As with landmines and napalm, cluster munitions are decidedly politically incorrect, and there is a concerted international effort to ban them. Problem is, they're highly effective, and countries that actually fight wars, like the U.S. and Russia, are loath to give them up.
However, a "humanitarian" version of the "cluster bomb" may head-off some objections to their continued production, or at least provide cover for those who want to keep them in the inventory. Billed as safer alternative to cluster munitions, Sensor fuzed weapons (SFW) contain independent self-destruct features based on altitude, time elapsed, and a battery "time-out" that shuts down all functions if no targets are detected within minutes of deployment, according to manufacture Textron Defense Systems. (Video)
"As responsible citizens, we share in the international community's concern about the need to limit the impact of war on civilian populations, particularly when the battle is over and hazardous unexploded ordnance remains," the company says. "We are committed to minimizing civilian losses during conflict and eliminating casualties when the fighting is done."
Cluster bombs are often seeded in the heat of combat, and then forgotten until, in what could be years later, some innocent hoeing his potatoes sets one off. They are generally large bombs that open in mid-flight to scatter dozens or hundreds of smaller sub munitions. In contrast, the SFW's self-destruct and self neutralization features ensure no unexploded ordinance is left behind, according to Textron.(PDF)
The SFWs contain Textron's BLU-108 sub munitions and Skeet warheads equipped with dual-mode passive infrared and active laser targeting sensors that use complex algorithms to detect targets over a lofted trajectory. If no target is detected, one or more of the three safety modes is activated. The first two enable the Skeet to self-destruct eight seconds after launch or within 50 feet above the ground. The third is a built-in redundant time-out feature that renders the weapon inert within minutes of hitting the ground.
While 98 countries have signed the Convention on Cluster Munitions, only 14 have ratified it; Japan being the most recent. Thirty are required for the ban to become legally binding. However, Albania and Luxembourg are on board, so it's only a question of time.