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Russia redeploying ‘heavy flamethrower’ thermobaric weapons to elite frontline troops in Ukraine

Thermobaric weapons are considered to be one of the most brutal war weapons in existence

Arpan Rai
Tuesday 11 April 2023 08:15 BST
War in Ukraine: Russian official claims 75% of Bakhmut seized
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Russia is likely handing over thermobaric multiple launch rocket systems to its elite airborne forces, suggesting its use in the continuing war against Ukraine, the British defence ministry said on Tuesday.

The British defence ministry cited Russian media reports on the transfer of TOS-1A thermobaric multiple launch rocket systems to Moscow’s airborne forces (VDV) on 3 April.

Thermobaric weapons, fired using the multiple launch rocket systems, are considered to be one of the most brutal war weapons in existence.

“The highly destructive TOS-1A, which Russia designates as a ‘heavy flamethrower’, is typically operated by Russia’s specialist Chemical, Biological and Radiological Protection Troops in Ukraine, and has not previously been formally associated with the VDV,” the ministry said on Tuesday.

Moscow’s move to transfer the thermobaric multiple launch rocket systems indicates a future role for the elite frontline troops in its offensive salvo in Ukraine.

“It is likely part of efforts to reconstitute the VDV after it suffered heavy casualties in the first nine months of the war,” the MoD said in its latest intelligence update.

An armoured multiple rocket launcher system, TOS-1A can launch missiles with thermobaric warheads and have deadly impact on infrastructure.

Also known as aerosol bombs or vacuum bombs, the artillery system can help fire thermobaric missiles filled with a highly explosive fuel and chemical mix, which, on exploding, can cause supersonic blast waves capable of obliterating everything in their path, including buildings and humans.

While they are not used for precision strikes, thermobaric missiles can be deployed for clearing stretches of ground.

Thermobaric weapons use oxygen from the surrounding air to create a high temperature explosion. They also have blast effects that last longer than a conventional explosion.

The artillery system was used by Russian forces in Afghanistan and Chechnya.

The first signs of the deadly weapon being used in the war-hit nation emerged near Ukraine’s Black Sea city Mykolaiv oblast in early April this year, the Institute for the Study of War said on Monday.

“A Russian military blogger posted footage reportedly showing Russian forces using a TOS-1A thermobaric artillery system to strike Ukrainian positions near Ochakiv, Mykolaiv oblast,” the US-based think-tank monitoring the war in Ukraine said.

According to the Russian defence ministry, the VDV units have been issued TOS-1A “Solntsepek” thermobaric artillery systems for the first time in their history before deploying to an unspecified section of the frontline in Ukraine.

The move of handing the rare TOS-1A thermobaric artillery systems signals the Russian military command looking to prioritise the VDV units to bolster their offensive operations in eastern Ukraine, especially in the Luhansk oblast, the ISW had said last week.

But, “the commitment of VDV units with TOS-1 support to this, or any axis, is unlikely to lend Russian troops a decisive offensive advantage, however”, the ISW said.

In March last year, the Russian MoD had confirmed the use of the TOS-1A weapon system in Ukraine.

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