The United Kingdom is sending depleted uranium projectiles to Ukraine, triggering a row with Russia. The munitions will be sent to the Ukrainian military as part of the Challenger 2 main battle tank package.
Depleted Uranium Rounds to Ukraine
“Alongside our granting of a squadron of Challenger 2 main battle tanks to Ukraine, we will be providing ammunition, including armor piercing rounds which contain depleted uranium. Such rounds are highly effective in defeating modern tanks and armored vehicles,” Baroness Goldie stated in the House of Lords.
Depleted uranium occurs during the uranium enrichment process—the same process necessary to create nuclear weapons.
Although depleted uranium projectiles do contain some radioactive signature and need to be handled with care, they are less radioactive than natural uranium.
They are often used to produce projectiles because of the great penetrative qualities they give a round.
Denser than lead, depleted uranium is so powerful as a projectile that it will often not just slice through armor but put on fire.
But depleted uranium is also used in the armor of certain tanks, such as the M1A2 Abrams. Despite the presence of uranium, these rounds aren’t nuclear or radiological weapons.
The U.S. military has repeatedly used depleted uranium projectiles in combat and against other tanks, including Russian-made T-72s.
However, it is becoming increasingly likely that Ukrainian tanks won’t be dealing with “modern tanks and armored vehicles” on the battlefield, as Baroness Goldie stated. Indeed, evidence from the ground continues to suggest that the Russian forces are running out of modern weapon systems and are having to rely on decades-old tanks, infantry fighting vehicles, and armored personnel carriers to make up for their losses.
Of course, the Russian government didn’t let the opportunity for some propaganda pass.
The Kremlin was quick to take advantage of the news for information warfare purposes.
The Kremlin portrayed the shipment of depleted uranium projectiles to the Ukrainian military as an escalation of the war.
In the past, Moscow has warned that it would perceive any shipments of depleted uranium ammunition to Ukraine as a nuclear escalation.
“If Kyiv is supplied with such shells for NATO heavy military equipment, we will consider this as the use of dirty nuclear bombs against Russia with all the ensuing consequences,” a Kremlin official had stated in January.
And now, Russian President Vladimir Putin reiterated the same position.
“If all this happens, Russia will have to respond accordingly, given that the West collectively is already beginning to use weapons with a nuclear component,” the Russian leader stated.
At all levels of leadership, Russia has repeatedly threatened a nuclear strike against Ukraine and the West. However, despite the war going increasingly poorly for Russia, the Kremlin hasn’t acted on its threats.
On its end, the British government has rejected the claims that supplying the Ukrainian military with depleted uranium projectiles amounts to a nuclear escalation over Ukraine.
A 19FortyFive Defense and National Security Columnist, Stavros Atlamazoglou is a seasoned defense journalist specializing in special operations, a Hellenic Army veteran (national service with the 575th Marine Battalion and Army HQ), and a Johns Hopkins University graduate. He is currently working towards a Master’s Degree in Strategy and Cybersecurity at the Johns Hopkins University’s School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS). His work has been featured in Business Insider, Sandboxx, and SOFREP.