White phosphorus shells/munitions

  • IASbaba
  • March 15, 2022
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White phosphorus shells/munitions

Part of: Prelims and GS-II International Relations and GS-III Defence and security

Context: Russian forces were recently accused of launching phosphorus bomb attacks in the eastern region of Lugansk.

  • International law prohibits the use of white phosphorus shells in heavily populated civilian areas, but allows them in open spaces to be used as cover for troops.

White phosphorus munitions

  • White phosphorus munitions are weapons that use one of the common allotropes of the chemical element phosphorus.
  • White phosphorus is:
    • pyrophoric (it is ignited by contact with air); 
    • burns fiercely; 
    • can ignite cloth, fuel, ammunition, and other combustibles.
  • White phosphorus is a highly efficient smoke-producing agent, reacting with air to produce an immediate blanket of phosphorus pentoxide vapor. 
  • Smoke-producing white phosphorus munitions are very common, particularly as smoke grenades for infantry.
  • These create smoke screens to mask friendly forces’ movement, position, infrared signatures, and shooting positions.

Historical record of phosphorus use

  • Phosphorus ammunitions have been used throughout history and in modern wars such as Iraq war, Arab-Israeli conflict as well.
  • Two events are listed below:
    • There have been White phosphorus is believed to have been first used by Fenian (Irish nationalist) arsonists in the 19th century.
    • The British Army introduced the first factory-built white phosphorus grenades in late 1916 during the First World War.

News Source: TH

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