TAB F -- DU Use in the Gulf War

Operation Desert Storm was the first conflict to see the extensive use of DU munitions and armor. The new DU rounds gave coalition forces a marked operational advantage. Unit histories from the Gulf War contain many anecdotes attesting to the effectiveness of DU "silver bullets," as they were called by US tankers. One armor brigade commander described looking on in "amazement" as his soldiers -- who in training had never fired at targets beyond 2,400 meters (1.5 miles) -- routinely scored first-shot kills on targets out to 3,000 meters (1.9 miles) and beyond.[219] DU armor gained an equally impressive reputation. A story illustrating DU's offensive and defensive renown involves an M1A1 "Heavy Armor" tank that had become mired in the mud.

The unit (part of the 24th Infantry Division) had gone on, leaving this tank to wait for a recovery vehicle. Three T-72's appeared and attacked. The first fired from under 1,000 meters, scoring a hit with a shaped-charge (high explosive) round on the M1A1's frontal armor. The hit did no damage. The M1A1 fired a 120mm armor-piercing round that penetrated the T-72 turret, causing an explosion that blew the turret into the air. The second T-72 fired another shaped-charge round, hit the frontal armor, and did no damage. This T-72 turned to run, and took a 120mm round in the engine compartment and blew the engine into the air. The last T-72 fired a solid shot (sabot) round from 400 meters. This left a groove in the M1A1's frontal armor and bounced off. The T-72 then backed up behind a sand berm and was completely concealed from view. The M1A1 depressed its gun and put a sabot round through the berm, into the T-72, causing an explosion.[220]

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Figure F-1.  Iraqi T-72 tank hit with DU sabot

The Army, Air Force, Navy, and Marines all used DU to some extent in the Gulf.

A. Army

During the Gulf War, the Army used DU for both defensive and offensive purposes. According to DoD's Final Report to Congress, Conduct of the Persian Gulf War, 594 of the 1,772 M1A1-series tanks used by the Army in the Gulf were heavy armor Abrams variants.[221] DU armor on these heavy armor tanks provided their crews with added protection. During Operation Desert Storm, Iraqi fire did not penetrate any DU armor.[222]

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Figure F-2.  M1A1 tank engages a target

In the Abrams tanks, the Army used 105mm (M900) and 120mm (M829 and M829A1) ammunition with DU penetrators, in addition to non-DU rounds such as High Explosive Anti- Tank (HEAT) shells. Since US tankers do not fire DU rounds in training, the Gulf War was the tankers' first chance to fire the round. As word of the DU sabot round's effectiveness spread, it quickly became the round of choice for US tankers.

The Pentagon has not determined how many DU rounds the Army expended in Gulf War combat. Units requested ammunition as needed, and commanders did not require tank crews to record cumulative expenditures. However, the DoD does know the approximate total number of DU rounds the Army used in the Gulf before (i.e., during pre-combat live-fire training), during, and after the war. The officer in charge of all ground force ammunition in theater tracked the numbers of rounds by type shipped, rounds returned after the war, and rounds left in theater as war reserve stocks. (See Table F-1.) Tank ammunition consumed by the US Marines does not show up on the graphic, since the Marines had tank ammunition pre-positioned on ships. As they expended this initial allocation, the Marines were resupplied from Army stocks. Table F-1 includes the rounds given to the Marines, but not the initial Marine stocks. (The number of DU rounds in the Marine stocks is currently unknown.) As the table indicates, the Army fired 9,552 DU tank rounds, totaling approximately 50 tons of DU. This amount of DU as a solid block would fit in a box measuring 4.5 feet by 4.5 feet by 4.5 feet.

Table F-1. DU consumed by the Army in the Gulf[223]

Ammunition Type


Left on Ship

Left with Reserve Stock

Returned after Gulf War

Consumed in the Gulf

DU used in the Gulf

M900 (105mm)







M829 (120mm)







M829A1 (120mm)














B. Air Force

The GAU-8 Gatling gun mounted on the Air Force's A-10 Aircraft (Figure F-3) fired 30mm armor piercing incendiary (API) rounds with a DU penetrator slug. The 148 A-10s that deployed to Saudi Arabia flew 8,077 combat sorties. A typical combat load would include 1,100 rounds of 30mm API ammunition and high explosive incendiary (HEI) ammunition for the GAU-8.[225] 30mm API is mixed with 30mm HEI at the factory and is called Combat Mix Ammunition. The ratio of API to HEI rounds in the Combat Mix is 5 to 1. The Air Force fired 783,514 rounds of 30mm API in the Gulf War.[226] Since each round contains approximately 0.66 pounds of DU, the Air Force expended a total of 259 tons of DU in the Gulf. This would fit in a box measuring 7.6 feet by 7.6 feet by 7.6 feet. This total includes the expenditure from the 174th Tactical Fighter Wing's A-16 that flew close air support on February 26, 1991, equipped with the GPU30 gun pod, firing a 5:1 mix of 30mm DU and HEI rounds.[227]

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Figure F-3.  A-10 "Warthog" in the Gulf

C. Navy

The Navy deployed its shipboard Phalanx CIWS (Close-In Weapon System) to the Gulf. The Phalanx's 20mm cannon used both DU and tungsten rounds. Ships with the cannon test fired it over the Gulf, and once, while responding to the launch of a shore-based anti-ship missile, a Naval frigate accidentally fired 4 or 5 DU shells -- the only time the Navy fired the CIWS "in anger" during the Gulf War.[228,229]

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Figure F-4.  CIWS in the Gulf

D. Marines

The Marine Corps deployed to the Gulf with older M-60 tanks, but borrowed 60 heavy armor M1A1 tanks from the US Army. In addition, the Marines took early delivery of 16 M1A1s already on order, rushing the new tanks to the Gulf and training M-60 tank crews to take over these 16 M1A1s. The Marines assigned the 76 M1A1 tanks to the 2nd Tank Battalion and elements of the 4th Tank Battalion.[230] Initially, these tanks used pre-positioned, shipboard munitions stocks, which included DU ammunition. As the Marine M1A1s used up the shipboard stocks, they drew resupply rounds from Army munitions stocks.

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Figure F-5.  USMC M1A1

The Marines sent 86 AV-8B Harrier aircraft to the Gulf, which flew 3,342 sorties and fired 67,436 rounds of PGU/20 (a 25mm DU round).[231,232] Each 25mm DU round contains 148 grams (.33 pounds) of DU, so the Marine aviators expended 11 tons of DU in the Gulf War.[233] This would fit in a box measuring 2.7 feet by 2.7 feet by 2.7 feet.

E. Use by Other Countries

The United Kingdom is the only other country known to have fired DU munitions in the Gulf War. The UK Ministry of Defence estimates that its Challenger tanks fired fewer than 100 120mm Armor Piercing Fin Stabilized Discarding Sabot (APFSDS) rounds against Iraqi military forces during hostilities, although the British tanks fired additional rounds during earlier work-up training in Saudi Arabia. This amounts to less than one (US) ton of DU.[234,235]

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Figure F-6.  UK Challenger tank

In 1990-1991, the US had a near-monopoly on the use of DU. When this report describes DU damage or destruction, it is talking about damage or destruction by US weapons. Although US tanks and aircraft mistakenly fired on other American vehicles during friendly fire incidents, this office has found no evidence that US forces engaged any allied vehicles or personnel with DU munitions. Iraq did not have DU armor or munitions in its inventory.

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