International Space Agencies – Missions and Discoveries

What are Cluster Bombs and Thermobaric Weapons?


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Cluster Bombs and Thermobaric Weapons

Mains level : Not Much

Human rights group Amnesty International has accused Russia of using cluster bombs and vacuum bombs in the ongoing war.

What are Cluster Munitions?

  • According to the 2008 Convention on Cluster Munitions, a cluster munition means a “conventional munition that is designed to disperse or release explosive submunitions each weighing less than 20 kilograms, and includes those explosive submunitions”.
  • Essentially, cluster munitions are non-precision weapons that are designed to injure or kill human beings indiscriminately over a large area.
  • They are often designed to destroy vehicles and infrastructure such as runways, railway or power transmission lines.
  • They can be dropped from an aircraft or launched in a projectile that spins in flight, scattering many bomblets as it travels.
  • Many of these bomblets end up not exploding, but continue to lie on the ground, often partially or fully hidden and difficult to locate and remove, posing a threat to the civilian population.
  • The Convention on Cluster Munitions specifically identifies “cluster munition remnants”, which include “failed cluster munitions, abandoned cluster munitions, unexploded submunitions and unexploded bomblets”.

And what is a Thermobaric Weapon?

  • Thermobaric weapons — also known as aerosol bombs, fuel air explosives, or vaccum bombs — use oxygen from the air for a large, high-temperature blast.
  • A thermobaric weapon causes significantly greater devastation than a conventional bomb of comparable size.
  • The weapons, which go off in two separate stages, can be fired as rockets from tank-mounted launchers or dropped from aircraft.
  • As they hit their target, a first explosion splits open the bomb’s fuel container, releasing a cloud of fuel and metal particles that spreads over a large area.
  • A second explosion then occurs, igniting the aerosol cloud into a giant ball of fire and sending out intense blast waves that can destroy even reinforced buildings or equipment and vaporise human beings.

Is it legal to use these weapons?

  • Countries that have ratified the Convention on Cluster Munitions are prohibited from using cluster bombs.
  • As of date, there are 110 state parties to the convention, and 13 other countries have signed up but are yet to ratify it.
  • Neither Russia nor Ukraine are signatories.
  • These bombs are not prohibited by any international law or agreement, but their use against civilian populations in built-up areas, schools or hospitals, could attract action under the Hague Conventions of 1899 and 1907.
  • International humanitarian law prohibits the use of inherently indiscriminate weapons such as cluster munitions.
  • Launching indiscriminate attacks that kill or injure civilians constitutes a war crime.


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