A flechette is a pointed steel projectile, with a vaned tail for stable flight. The name comes from French fléchette, "little arrow" or "dart", and sometimes retains the acute accent in English: fléchette. Standard pronunciation is /flɛˈʃɛt/ fleh-SHET.
Bulk and artillery use
Flechettes were first used as an air-dropped weapon in World War I by combatants on both sides. These were about four inches long (10 cm) and weighed a couple of ounces (60 g). Dropped from airplanes or Zeppelins over enemy trenches or airfields, these gravity missiles were capable of penetrating a helmet and the wearer's skull. Similar weapons called "Lazy Dogs" (or "Yellow Dog Bombs") were used by the U.S. in the Korean and Vietnam Wars. These 1 3/4" length (4.5 cm) bomblets were air-dropped at height in canisters by aircraft or scattered from buckets by helicopter crews, reaching high sub-sonic speeds as they fell. Targeted at enemy personnel and unarmored vehicles, the flechette hit the targets with the force of a bullet.
Smaller flechettes were used in special artillery shells called "beehive" rounds (so named for the very distinctive whistling buzz made by thousands of flechettes flying downrange at supersonic speeds) and intended for use against troops in the open – a ballistic shell packed with flechettes was fired and set off by pressure-sensitive detonators, scattering flechettes and shrapnel in all directions. They were used in the Vietnam War by artillery gunners to defend their positions against infantry attacks.
After work by Johns Hopkins University in the 1950s there was a concept for Direct Injection Antipersonnel Chemical Biological Agent (DIACBA) where flechettes were grooved, hollow pointed, or otherwise milled to retain a quantity of chemical biological warfare agent to deliver through a ballistic wound. The initial work was with VX, but found that it had to be thickened for the flechette to deliver a reliable dose. Eventually this was replaced by a particulate carbamate.
The CBU-107 Passive Attack Weapon is an air-dropped guided bomb containing 3,700 non-explosive steel and tungsten penetrator rods of various sizes. It was designed to attack targets where an explosive effect may be undesirable, such as fuel storage tanks in civilian areas.
The Israel Defense Forces have drawn criticism for its use of tank fired flechettes in urban areas. In 2008 a flechette round from an Israeli tank fired at Reuters cameraman Fadel Shana killed him along with two adjacent civilians.
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