the Kherson region in the south; Mariupol in the southeast and Donetsk in the east. Six major types have been documented, most launched from mobile ground systems - including MBRLs - and on just one occasion thus far, an unexploded cluster bomb with a submunition warhead has been documented.
The different types of submunitions documented to date:
On March 4, 2022, the State Emergency Service of Ukraine (DSNS) in southwestern Ukraine’s Odessa Region published documentation of 253 unexploded submunitions recovered in the village of Zatoka, in the Bilhorod-Dnistrovskyi Raion. The cluster bomb released the previous day, March 3, struck in the vicinity of the White House Hotel. Remnants of the carrier munition - the tail and casing - indicated it was an RBK-500 (Razovaya Bombovaya Kasseta, Lit. “Single-use cassette bomb.”)
The PTAB-1M is an anti-tank (AT) submunition containing a shaped charge developed by the Russians in the mid-1980s. It can be easily identified by its helical tailfin arrangement, used to hold the point-initiating base-detonating (PIBD) fuze in a safe position, as long as it is located in the interlocking wraparound tail fin of the bomblet. When released from the cluster bomb, as it begins to disperse, the wraparound tail opens up, releasing pins that arm the PIBD fuze.
On the nose of the submunition, there is a piezoelectric crystal that initiates the PIBD fuze upon impact. The fuze also has a self-destruct mechanism that activates about 20-40 seconds after impact by way of an inertia weight striker and a pyrotechnic delay element.
- Length – 26 cm - Diameter – 4.2 cm - Total weight – 944 gr - Weight of explosives – 450 gr
9N210 submunitions were found and identified in a large number of areas, mainly in Kharkiv and Mykolaiv. These were fired and dispersed mainly from Uragan rockets, but most likely Smerch rockets as well. The 220 mm 9M27K Uragan rocket contains 30 submunitions, and the 300 mm Smerch 9M55K rocket contains 72 submunitions. The 9N210 submunition was created by the Russians in the mid-1970s as an anti-personnel (AP) weapon containing fragmentation. At the top of the bomb, there is a 9E-246 mechanical percussion fuze, which has a self-destruct of 60 seconds. The submunition contains 350 pre-formed fragments of chopped steel weighing 2 grams, held in a polymer matrix that surrounds the main explosive charge.
- Length – 26.3 cm - Diameter – 6.5 cm - Total weight – 1.8 kg - Weight of explosives – 312 gr
The 9N235 submunitions are identical in appearance to the 9N210 submunition save for the inscription on the munition item. These submunitions were found and identified in many areas, mainly in Kharkiv and Mykolaiv, and were mostly dispersed using 300 mm Smerch rockets, but also 220 mm Uragan rockets.
The 9N235 is an AP fragmentation submunition that as mentioned, is near identical in its external configuration to the 9N210 submunition, except for the different markings. The nose of the submunition contains a 9E272 impact fuze with a self-destruct mechanism slightly longer than the 9N210 fuze - 110 seconds after ejection. The contents of the submunition are also similar but consist of two different sizes of pre-formed chopped steel rod fragmentation - 96 x 4.5 gr fragments and 360 x 0.75 gr fragments - held within a black plastic liner between the inner and outer submunition casings.
Specifications: - Length – 26.3 cm - Diameter – 6.5 cm - Total weight – 1.75 kg - Weight of explosives – 312 gr
The 9N24 AP submunition contains 18 partially pre-fragmented fragmentation rings. This submunition was documented in the Mariupol and Kyiv areas and was probably dispersed using Tochka OTR-21 tactical ballistic missiles, the remains of which were found in the arenas, each of which carries 50 submunitions.
On March 1, 2022, a rocket motor of a Tochka-U 9M79-1 ballistic missile landed in a residential area in the city of Mariupol, in Donetsk oblast, in southeastern Ukraine. According to assessments, the missile crashed due to a malfunction. While Russian forces claimed the missile had been deployed by Ukrainian military forces, Ukrainian officials claimed the missile was fired by Russian forces.
Small blast craters at the scene indicate the missile dispensed submunitions, at least some of which initiated. The debris of one of the submunitions was identified as a 9N24 fragmentation submunition. The 9N24 is a relatively large fragmentation submunition with ribbon stabilizers and 18 partially pre-fragmented fragmentation rings that generate approximately 316 fragments upon detonation. The 9N24 is fitted with the 9E237 impact fuze, which is armed as the submunitions are expelled from the warhead. The fuze has a self-destruct function that explodes 32–60 seconds after ejection.
Specifications: - Total weight – 7.45 kg - Weight of explosives – 1.45 kg
The 3B30 is a dual-purpose AT/AP submunition containing a shaped charge and fragmentation dispersed from the Tornado-S rocket and probably also 122 mm Grad rockets. These submunitions have been found in many areas, including Kherson, Mykolaiv, and Donetsk. Some of the submunitions documented in Ukraine are marked ADP77 or ADP77-1, believed to indicate enhanced bodies offering a higher armor penetration capacity (for the shaped charge.) The submunitions have stabilizing ribbon that also arms the base-detonating fuze, as well as the self-destruct fuze, 200 seconds after ejection.
Specifications: - Length – 12.8 cm (6.2 cm when folded and packed in the delivery munition) - Diameter – 4.3 cm - Total weight – 240 gr - Weight of explosives – 46 gr
This article reviewed the types of submunitions used by Russian military forces in the fighting in Ukraine. These submunitions appear to have a relatively high UXO rate and are therefore considered problematic weapons. Moreover, under the Convention on Cluster Munitions (CCM,) signed by 123 countries in the world as of February 2022, these weapons are prohibited for use. Of note, Russia is not a signatory to the Convention.
A U T H O R
Shai Arbel is the CEO of Terrogence Global, a leading private intelligence company. Until 2021, Terrogence was part of the Verint Systems group, a global leader for Actionable Intelligence Technologies, in which Mr. Arbel served as Vice President for Threat Intelligence. Mr. Arbel is a leading expert in WEBINT, OSINT and Threat Intelligence, with over 20 years' experience in the field of intelligence and counterterrorism. In his previous roles, Mr. Arbel was CEO and a member of the Board of Directors of Terrogence Ltd. And CEO and a co-founder of SenseCy Cyber Intelligence Ltd. Before joining Terrogence, Mr. Arbel was a team leader in the IDF Intelligence Corps (Unit 8200) and also worked for the Israeli Security Agency (ISA). Mr. Arbel holds a B.Sc. Degree in Economics and Management for executives (Cum Laude), from the Ruppin Academic Center.