The most powerful non-nuclear weapon in Russia’s arsenal, the TOS-1 multiple rocket launcher, has no equals in the world, defense analyst Sebastien Roblin wrote for the National Interest.
“The TOS-1 vehicle has no real counterpart in use by Western militaries,” he noted. While there are all kinds of multiple-rocket launch systems in use, such as the M142 HIMARS in use by the US Army to bombard [Daesh] in Iraq, they are all lightly armored weapons intended for long-range indirect fire.”
The TOS stands for the heavy flamethrower system which is available in two versions, known as TOS-1 nicknamed Buratino and TOS-1A Solntsepyok (Scorching Sun).
he TOS-1 is a 220mm 30-barrel or a 24-barrel multiple rocket launcher and thermobaric weapon mounted on a T-72 tank chassis. The system was specifically designed to obliterate heavily fortified facilities.
Roblin described the launcher as one of “the most devastating explosive weapons short of tactical nuclear weapons.”
This is how this system works: “A fuel-air explosive detonates the very air itself: a small explosive inside the FAE munition spreads a chemical cloud in the air through an aerosol effect.
The gaseous cloud seeps effortlessly into buildings and caves and down into slit trenches.
A secondary explosive then ignites the cloud, causing a massive and long-lasting explosion,” the analyst said. Russia has utilized the system since the late 1990s, with TOS-1’s baptism of fire taking place in Afghanistan during the Soviet–Afghan War.
The TOS-1A was first used in combat in Iraq in 2014 during Operation Ashura which was meant to free the Daesh-held town of Jurf al-Sakhar. Baghdad has four such systems.
“The TOS-1As were also given to the Syrian Arab Army, which deployed them against various Syrian rebels.
Most of the footage released appears to depict the bombardment of rural areas such as the mountains around Latakia, rather than inner-city locations,” the analyst detailed.
The TOS-1 Buratino is a unique Russian self-propelled multiple rocket launcher system (MRLS) that has seen action in global hotspots like Afghanistan, Chechnya, Iraq and Syria. Like the enormous 240-millimeter 2S4 self-propelled mortar, the TOS-1’s specialty is obliterating heavily fortified positions. Although some of these may be found in rural rebel strongholds and fortified caves, they have often been employed in heavily urbanized environments. It’s gained a uniquely nasty reputation because of the horrifying effects of its fuel-air explosive warheads.
To put it concisely, these are amongst the most devastating explosive weapons short of tactical nuclear weapons.
TOS stands for “heavy flame thrower,” which is only accurate in a literal sense: instead of projecting a stream of jellied gasoline, the TOS-1 launches a rocket carrying a fuel-air explosive (FAE).
These were first employed by the United States in the Vietnam War because napalm wasn’t destructive enough.
Napalm munitions disperse a sticky, flaming liquid over a wide area.
By contrast, a fuel-air explosive detonates the very air itself: a small explosive inside the FAE munition spreads a chemical cloud in the air through an aerosol effect.
The gaseous cloud seeps effortlessly into buildings and caves, and down into slit trenches. A secondary explosive then ignites the cloud, causing a massive and long-lasting explosion.
While the heat generated by FAEs causes lethal burns in a wide radius (roughly two hundred by three hundred meters) the overpressure created by the sudden combustion of the air is even deadlier.
The fiery blasts create a partial oxygen vacuum that kills and maims in a variety of grotesque ways and cannot be mitigated with body armor or hard cover.
The pressure generated by a TOS-1 blast amounts to 427 pounds per square-inch—for comparison, most conventional bomb blasts create roughly half that amount, and regular air pressure is fourteen pounds per square inch.
Victims near the center of a TOS-1 blast radius are crushed to death.
Further out, the overpressure can break bones, dislocate eyes, cause internal hemorrhaging, and rupture eardrums, bowels and other internal organs.
It also sucks the air out of victims’ lungs, possibly causing them to collapse, leading to death by suffocation.
The United States was the first to use fuel-air explosives in the Vietnam War, dropping them by air to clear helicopter landing zones and minefields, and later deploying them as offensive weapons.
In 2002, attempting to hunt down Osama bin Laden in the rugged mountains of Tora Bora, U.S. aircraft deployed thermobaric warheads on precision-guided missiles. The warheads would suck the oxygen out of the caves that Taliban fighters were hiding in.
The Soviet Union adopted the weapons shortly after the United States did, using them in a border skirmish against the Chinese in 1969, and employing both air-dropped and ground-launched FAEs on a large scale in the war in Chechnya. The proliferation of TOS-1 systems through global conflict zones (detailed below) ensures they will continue to see use in combat.