How Depleted Uranium Shells From US Could Boost Ukraine’s Counteroffensive


Ukraine will receive depleted-uranium rounds from the U.S. to bolster the effectiveness of its Western tank fleet as Ukraine’s land offensive in the south of the country grinds on.

The U.S. Defense Department said on Wednesday it was committing a new tranche of security aid, worth up to $175 million, to Kyiv, with the package including 120mm depleted uranium (DU) tank rounds.

The DU rounds will be used by Ukrainian soldiers in M1 Abrams tanks, the Defense Department said. The 31 Abrams tanks the U.S. has pledged to Ukraine are expected to arrive in the war-torn country in the coming weeks.

Depleted uranium tank rounds have long been standard practice in many armed forces, although conflicting studies on their health impacts have made their use a source of criticism.

American soldiers stand in the turret of an M1A1 Abrams tank as, near the border with Iraq, oil wells burn in the distance, Kuwait, March 20, 1991. The U.S. Defense Department said it was committing a new tranche of security aid to Kyiv, with the package including 120mm depleted uranium tank rounds.
Allan Tannenbaum/Getty Images

In mid-March, the U.K. said it would provide Ukraine with some depleted uranium armor-piercing rounds for its 14 donated Challenger 2 main battle tanks. British Minister of State for Defense Annabel Goldie described the rounds as “highly effective in defeating modern tanks and armored vehicles.”

Depleted uranium is a by-product of nuclear fuel, and its properties mean its high density can be used for military purposes, including in armor-piercing tank rounds. They are kinetic rounds, which do not explode, but penetrate a tank’s armor when fired at high speeds and can be used to engage enemies at a greater distance.

DU munitions are “the most potent tank ammunition that’s around,” according to former British Army Colonel Hamish de Bretton-Gordon, who previously commanded U.K. and NATO chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear defense (CBRN) forces. The rounds will allow Ukraine to take out Russian tanks “from any position at all, even where the armor is thickest,” he previously told Newsweek.

DU munitions “pack a far bigger punch than traditional tank ammunition,” de Bretton-Gordon said, adding: “As far as killing Russian tanks, it is incredibly effective.”

This will be a useful capability for Ukraine as it plugs away along the front lines in Zaporizhzhia, more than three months into its land counteroffensive. The DU rounds would help Ukrainian tankers take out Russian tanks in the south, after Kyiv said it had broken through Russia’s first line of defenses around the retaken town of Robotyne.

Speaking during a visit to Kyiv on Wednesday, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Ukraine’s counteroffensive “progress has accelerated in the past few weeks,” and that the new military aid will “help sustain it and build further momentum.”

Russia’s U.S. embassy hit back at Wednesday’s announcement, calling the transfer of DU rounds a “clear sign of inhumanity.”

“By supplying the Ukrainian authorities with these shells, the United States is engaging in self-deception, refusing to accept the failure of the so-called counteroffensive of the Ukrainian armed forces,” the embassy wrote in a post to Telegram.

The embassy then said the U.S. was “deliberately transferring weapons with indiscriminate effects,” listing what it said were the health impacts of using DU munitions.

Russia is known to have used DU rounds much in the same way as other militaries. Studies into the health implications of DU munitions have drawn various conclusions, but a British Defense Ministry spokesperson said in March that “independent research by scientists from groups such as the Royal Society has assessed that any impact to personal health and the environment from the use of depleted uranium munitions is likely to be low.”

When the U.K. announced the delivery of DU rounds, Russian President Vladimir Putin said there was a “nuclear” element to the munitions. This was quickly dismissed by the British Defense Ministry, which said Russia was “deliberately trying to disinform.”


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