By ELLIE COOK
A new video has captured the moment a Russian thermobaric multiple rocket launcher system burst into flames after being targeted in eastern Ukraine.
The video, which was shared by Belarusian news outlet Nexta on Telegram, showed the destruction of a Russian TOS-1 or TOS-1A in the Donbas region.
Russian forces are known to have used the TOS-1A during Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine. Oksana Markarova, the Ukrainian ambassador to the U.S., said within days of the invasion that thermobaric weapons, also known as “vacuum bombs,” had been used in Ukraine. Within weeks of the start of the invasion Western defense ministries confirmed the use of the TOS-1A system in Ukraine.
In early February 2023, the Critical Threats project said Russian forces had been using the TOS-1A thermobarbic artillery system on the Donetsk front lines.
A still image from footage shared by Belarusian news outlet Nexta shows the destruction of a Russian TOS-1 or TOS-1A multiple rocket launcher in eastern Ukraine on Tuesday. Such rocket launchers are a “high-priority item,” Newsweek has been told.
The use of such artillery systems near the contested town of Vuhledar indicated Russian forces’ “relative prioritization of this area,” it said. In late 2022 footage also emerged of TOS-1 multiple rocket launchers reportedly being used around the Donetsk city of Bakhmut.
Thermobaric weapons use oxygen to create a high-temperature explosion. A second charge ignites after the initial explosion and can have a “devastating” impact, according to the British defense ministry.
The explosive produces a “rapidly-expanding fireball explosion” with no shrapnel, defense and military technology expert David Hambling told Newsweek. The TOS-1 causes an “extremely powerful shock wave which can shatter buildings,” which often helps identify when it has been used, he added.
TOS-1 and TOS-1A 220 mm artillery systems can launch between 24 and 30 thermobaric rockets, and are mounted on main battle tank chassis. Russian state defense organization, Rosoboronexport, states on its website that the TOS-1A is “designed to suppress a whole variety of covered and open targets with thermobaric rockets.”
“The TOS-1A uses thermobaric rockets, creating incendiary and blast effects,” the British defense ministry said on March 9, 2022.
An “extremely lethal weapon with great combat capabilities,” according to Rosoboronexport, it can be combat-ready within 90 seconds, with its shortest firing range being 600m, according to the state-linked entity. It has a maximum range of 5.6 miles, according to Russian state media.
Classified by the Russian military as flame-throwers, rather than artillery systems, the function of the TOS-1 and TOS-1A is to lob a huge weight of explosive over a short range. They are designed to be used against trenches, bunkers and fortifications, Hambling said.
They are a “high-priority item” for the Russian military, and prove “highly effective” against dug-in troops, he added. It would be more unusual to see them used against tanks or infantry out in the open and Russia only has a “small number” of these launchers, Hambling stressed.
The destructive power of the thermobaric weapons means a TOS-1 is “impossible to use in an inhabited area without a high risk of civilian casualties,” Hambling said.
“International humanitarian law calls for only proportionate force to be used; one human rights campaigner calls the TOS-1 ‘a war crime on tracks,'” he added.
The TOS-1A was used in Afghanistan and was deployed with Russian forces in Chechnya.
“The only effective way to counter them is to identify, locate and take out the launchers before they can be brought into action,” Hambling said.