Last December , Russia created a new heavy weapons regiment based in Nizhniy Novgorod.
The regiment has both “TOS-1A Solntsepek flamethrowers and the Shmel-M infantry flamethrowers,” according the Interfax news agency.
The Russian media often refers to the TOS-1A and Shmel-M as flamethrowers, but the term is a bit of a misnomer in English. This hardware has little in common with those rare, flame-spewing weapons.
Instead, these are thermobaric launchers which propel a fuel-air round.
The round disperses a flammable cloud, which then ignites.
The main targets are bunkers, caves and buildings—pretty much any enclosed space.
These mixtures can burn, but they mainly kill through blast pressure and sucking out the oxygen from confined areas.
The Shmel-M is a shoulder-launched thermobaric weapon. The TOS-1A is a multiple-rocket launcher mounted on a T-72 tank chassis.
It can fire 24 220-millimeter rockets each packing a 100-kilogram warhead. The rockets’ range is about six kilometers.
It’s a ludicrously destructive—although comparatively short-range—piece of artillery … and it just looks mean.
But here’s another unusual fact. The regiments in Nizhniy Novgorod, Volgograd, Crimea and Ingushetia are nuclear, chemical and biological defense units.
Besides rocket launchers, they have mobile laboratories and specialized vehicles for sniffing out and sanitizing contaminated areas.
This makes sense, if you think about it. The TOS-1A first appeared in 1988 and saw action in Afghanistan. In the event of a major war with NATO, the TOS-1s would smash prepared defenses, allowing Soviet tank columns to blitz into the enemy’s rear.
The Soviets anticipated operating in a radiation-contaminated environment, hence pairing thermobaric weapons with NBC units.
“From a Russian military perspective, flamethrowers are seen not as weapons simply to be handed out to the rank-and-file for any ad-hoc use, but instead as a mature weapon system that filled specific capability gaps in the Russian Armed Forces force structure,” noted OE Watch, the U.S. Army Foreign Military Studies Office’s monthly newsletter.
The burning projectile fired by Russia’s TOS-1A heavy thermobaric flamethrower system is capable of making life a living hell for anyone within its reach.
Aptly dubbed “Solntsepyok” (Sunheat), the TOS-1A heavy flamethrower system is a 220 mm 24-barrel multiple rocket launcher and thermobaric weapon mounted on a T-72 tank chassis.
It has gained a uniquely nasty reputation because of the horrifying effects of its fuel-air explosive warheads.
The TOS-1A fires thermobaric rockets, which disperse a cloud of flammable liquid into the air around the target, and then ignite it.
The effect of their explosion is absolutely devastating as the blast lasts significantly longer and the resulting shockwave is much hotter and more powerful than anything other conventional warheads can boast of.
As if that was not enough, all the oxygen in the vicinity of the explosion is also consumed creating a partial vacuum.
All this makes the TOS-1A a horrifying weapon against enemy personnel hiding in bunkers and caves and has earned it the well-deserved title of “the most devastating explosive weapons short of tactical nuclear weapons around.”
Vladimir Medvedev, the chief designer at SPLAV R&D Association, which developed the system’s missile, told Zvezda TV that it was originally meant to have a range of 3.,5 kilometers (2.3 miles), but was later upgraded to fly up to six kilometers (three miles).
The minimum range of 600 meters (yards) was preserved though, which means that the Solntsepyok can fire virtually point-blank.
The missile travels along a very steep trajectory literally “falling” on an enemy’s head. Targeting is done with the help of an optical sight with a laser rangefinder and ballistic calculator. They position the launcher at a proper angle and all the operator needs to do is pull the trigger.
A single TOS-1A packs more firepower than several 18-howitzer batteries. Fire preparation is just a tiny fraction of what conventional multiple rocket launchers need to open up.
The TOS-1A is the only such thermobaric flamethrower around, but Vladimir Medvedev believes that impressed by its performance in real combat situations, foreign weapons designers are likely to start developing heir own such systems.
Meanwhile, unwilling to rest on its laurels, the SPLAV designers are already setting their sight on a new generation of heavy flamethrower systems lovingly dubbed “Tosochka” (Baby TOS).
In addition to the TOS-1A’s predecessor, the Tosochka, already included in the 2018-2025 State Armament Program, will also have a wheeled chassis making it ideal for use in the desert and for potential buyers from the Middle East.
The Tosochka is expected to be showcased during the Army —2017 international forum scheduled for later this month.