Thermobaric rockets: Russia’s deadliest weapon capable of destroying a city block with a single hit

As fighting in Ukraine escalates in its biggest cities, there are growing fears that a war of attrition could result in escalating violence and the use of ever more deadly weapons.

On Saturday, a CNN correspondent captured footage of what appeared to be a heavy TOS-1 flamethrower system being transported to the Ukrainian border near the Russian town of Belgorod.

Nicknamed “Buratino” in reference to the Russian version of Pinnochio – because of its long pointed nose – the TOS-1 is a 24-tube 220mm multiple rocket launcher and one of the most formidable weapons in the arsenal. Russian.

What particularly raised eyebrows in the CNN footage is the weapon the TOS-1 is used to launch: vacuum bombs, also known as thermobaric rockets.

What is a thermobaric weapon?

The word thermobaric comes from the combination of the Greek words thermos, ‘heat’, and baros meaning ‘pressure’. In practice, this weapon combines shock waves and suction to produce a high temperature explosion.

“It’s a weapon that, when it explodes, will release its explosive – or its fuel – and will create an overpressure effect that will end in a much larger detonation and be really devastating because of the wave of shock,” Jean-Marie Collin, expert and spokesperson for ICAN France, the French branch of the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons, told Euronews Next.

The need to use such a weapon is “this ability to create an overpressure that will create an extremely strong shock”, he explained.

The TOS-1 was first deployed by Russia in Afghanistan in the 1980s and more recently in Chechnya and Syria, designed to eliminate infantry, bunkers, fortifications and vehicles.

Collin traces them further.

“The first uses date back to the Second World War. And it was also used a lot in wars, unfortunately, in Iraq or Afghanistan, probably too. So the use of a thermobaric weapon is something that, unfortunately, is used in different conflicts,” he said.

While the United States also manufactures these types of weapons, Russia reportedly detonated the largest explosion to date in 2007, creating an explosion equivalent to 39.9 tons.

In 2015, Dave Majumdar, the website’s defense editor national interestexplained that “Buratino can obliterate an area of ​​approximately 200m by 400m with a single salvo. In other words, he can instantly turn several city blocks into smoldering rubble with a single shot.”

How dangerous are they?

In February 2000, a report by Human Rights Watch sounded the alarm about the devastating effect of thermobaric weapons, citing a study by the US Defense Intelligence Agency.

“The [blast] The kill mechanic against living targets is unique and unpleasant. (…) What kills is the pressure wave, and above all, the ensuing rarefaction [vacuum], which ruptures the lungs. (…) If the fuel deflagrates but does not explode, victims will be severely burned and will likely also inhale the burning fuel,” the study said.

“Since the most common FAE fuels, ethylene oxide and propylene oxide, are highly toxic, unexploded FAE should prove as lethal to personnel caught in the cloud as most chemicals”.

The study described that the symptoms could be more dangerous in confined spaces.

“Those near the ignition point are annihilated,” the study details. “Those on the periphery are susceptible to numerous internal, thus invisible, injuries, including burst eardrums and crushed inner ear organs, severe concussions, ruptured lungs and internal organs, and possibly to be blind”.

For Collin, the impact is again very different from a nuclear bomb.

“A nuclear weapon remains a weapon of mass destruction whose use has lasting consequences, which is not the case with a thermobaric or conventional weapon system, even if this weapon system can obviously create a lot of injury and destruction,” he said. Euronews Next.

“A nuclear weapon is something that really destroys all life in the place where it was used. We are talking about the power that is multiplied by tens”.

ICAN’s Response to the Nuclear Threat

The 2017 Nobel Prize-winning ICAN denounced the invasion of Ukraine on Sunday, calling it Vladimir Putin’s “dangerous game”.

“President Putin is playing a dangerous game by placing nuclear weapons on combat alert. Our campaign strongly condemns this action and we call for an immediate ceasefire, as well as the withdrawal of Russian forces from Ukraine,” he said. Collin said in a statement sent to AFP.

“The world is approaching a nuclear catastrophe, so we urge all nuclear-weapon states to remove their arsenals from alert status and refrain from threatening to use their arsenals,” he added. .

ICAN stressed that “any use of nuclear weapons would cause catastrophic humanitarian suffering and the fallout – radioactive, economic, political, will harm people for generations.”

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