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Smart Bombs: Military, Defense and National Security

No Way to Die: Is Russia Using Thermobaric Weapons In Ukraine?

Russian TOS-1 MLRS. Image Credit: Creative Commons.
Russia's TOS-1 Thermobaric MLRS.

Russia’s Life-Sucking Thermobaric Weapons are No Way to Die – Russian thermobaric weapons are truly horrifying, and they are potentially being used in Ukraine to terrify soldiers and civilians in defiance of the conventions of war. Thermobarics, also known as vacuum munitions, are often fired by multiple-launch rocket systems like the TOS-1 Buratino or sometimes dropped from aircraft as a bomb. The TOS-1 is deployed in Ukraine and has been spotted traveling into the country from Belarus. Human rights organizations are investigating the possibility that Russia is using thermobarics against citizens – an action that would be considered a war crime.

The chemical or aerosol cloud from thermobarics can create a shock wave that fatally burns some victims and sucks the life out of others. Even those outside the impact zone can suffer burst eardrums and damaged lungs.

Napalm-like Fireball Is Doomsday Weapon

Thermobarics act like a napalm fireball and brutally kill everyone in the 1,000-foot radius impact zone. The TOS-1, for example, can fire 24 thermobaric rockets in 15-seconds within a two-mile range. That’s why the TOS-1 is referred to as the “flamethrower.”

Russia Has Violated Humanitarian Law With Other Weapons

Since the early hours of the invasion, Amnesty International has documented numerous incidents of Russian unguided missiles hitting densely populated areas in Ukraine that have killed civilians. These are violations of humanitarian law, according to Amnesty.

Ukrainian Officials Claim the Russians Have Used a Thermobaric Bomb

Now thermobarics have unleashed a new appalling Russian tactic that has also defied international norms. Oksana Markarova, Ukraine’s ambassador to the United States, spoke to journalists on February 28. She believes Russia exploded a thermobaric weapon.

“They used the vacuum bomb today,” Makarova said after a meeting with White House aides and Congressional members. “The devastation that Russia is trying to inflict on Ukraine is large.”

Investigation Into Their Use Is Ongoing

Makarova did not offer details on where the thermobaric munitions were utilized and how many people were endangered or killed. Independent non-governmental organizations such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch are likely going over video and photo evidence to confirm and determine how the weapon was deployed. Markarova said thermobarics violate Geneva conventions if used against civilians. The International Criminal Court is also investigating.

White House spokeswoman Jen Psaki said that Russian use of the deadly warheads would be a potential war crime if their use is confirmed.

The Russians Have Used the Awful Weapons Before

Russia has deployed thermobaric weapons before in Chechnya and Syria. They have been used to reach enemy combatants who are dug in deeply in basements and bunkers. As the Russians raise the stakes in their war with Ukraine and surround and besiege cities, they will likely blast thermobarics into residential areas.

Should They Be Banned?

The rules of war for thermobarics do not specifically ban them, but “if a country uses them to target civilian populations in built-up areas, schools or hospitals, then it could be convicted of a war crime under the Hague Conventions of 1899 and 1907,” according to the BBC.

Father Of All Bombs

BBC has also chronicled how the Russians let off their biggest thermobaric device in 2007, a weapon they called the “Father of All Bombs.” This munition has the equivalent of seven tons of high explosives.

Russia denies using unguided bombs or missiles against civilians, even though clearly the Ukrainians have endured civilian casualties in this war from various types of conventional ordnance. The further indiscriminate use of thermobarics would be an escalation that would continue to shock the international community.

Now serving as 1945’s Defense and National Security Editor, Brent M. Eastwood, PhD, is the author of Humans, Machines, and Data: Future Trends in Warfare. He is an Emerging Threats expert and former U.S. Army Infantry officer. You can follow him on Twitter @BMEastwood.

Written By

Now serving as 1945s New Defense and National Security Editor, Brent M. Eastwood, PhD, is the author of Humans, Machines, and Data: Future Trends in Warfare. He is an Emerging Threats expert and former U.S. Army Infantry officer.