When you absolutely, positively have to destroy everything within 300 square meters, leave it to Russia to roll out an upgraded flamethrower tank during recent military exercises.
In late March, a battalion of Moscow’s Radiation, Chemical, and Biological Defense Troops stormed a simulated enemy position in eastern Russia — armed with upgraded shoulder-fired and vehicle-launched thermobaric weapons. In a video from news agency RIA Novosti, shown above, the launchers are seen hurling 24 220-millimeter unguided thermobaric rockets at a time.
Just before reaching their targets, the rockets released a mixture of combustible gas. Within seconds, the gas is ignited, and “all living things within 300 square meters are destroyed by high pressure and temperature,” RIA Novosti observed.
According to the agency, this is the first time the vehicle-mounted launchers have been used in a military exercise. But the launcher itself isn’t entirely new — it’s more of an upgrade. The agencymistakenly refers to the weapon as a TOS-1 Buratino (or “Pinocchio“). But the Pinocchio has been in service for years, and was used in the 1999-2000 Chechen War to help level Grozny. The Pinocchio also has 30 rocket pods, where the vehicles seen laying waste to parts of eastern Russia (above) appear to have only 24 pods.
What are they? Possibly new TOS-1A Soltsepek (or “Burning Sun”) launchers. Like the Pinocchio, the Burning Sun launcher is mounted on a T-72 tank chassis, but it packs 90-kilogram rockets compared to the Pinocchio’s 73-kilogram rockets. To make up for the weight difference, the Burning Sun carries six fewer rockets, hence fewer pods. The launcher also has a range of six kilometers, double the range of the Pinocchio, and has a more advanced ballistic computer.
But don’t be deceived: It’s still an ugly and destructive weapon. “At first it frightens them, and then it gets interesting,” Vladimir Shulik, the battalion commander, told Moscow-based TV station Rossiya 24. Note he was referring to his own troops being scared by this thing. On the other hand, the launcher has fewer shortcomings than its predecessor.
“Flamethrower systems perform a very specific range of tasks — very effectively hit the fortified positions of the enemy, which is difficult to destroy with other weapons — but they have a relativelysmall range, thin armor and limited ammunition,” Victor Murakhovsky, editor of defense trade magazineArsenal told Izvestia in 2012.
In addition to the Burning Sun, Russian chemical troops can be seen firing RPO-A “Schmel-M” (or Bumblebee-M) shoulder-fired thermobaric rockets — though obviously much smaller at a mere 90-millimeters than the vehicle-mounted launcher. Also an upgrade, these rockets are about six years old and have a maximum range of 1,700 meters compared to the standard Bumblebee’s 1,000 meters. Oh, and it’s nicknamed the “Satan-tube.”
“Burning Sun” doesn’t have quite the heavy metal vibe of “Satan-tube.” Still, you probably don’t want to come close when the Russian military rolls it up on you.