The first recorded videos of the Russian TOS-1A multiple launch rocket systems (MLRS) firing at Ukrainian targets have surfaced online, showing the devastation and destruction it is capable of on the frontlines.
News of Russia using thermobaric weapons isn’t new. Russia had used thermobaric weapons before in Chechnya in 1999 and during the Russian intervention in Syria, where al-Assad forces used vacuum bombs made by Russia.
Russia was reported to have deployed the TOS-1A Thermobaric MRLS (also known as the “Solntsepyok” or “Sunshine”) in March, where it was spotted on the back of a lorry en route to the frontlines in Belgorod around late February.
Russia first admitted its use of the devastating weapon last March in Ukraine. At the same time, the Ukrainian government accused Russia of using vacuum bombs and cluster bombs in war. Amnesty International and the British Ministry of Defense have since confirmed the use of cluster bombs and thermobaric weapons, respectively, with SOFREP also reporting on the matter last April.
Last May 26th, the Ukrainian Defense Ministry released footage of the Russian TOS-1A shelling Ukrainian positions in Novomykhailivka, Donetsk. The terrifying video shows the blasts and shockwaves the thermobaric bombs cause when they detonate. Countless blasts were seen in the video, with condensation clouds clearly seen during the blasts.
russian TOS-1A shelling Ukrainian positions near Novomykhailivka, Donetsk region. This is what the the largest and most horrific war of the 21st century looks like. Ukraine is ready to strike back. To do this, we need NATO-style MLRS. Immediately. pic.twitter.com/XwdBfAfEq8
— Defence of Ukraine (@DefenceU) May 26, 2022
“This is what the largest and most horrific war of the 21st century looks like. Ukraine is ready to strike back,” the Ukrainian Defense Ministry said. “To do this, we need NATO-style MLRS. Immediately.”
Luckily for Ukraine, the US has already begun talking about preparing donations of either the High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems (HIMARS) and Multiple Launch Rocket Systems (MLRS), which can definitively help the Ukrainians strike back against these thermobaric weapons. Specifically, the US is looking to donate either the M270 MLRS or M142 HIMARS.
The TOS-1A “Buratino” is an MRLS nobody wants to underestimate, as seen from the video. It is the younger variant of the original TOS-1, entering service in 2001 on a T-72 chassis. It featured a better ballistic computer and an extended range of 3.7 miles. Later on, in 2020, a new rocket for the TOS-1A would be unveiled with a range of 6.2 miles. Each system is composed of a BM-1 launcher, two TZM-T transporters, and 24 unguided thermobaric rockets, which can be fired as fast as 12 seconds.
A common misconception about the weapon is that it is a flamethrower because of its nickname, but in reality, it has nothing in common with flamethrowers. It is strictly a thermobaric/fuel-air explosive (FAE) weapon. It is also not the Russian “Father of all Bombs,” although that is a real (and huge) air-dropped thermobaric weapon.
A video of Russian TOS-1A thermobaric MRLS strikes hitting Lyman in the Luhansk Oblast.
According to reports, the Russian assault on the city is underway. pic.twitter.com/ULPYFcFWI0
— Status-6 (@Archer83Able) May 23, 2022
So what makes it all that scary? These thermobaric missiles (commonly known as vacuum bombs) are known to obliterate humans in a very literal sense. It uses oxygen around it to amplify its temperature, making it rise to have a very powerful explosion.
What happens is that when a thermobaric weapon is fired, the first of two charges blow up and releases fuel into the air. The released fuel then forms a cloud. Once the cloud is large enough, the second charge blows up, detonating the fuel and ultimately creating a devastating fireball (hence the nickname “flamethrower”) that engulfs those around the blast area. In anything that has fire in it, the more oxygen there is, the larger and the hotter the blast will be. The resulting fire is reported to be around 3,632 Fahrenheit to 6,332 Fahrenheit (2,500C to 3,000C), about as hot as volcanic lava that just happens to also be capable of rupturing human internal organs.
“Those at the fringe are likely to suffer many internal, thus invisible injuries, including burst eardrums and crushed inner ear organs, severe concussions, ruptured lungs, and internal organs, and possibly blindness,” US intel finds.
In 1993, the US Defense Intelligence Agency found that the blast was “unique” in the sense that the vacuum caused by the weapon ruptures the lungs. More so, if the fuel fails to be detonated but is deflagrated, those who inhale the fuel-infused oxygen will inhale toxic fumes that can burn their lungs.
Thermobaric weapons are especially devastating in confined spaces as the blast will be concentrated in a small space. The pressure created by the blast is around 427 lbs per square inch, which can rip lung tissue. Individuals exposed to the weapon also aren’t safe hiding behind walls or surfaces as these will amplify the pressure waves, which cause more damage instead of protecting the person when compared to conventional explosive blasts.
As evidence suggests, the Russians are probably using this weapon to kill or draw out Ukrainian troops who have dug trenches along the frontlines. If Russia wants to break through these fortified defenses, then thermobaric weapons can do exactly that – and they can use them as they are not prohibited weapons. We doubt the Russians spend much time fussing over the legality of weapons in any event. If the Russians do hit civilian areas with these weapons, as they frequently have with other munitions, that would just add to the list of other crimes Russia has committed against Ukraine’s civilian population.