Russia using ‘nuclear’ ammo in Ukraine and Putin 100% knew this


Putin criticised the UK’s donation of 14 Challenger 2 tanks to Ukraine, specifically taking issue with the potential deployment of depleted uranium tank rounds, claiming that it was a dangerous escalation towards nuclear war. Russian President Vladimir Putin got his knickers in a bit of a twist recently when commenting on the potential deployment of depleted uranium (DU) tank rounds to Ukraine. He basically claimed that this was a dangerous escalation towards nuclear war

Let’s deal with the technical details first. Britain’s Challenger 2 tank mounts a rifled 120mm gun which is designed around three-piece ammunition; the round, the separate bag charge which propels it down and out of the barrel, and a small brass cartridge called a vent tube which is fired electrically to set off the bag charge.

This system is unique to British-designed tanks and therefore the ammunition is not transferable to other NATO tanks like the German Leopard 2 or the American M1A2 Abrams.

Challenger has a choice of main gun ammunition for operations.

There’s the high explosive squash head (HESH) round for use against soft and lighter vehicles, a white phosphorus (WP) smoke round (although we try not to talk about that one), and a long rod penetrator armoured piercing fin stabilised discarding sabot (APFSDS) round, which relies on brute force applied scientifically to penetrate armoured targets like enemy tanks.

This APFSDS round, the CHARM 3 (L27A1 APFSDS DU) to give it its proper title, is the one that is made of DU. Why? Because DU is two and a half times the density of steel and half as expensive, and less environmentally damaging, than the equivalent tungsten carbide round used by the German 120mm smoothbore tank gun.

DU is a by-product of the enriching process which turns uranium into nuclear fuel and is only mildly radioactive in its inert state. Whilst it may give off some radiation into the atmosphere when it hits its target, multiple scientific investigations have not produced a clear cause-and-effect case. Sure, you’re advised not to inhale or ingest it, but in the overall context of dangerous things on the battlefield it’s small beer.

The important point is, though, that it’s not in any way approaching a nuclear weapon as we understand it.

It has been used on battlefields since at least the Gulf War of 1991 where DU rounds were fired, for example, from the 30mm cannons of US AH-64 Apache helicopters and also by the A-10 Warthog ground attack jets. In military terms it’s not a big deal.

What makes Putin look very, very stupid in the light of his allegations, though, is the fact that Russia uses DU in its weapon systems too.

The Russian T-80BV’s 125mm tank cannon, for example, fires a DU round, designated as the 3BM60 Svinets-2 munition. He must have known this from his military briefers and so his pronouncements are once again nothing more than propaganda and disinformation. Our DU 120mm round has not been produced since 2001 and there is no facility to make more. Likewise with the bag charges and vent tube initiator. And Britain’s next tank, the Challenger 3, will have the German smoothbore 120mm gun and use completely different ammunition.

One can only hope, therefore, that when Rishi Sunak announced that the UK was giving 14 Challenger 2s to Ukraine that some logistician had done the necessary sums to ensure that the UK’s remaining vehicles wouldn’t run out of ammunition if push came to shove.

All of which adds a modicum of credibility to the suggestion from some quarters that we should give Ukraine all of our current fleet of tanks and backfill with something more modern and NATO-compatible.  After all, the UK currently has only 227 Challenger 2s, and only 148 of them are due to be upgraded to the new Challenger 3 model.

This new tank will have a limited production run and virtually zero export potential. So it seems eminently sensible to me to donate the entire UK tank fleet to Ukraine and re-equip with the latest iteration of the German Leopard 2, which is likely to be available to us long before Challenger 3.

He does look increasingly unstable and dangerous though. How much longer will the Russian people put up with such a deranged leader?

Lt Col Stuart Crawford is a defence analyst and former army officer. Sign up for his newsletters at



Tank CommanderLt Col Stuart Crawford’s latest book Tank Commander (Hardback) is available now

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