The TOS-1A Is Brutal
Footage shared on Russian-language Telegram channel “Face Of War” shows a Russian missile launched firing six missiles consecutively at a Ukrainian target in Kherson Oblast. The footage shows the missiles firing in quick succession from the multiple launch rocket system, before switching to drone footage of the site being struck by the missiles.
Each missile strikes roughly the same area, creating large blasts and plumes of smoke.
“Work TOS-1A “Solntsepek” on the positions of the Armed Forces of Ukraine from the territory of the Kherson region,” the Telegram post reads, per Google Translate.
In recent weeks, Russia has intensified attacks against civilian areas and cities across the Donbas region, as the Kremlin pushes its soldiers to take control of the separatist Donetsk and Luhansk regions. The intensity of attacks in recent weeks has led many analysts to question whether Russia might finally be turning the tide, pushing back Ukrainian soldiers further and further west, and taking control of Ukrainian cities after failing to take control of Kyiv and other regions in central Ukraine.
What Is the TOS-1A?
Already employed frequently throughout the Russian invasion of Ukraine, the TOS-1A 220mm missile system fires missiles fitted with thermobaric warheads. The missile system has been widely used to conduct bombardments on Ukrainian forces and civilian areas in recent weeks.
The TOS-1A is deployed under the Nuclear, Biological, and Chemical Protection Troops and is not typically used by forces from the regular branches of the Russian Army owing to the complex and dangerous nature of the thermobaric missiles it deploys.
These weapons are designed to create blasts at extremely high temperatures, destroying weaponry and tanks, melting metal, and causing the kind of destruction that regular missiles just can’t achieve.
— Rob Lee (@RALee85) May 31, 2022
When the thermobaric missiles land, they first release a cloud of highly flammable gas into the air that creates a cloud. A second ignition takes place, setting the gas cloud on fire and creating an explosion with such high-pressure shock waves that it creates a vacuum. The vacuum then pulls air in from around the explosion, making the flames even bigger and hotter.
The weapons are not technically illegal, as they are not prohibited by international law, but it is illegal for military forces to use the missiles in attacks against civilian populations. Russia denies that its forces have used thermobaric missiles – or any missiles, in fact – against civilian population centers and residential buildings.
Even if the Kremlin did admit to using the weapons against civilian population centers, however, Ukrainian investigators have already documented more than 15,000 alleged war crimes committed by Russian soldiers so far – meaning the Kremlin is unlikely to think twice about the use of TOS-1A thermobaric missile launchers at this stage.
Jack Buckby is a British author, counter-extremism researcher, and journalist based in New York. Reporting on the U.K., Europe, and the U.S., he works to analyze and understand left-wing and right-wing radicalization, and reports on Western governments’ approaches to the pressing issues of today. His books and research papers explore these themes and propose pragmatic solutions to our increasingly polarized society.