TAB F - DU Use in the Gulf War

Figure 16. Iraqi T-72 Hit with DU Sabot

Operation Desert Storm was the first conflict to see the extensive use of DU munitions and armor packages. The new 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." 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.[70] DU armor gained an equally impressive reputation. A story illustrating DU’s offensive and defensive renown involves a heavy armor M1A1 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. The 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.[71]

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

A. Army

Figure 17. M1A1 Tank Engages a Target

During the Gulf War, the Army used DU for both defensive and offensive purposes. According to DoD’s report to Congress, Conduct of the Persian Gulf War, 594 of the 1,772 M1A1 series tanks deployed to the Gulf were heavy armor Abrams variants.[72] DU armor packages on these heavy armor tanks provided their crews with added protection. During Operation Desert Storm, there were no penetrations of DU armor by Iraqi fire.[73]

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, in Abrams tanks. Since DU rounds are not fired 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 number of DU rounds expended in combat has not been determined. Units requested ammunition as needed, and were not required to record cumulative expenditures. However, the total quantity of DU rounds used in the Gulf before (during pre-combat live-fire training), during, and after the Gulf War was recorded and allows a reasonable estimate of rounds expended. 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. Table 5 shows ground force ammunition usage as reported by the Theater Ammunition Officer. 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. Numbers in Table 5 include these diverted rounds, but not the initial Marine stocks, whose quantities are currently unknown. As indicated in Table 5 below, the US Army fired 9,552 DU tank rounds, totaling approximately 50 tons of DU. This amount of DU would fit in a box with length, width and height dimensions all equal to four and a half feet.

Table 5. DU Consumed by Army in the Gulf During ODS/DS[74]

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

Figure 18. A-10 "Warthog" in the Gulf

The Air Force fired 30mm Armor Piercing Incendiary (API) munitions using a DU penetrator slug from the GAU-8 Gatling gun mounted on the A-10 Aircraft (Figure 18). 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 high explosive or armor piercing ammunition for the GAU-8.[76]30mm API is mixed with 30mm High Explosive Incendiary (HEI) at the factory and is called Combat Mix Ammunition. The ratio of API to HEI rounds in the Combat Mix is 4:1. The Air Force fired a total of 783,514 rounds of 30mm API in the Gulf War.[77] Since each round contains approximately 0.66 pounds of DU, the Air Force expended a total of 259 tons of DU in the Gulf.

C. Navy

Figure 19. CIWS in the Gulf

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. The weapon was test fired over the Gulf, and during an accidental discharge of 4-5 shells that took place as Navy ships were responding to the launch of a shore-based anti-ship missile.[78] The errant firing marked the only time the CIWS was fired "in anger" during the Gulf War.[79]

D. Marines

Figure 20. USMC M1A1

The USMC deployed to the Gulf with older M-60 tanks. To augment their armor capabilities, the Marines borrowed 60 heavy armor M1A1 Abrams 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 conducting transition training for former M-60 tank crews. The 2nd Tank Battalion and elements of the 4th Tank Battalion employed a total of 76 M1A1 tanks.[80] Initially, these tanks drew on pre-positioned, shipboard munitions stocks that included DU. As these stocks were expended, the Marines drew resupply rounds from Army munitions stocks.

Eighty-six AV-8B Harrier aircraft deployed to the Gulf, flying 3,342 sorties.[81] According to HQ Marine Corps, Department of Aviation, the Marine Corps fired 67,436 rounds of PGU/20 (a 25mm DU round) in the Gulf War.[82] The AV-8B fired an equal mix of DU and HE rounds. Each 25mm DU round contains 148 grams (.33 pounds) of DU, so the Marine aviators expended 11 tons of DU in the Gulf War.[83]

E. Use by Other Countries

Figure 21. UK Challenger Tank

The only other country known to have fired DU munitions in the Gulf War is the United Kingdom. The UK Ministry of Defence’s latest assessment is that its Challenger tanks fired fewer than 100 120mm Armor Piercing Fin Stabilized Discarding Sabot (APFSDS) rounds against Iraqi military forces during hostilities, although additional rounds were fired during earlier work-up training in Saudi Arabia. This equates to less than one (US) ton of DU[84] .

In 1990, the US had a near-monopoly on the use of DU. When this report attributes damage or destruction to DU, it can be assumed that US systems were responsible. No Coalition vehicles or personnel were engaged or struck by DU munitions fired from US tanks and aircraft. Iraq did not have DU armor or munitions in its inventory.

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