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‘Sensor-Fuzed Submunitions and Clean Battlefields. Examining the Facts.’
Wednesday, 21 May, 1pm-2pm, Ash Suite, Croke Park

The presentation sought to challenge the view that sensor-fuzed weapons (SFW) were a specific genre which could be assumed to be a group separate from other cluster munitions and argued therefore that, unless shown not to be the case, SFW can be assumed to share the unacceptable properties of all cluster munitions. In addition McGrath raised the spectre of a weapon group that may, on the modern ‘mixed’ battlefield, actively target civilians.

McGrath initially revisited the questions raised about the German-manufactured SMArt155 during the Wellington Conference in the HI/Austcare paper “Sensor-fuzing and SMArt submunitions: An Unproven Technology?” These questions focused on the ability of sensor arrays to reliably identify targets, the interaction between the individual sensors, the level of certainty required to confirm a target, and the level of uncertainty required to initiate target rejection or self-destruction of the submunition. McGrath noted that neither the manufacturers nor procuring governments had offered any answers and argued that the days have gone when civil society should just accept assurances from the arms industry and military experts “…those days have gone in respect to cluster munitions because those same ‘experts’ have so consistently got things so completely wrong over a period of more than forty years”.

The presentation then moved to the only sensor-fuzed cluster munition used in combat - the US-manufactured BLU108 SFW which was deployed during the invasion of Iraq in 2003. No detailed information had been made available about the success or otherwise of those attacks other than bland official assurances that attacks were ‘successful’ and somewhat propagandist reports in the US arms industry trade press. McGrath, using photographs taken in a strike area near Mosul in North Iraq, showed that there were significant reliability questions to be answered about BLU108. The photographic evidence showed that the weapon had failed in a number of different ways. He examined the post-attack evidence in the context of the four key claims of the manufacturers and the US forces - 1. 99% reliability 2. No hazardous UXO 3. A safer, reasonable and responsible alternative to legacy cluster munitions 4. Leaves a clean battlefield.

His overall conclusion was that despite years of development by the best-resourced nation with the greatest experience of cluster munitions, the BLU108 did not work as designed nor did it meet the four claims used to justify its use. He called for more rigorous testing of new weaponry since it was clear that the BLU108 could not be excluded from definition as a cluster munition. This could be equally true of untried SFW such as SMArt155 and BONUS.

“There were no civilian casualties as a result of these unexploded submunitions, but we have no way of knowing whether that would have been the result had an NGO, a civil society response, not been in the area, nor do we know the results and consequences of other ‘successful attacks’ in other parts of Iraq. What we do know is that the only sensor fuzed weapon to have been used in battle did not work as designed - I hope that delegates in this conference will draw the correct conclusions from that fact”.