AA-8 missiles are not “dirty bombs”

Exclusive: U.S. Finds Radioactive Missiles in Iraq

A post called “GOTTA SEE THIS-WarEndur.Freedom 3/10/04-Kabul,Baghdad,Russian Missiles” containing “BREAKING: RUSSIAN MISSILES AND DIRTY BOMBS FOUND” led me to google for news on the find.

Newmax writes

U.S. Army troops operating at a former Iraqi air base recently made a startling discovery: Russian-made missiles marked with radioactive warning signs.
Army bomb disposal troops confirmed using Geiger counters that the missiles are indeed radioactive.


U.S. bomb experts noted the R-60 warheads are similar in design and content to a so-called “dirty bomb” that could contaminate a small area with radioactive materials.

The 13 pound warhead of the R-60 (AA-8 “Aphid” to NATO) missile contains 3.5 pounds of depleted uranium (“all the better to shoot you down with, my dear”) designed splinter and puncture the target aircraft when the warhead explodes. AA-8s are air-to-air missiles, but they have also been used from ground launchers, notably (rumor has it) by Yugoslavia against NATO aircraft in 1999.

The headlines of the Newsmax and Free Republic stories may give one the impression that the missiles found in Iraq are modified versions designed to scatter radioactive material over an area, or that they pose a new threat. That’s not the case. The DU warhead has been on the AA-8 since it was first fielded in the mid-1970s.

Could long-term exposure to AA-8 warhead fragments be unhealthy? Maybe. But an exploding AA-8 or two would probably not have any major effect, especially if it went off in the sky as designed and the DU fragments spread over a large area as they fell to earth. Depleted uranium is far, far lower in radioactivity than other forms. Shells made of DU are mostly harmless unless they hit you at a high rate of speed.

Regardless, the DU material in an AA-8 does not at all fit the profile of a “dirty bomb” as usually described. There isn’t enough of it, and it isn’t “dirty” enough to have much of an impact. The headlines are sensational and misleading.

When I say I want more responsible media, I mean everyone.