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Explainer: Naming of Parts for an Instrument of Civilian Slaughter

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.

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Generic illustration of a cluster bomb releasing a swarm of bomblets, depicted as grey canisters. Diagram Source: Norwegian People's Aid

The PTAB 2.5M anti-armor bomblet has a cylindrical body with a dome-shaped ballistic cap at its front and it terminates in a four-fin tail unit that is structured in a drum configuration. In its Aug. 2, 2012 online posting, Jane’s Air-Launched Weapons noted that the tail unit comes in both short and long versions.

The entire bomblet measures 0.87 meters in length, has a body diameter of 60 millimeters and weighs 2.5 kilograms. Just behind the nose is a shaped charge weighing 660 grams and consisting of a RDX/TNT mixture, which is detonated by an ADTS-583 impact fuze.

Thirty or more bomblets, or sub-munitions, fit into the RBK-250-275 cluster bombs and the RBK 500 can carry 75. The PTAB 2.5M is able to penetrate up to 120 millimeters of armor. The Soviets originally designed the PTAB 2.5M to be dropped on lines of Allied tanks steadily advancing toward the Iron Curtain countries. On Dec 12, while many were fretting or making jokes about the Mayan Apocalypse, Syrian military aircraft released RBK 250s on the civilian population of Marea, near Aleppo. For a few civilians from Marea, the world did end.

PTAB 2.5 bomblets piled in a munitions dump in Bagram, Afghanistan in 2002. Dozens of countries, though not Syria, Russia or the U.S., are signatories to the Convention on Cluster Weapons, which bars their use. Image Source: John Rodsted, courtesy of the Cluster Munition Coalition



Gary Stix About the Author: Gary Stix, a senior editor, commissions, writes, and edits features, news articles and Web blogs for SCIENTIFIC AMERICAN. His area of coverage is neuroscience. He also has frequently been the issue or section editor for special issues or reports on topics ranging from nanotechnology to obesity. He has worked for more than 20 years at SCIENTIFIC AMERICAN, following three years as a science journalist at IEEE Spectrum, the flagship publication for the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers. He has an undergraduate degree in journalism from New York University. With his wife, Miriam Lacob, he wrote a general primer on technology called Who Gives a Gigabyte? Follow on Twitter @@gstix1.

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.

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  1. 1. outsidethebox 2:55 pm 12/23/2012

    “Instrument of civilian slaughter” Hate to tell you this but in a civil war there are no civilians. Both sides kill them to advance their cause.”Well it’s not supposed to be that way”. No it’s not but that’s the reality.

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  2. 2. marclevesque 6:11 pm 12/23/2012


    “in a civil war there are no civilians”

    According to various definitions of civilian and civil war, I cannot find any that support your proposition.

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  3. 3. rickofudall 6:38 pm 12/23/2012

    And the point of this missive is? War is bad? Assad is bad? Anti-personnel weapons are bad? What?

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  4. 4. alan.coffel 12:21 am 12/24/2012

    I saw the results of cluster munitions used against iraqi troops in Desert Storm. They were devastating. The implication of this article is that some military weapons are more evil than others. I think that’s a matter of perspective. I read a book years ago about “Just War Theory”. There was a discussion about whether bombers should attack at night at high altitude to protect the planes and crews, or in daylight at low altitude to minimize civilian casualties. I’m sure that national leaders, flight crews, and civilians on the ground have very different, but equally valid perspectives on the “just” plan. I have no sympathy for the Syrian government or its fight to stay in power. It is possible that the military leaders who ordered the use of these cluster bombs decided to expend these (probably expensive and rare) weapons indiscrimanantly against helpless innocents. It seems more likely, though, that they made a tactical decision that was, from their perspective, the right balance of cost, risk, and military benefit. It might be good military policy to seek to ban cluster munitions because of the likelyhood that unexploded bomblets might linger, like land mines, long after they conflict is over. It would not be reasonable to ban them becuase of their devestating effectiveness.

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  5. 5. frankblank 2:08 am 12/24/2012

    @outside – You have been outside far too long in a hostile climate. Of course there are civilians in civil wars. More civilians, in fact, than combatants.

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  6. 6. frankblank 2:17 am 12/24/2012

    So, coffel, what’s your opinion re. flame throwers, napalm, phosphorus, poison gas?

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  7. 7. Fanandala 3:08 am 12/24/2012

    One lot of Muslim extremists fighting another lot. I feel sorry for the noncombatant casualties, and even more sorry for the survivors. After the dust has settled their situation will be even worse than now, and much worse then when the conflict started.

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  8. 8. Chryses 8:06 am 12/24/2012

    The Syrian civil war appears to me to be better explained as an attempt to remove an oppressive regime than by any other explanation.

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  9. 9. alan.coffel 9:26 am 12/24/2012

    frankblank, my opinion is that war is terrible and all the deaths are terrible, civilian and soldier. Debate over the moral nature of one instrument of death vs. another is a distraction. The real issue is that Syria is ruled by a dictator and that there is no peaceful mechanism for regime change.

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  10. 10. LordDraqo 12:08 pm 12/24/2012

    It is my opinion that we need to return to the roots of warfare. To arm combatants with spears, shields and swords; make them stand toe-to-toe with the people they are assigned to kill and face possible death themselves. Perhaps then warfare will be less attractive.

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  11. 11. alan.coffel 2:10 pm 12/24/2012

    If the Syrian military really did use a sophisticated anti-armor weapon against personnel, what does that say about the state of their logistics? Are they running out of anti-personnel weapons? If they’re running out of weapons, what about aircraft and tank parts, fuel, food, and medical supplies? I doubt they’ll get to LordDraqo’s spears, shields, and swords, but they very well may be getting to the point where the war becomes much more up close and personal for the Syrian army.

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  12. 12. singing flea 5:41 pm 12/24/2012

    As long as these kinds of weapons are profitable and legal to sell to anyone with enough bucks they will be made and sold by American corporations or other countries and their subsidiaries regardless of any treaties banning their use by the countries where they were manufactured.

    The same thing goes for assault weapons sold to civilians.

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