Last Remaining U.S. Maker of Cluster Bombs Stops Production

Last Remaining U.S. Maker of Cluster Bombs Stops Production

The last remaining U.S. manufacturer of cluster bombs is ending production of the controversial weapon, citing regulatory scrutiny and reduced orders for the internationally banned munitions.

The decision by the Rhode Island-based Textron, whose subsidiary Textron Systems produces the bombs, follows a White House order last May to block the transfer of a Textron shipment of CBU-105 cluster bombs to Saudi Arabia, a move first reported by Foreign Policy.

The White House had come under intense pressure by Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International after those groups documented instances in which Saudi-led forces used CBU-105 munitions in multiple locations across Yemen, including in the towns of Amar, Sanhan, Amran, and the Hayma port.

The blocked transfer was the first concrete step the United States took to demonstrate its unease with the Saudi bombing campaign, which human rights activists say has killed and maimed hundreds of Yemeni civilians, including children. Cluster bombs contain bomblets that can scatter widely and kill or injure indiscriminately. Sometimes bomblets from munitions such as the CBU-105 fail to detonate immediately and can kill civilians months or even years later. The weapons were banned in a 2008 international treaty that arms sales giants, including the United States and Russia, refused to sign.

Textron spokesman Matthew Colpitts told FP on Wednesday that the decision to end production of the munitions was “due to the current regulatory challenges and in light of reduced product orders.”

He defended the CBU-105 as a “smart, reliable air-to-ground weapon that is in full compliance with the U.S. Defense Department policy and current law.”

In a filing to regulators on Tuesday, Textron noted that the sale of its “sensor-fuzed weapon,” or cluster bomb, requires executive branch and congressional approval. “The current political environment has made it difficult to obtain these approvals,” the company said.

As a result of the decision to end production, there will be “headcount reductions [and] facility consolidations,” the company added.

When asked about the hold on cluster bomb shipments in May, a U.S. official cited reports that the Saudi-led coalition used cluster bombs “in areas in which civilians are alleged to have been present or in the vicinity.”

“We take such concerns seriously and are seeking additional information,” said the official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity.

Following media coverage of the White House’s block, peace activists picketed outside the Wilmington, Massachusetts, offices of Textron Systems, calling for an end to the production of cluster bombs.

Since March 2015, when Saudi Arabia launched its military campaign against the Houthi rebellion in Yemen, at least 6,200 people have died (though some estimates now place the death toll as high as 10,000), and nearly 3 million have been displaced from their homes. The conflict is often viewed as a proxy battle between Saudi Arabia, which backs the Yemeni government in exile, and Iran, which has provided some support to Houthi rebels, who are part of a Shiite sect.

At the moment, political talks sponsored by the United Nations have collapsed while the United States has called on all sides to stop fighting. Saudi officials have said they cannot accept Houthi control of large swaths of Yemen and noted that they have intercepted several missiles shot by the rebels.

In a statement to FP, Human Rights Watch spokeswoman Mary Wareham praised the decision. “Textron was the last U.S. manufacturer of cluster munitions, so this decision now clears the path for the administration and Congress to work together to permanently end U.S. production, transfer, and use of cluster munitions,” she said.

In an upbeat note to investors about the decision, Barclays analyst Carter Copeland said the production of cluster bombs limited the “ownability” of Textron shares among foreign investment funds “due largely to interpretations of where [Textron] stood vis-a-vis international weapons treaties.” As a result, the decision could expand Textron’s investor base in Europe, Copeland said.

This post has been updated. 

Photo credit: Bloomberg/Getty Images