August 12, 2022

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Spectacular and devastating, thermobaric weapons are a new tool of Russian military propaganda

In a moment, with a deafening roar, great mushrooms of fire sow death and desolation. was afraid By Ukrainian forces, the TOS-1A Solntsepek (“sunlight” in French) systems are considered by Moscow to be the country’s most powerful non-nuclear weapons. Almost five months after the first evidence about them, they are still being used in Ukraine, France Info discovered from video documents.

In late June, Moscow for the first time authorized their use in the conflict. Then the Russian Ministry of Defense published Hollywood style video*, to ensure that it promotes a weapon that is impossible “to get accommodation”. Consisting of a chassis and launcher, the system presented itself from every angle like a sophisticated sedan. With overlays of images of strikes filmed by drones.

The TOS-1A heavy flamethrower system is featured in a video released by the Russian Ministry of Defense on June 24, 2022.  (Russian Ministry of Defense)

The principle is strong. The first load of these 220 mm missiles “Vaporizes highly flammable gas”, explains franceinfo Stéphane Audrand, a consultant specializing in weapons. A millisecond later, a second charge ignites the thermobaric compound. Temperatures can then reach 3,000 degrees and ambient oxygen is consumed “In a Second”This leads to “A case of extreme stress”. Air is first drawn in, creating a vacuum effect (negative pressure) and permeating everywhere (positive pressure) before being released in the breath of fire.

“There’s no protection. The high pressure seeps into every nook and cranny and pressure-cooks the enemy. It’s terrifying.”

Stephen Adrant is a consultant specializing in military weapons

At franceinfo

These weapons are sometimes incorrectly referred to as “vacuum bombs”. Still theirs “The fatal outcome is due to lack of oxygen, rather than pulmonary barotrauma” Caused by pressure differential, explains Special issue Security technology (in English). Even with this cocktail of fire and shockwaves targeting troops positioned in shelters, they don’t stand a chance.

The video from the Russian Ministry of Defense did not surprise many, since the use of TOS-1As has been known for a long time. The Zvezda TV channel under the Ministry of Defense had already mentioned, In early March*, a Russian sergeant, the writer’s exploits “From a precision view of TOS-1A” In the Chernihiv region, north of Kiev. A fortnight later, the press service of the Donetsk militia realized A long video* To demonstrate its punching power. At the end of April, pro-Kremlin agency Anna also broadcast A statement* As close as possible to these weapons.

An excerpt from a video broadcast of the delivery of the TOS-1A system by Donetsk militia (Eastern Ukraine) on March 20, 2022.  (Media Service of the Militants of the Self-proclaimed Donetsk Republic)

What are these weapons used for? To understand this, franceinfo collected several video documents and was able to establish geographical correspondences for about twenty images: in the Kharkhiv region (northeast), Kherson (south), and especially the Donbass front (east).

For example, in late June and early July, several pro-Russian accounts claimed TOS-1As were mobilized during an offensive in the Luhansk region that took control of the city of Lysychansk. The targets were located on the southern axis of this key city, which was finally lost by Ukraine on July 3.

Geolocation of three videos of alleged thermobaric strikes on approach to Lyssytchansk (eastern Ukraine) in late June.  (Franceinfo)

Basic technique: “If the Russian military stumbles somewhere, it shavesComments by Stéphane Audrand. It is useful in neutralizing enemy infantry at a particular location.” Russia “Givesapplication TOS-1A By ground forces, within the framework of mechanized maneuvers to support infantry”The weapons expert continues.

After the capture of Lisitsansk, the Kremlin-led offensive now continues westward, with the key city of Sloviansk as its objective. Alexander Kotz, one of Russia’s most prominent war correspondents, recently shared new footage of what he claimed was a TOS-1A strike. Franceinfo was able to find these images in the forest between Lisitsansk and Siviersk on the new axis of the Russian advance. Again, in favor of the forces.

A Russian military reporter posted a video showing the explosion in the forest, which geolocates between Lisitsansk and Sivirsk.  (Franceinfo)

Used at the front, these thermobaric weapons are regularly highlighted on television by the regime’s propagandists, who highlight their destructive aspect to target public opinion. In early June, presenter Olga Skabeeva devoted an entire scene to them on the program “60 Minutes” on the state channel Rossiya 1. With emphasis and intensity, he extolled the virtues of a weapon. “Capable of firing 24 missiles per second” Destroy “Area of ​​4 sq km”. In the montage, a screen simultaneously revealed images of a crouching soldier and then a deluge of fire.

Olga Skabeeva presents a series dedicated to thermobaric weapons in her program "60 minutes"On Rosiya 1. (Rosiya 1)

Already four years ago, the Moscow newspaper Lenta It was exciting* For this “Deadly Demon Weapon”. The war in Ukraine has renewed passionate comments on social networks, especially on “Pro-Z” Telegram accounts. The latter is buzzing with videos of purported thermobaric strikes, images that are sometimes difficult to recognize due to lack of field investigation.

The war in Ukraine provides an excellent showcase for the development and marketing of these weapons, the handling of which is assigned to special units responsible for radiological, chemical and biological protection (RKhBZ). Belarus should soon complete the purchase of these TOS-1A systems from Russia A Military-Political Study*, near authority, and Gaon compound*, specialized in military operations. Armenia, Syria, Algeria, Saudi Arabia… TOS-1A was already in the top five sales of Russian land weapons abroad, Rosoboronexport, the state agency responsible for Russian arms exports, said (in English)After a demonstration in 2020.

“The TOS-1A heavy flamethrower system is unique in the world arms market. It is not produced anywhere except in Russia.”

Alexander Mikheev, General Manager of Rosoboronexport

In July 2020, during a demonstration for overseas customers

The brand new TOS-2 “Tosochka” is already docked near Kharkiv, According to the Russian agency Tass (in English). It takes up the torch of this “thermobaric tradition” started in Afghanistan in the 1980s, with the TOS-1 “Bouratino” (“Pinocchio”, in French) and its thirty missile tubes.

TOS-1 states "Buratino"It was identified by its 30 missile tubes during the Russian operation in Afghanistan in the 1980s.  (BVTV.INFO)

Future sales are guaranteed, especially since no international treaty bans these weapons. However, the third protocol of the Geneva Convention prohibits its use in areas where civilians may be present. Their use must respect the principle of “proportionality” relative to the expected benefit, and must not cause excessive suffering to enemy combatants. “There are some objective conditions that justify their assistanceStephen Autrand explains, “Like destroying a hard-to-reach arsenal.”. Are these criteria well respected in Ukraine?

“When you destroy a village without making sure there are no civilians there, there is a high probability of committing a war crime or a violation of international law.”

Stephen Adrant is a consultant specializing in military weapons

At franceinfo

To date, two preliminary investigations have been opened for possible crimes related to the use of Russian thermobaric weapons, franceinfo has learned from the Ukrainian Prosecutor General’s Office. The first relates to a Russian attack on the villages of Mala Rohan and Vilkivka (Kharkiv region) from March 23 to 26, in which a 13-year-old girl died in hospital of her injuries. The second was triggered after a strike in the village of Novy Petrovtsi near Kiev. “Thermobaric Projectile Debris Collected” and the launcher type is identified.

* All of these links refer to content in Russian

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