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Labeling Munitions: Why Not?

Some weeks back, between trips to Syria, when I had hoped to have time to write a post about the discovery of unexploded French cluster munitions in Libya, (which this week became this), I posted a photograph of the Type 314 explosive bomblet here. A similar photograph is above.

Note the writing on the bomblet. DANGER. EXPLOSIVE. DO NOT TOUCH. CONTACT POLICE. 

Almost immediately readers wrote me asking why all ordnance is not marked with clear warning labels to protect the civilians who invariably encounter such items after they fail to explode or are abandoned in a conflict. Or, for that matter, why similar warnings are not provided in multiple languages or via symbols that require no language at all to understand. 

To the long list of questions raised by these little gifts to Libya from France, those are good questions to add.

Background: Many nations and arms factories do in fact put distinct paint schemes on ordnance of different categories. But such labels and paint are typically intended for professional ordnance handlers, to prevent confusion when firing a weapon. (Lest the crew in the mortar pit fire a parachute flare where what it wanted was a high-explosive fragmentation round, or vice versa.) In any event paint is temporary. It can readily come off when subjected to the heat and friction of ordnance being fired or as it surrenders its energy upon collision with the ground.  And that’s only the beginning. Once a piece of unexploded or discarded ordnance comes to rest, the elements take over. Weathering begins. Shells can quickly turn to rust balls.

Still, clear warnings in paint would be a start. And there are other ways to outfit ordnance so it announces its threat to those who might encounter it later in unexploded form, including ways that could last years. Metal stamping is one possible method.  

Back to the point: Why is not all ordnance marked in a durable, universal fashion that says what the item above announces?  DANGER. EXPLOSIVE. DO NOT TOUCH. CONTACT PROFESSIONAL HELP.

ABOUT THE PHOTOGRAPH

By the author. Ga’a. 2011. Note: The French firms that developed the Type 314 A AV — Alkan SA and Societe E. Lacroix — should be commended for marking the bomblet in the manner seen above. It should be noted as well, however, that contacting the police is of limited utility when virtually no one knows how to render this item safe, because the render-safe procedures are walled off from the public.


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    Interesting reading, especially the final note about render-safe procedures. Although I have to confess that it jarred a...
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