Russia’s Ukraine invasion is often referred to as a “drone war,” which is apt considering the prevalent role unmanned aerial vehicles have played.
Since February 2022, Kyiv has relied on a combination of foreign-supplied and domestically produced drones to support its defensive efforts.
Moscow has also manufactured its own UAVs, although Russian forces largely depend on continuous influxes of Iran-designed drones.
These relatively cheap and easily manufactured aerial weapons have grown to symbolize modern warfare.
Video shows an FPV drone taking out a Russian TOS-1A
This week, open-source intelligence group Ukraine Weapons Tracker published a video showing one of these drones at work. In the footage, a Ukrainian first-person view loitering munition appears to strike a Russian TOS-1A thermobaric multiple rocket launcher. The short clip culminates in a powerful detonation of the rockets on board.
Since the onset of the invasion, Ukrainian engineers have been working hard to design more advanced and capable drones that can be manufactured right in Kyiv. Over the summer, the New York Times identified two new drones used by Ukraine in the war — the Bober and the UJ-22 Airborne.
Although little information is available about these drones, both were used in barrages targeting Russian territory. The box-like Bober UAV was identified in several videos of attacks on Moscow. Named after the Ukrainian word for Beaver, this UAV is likely being deployed amid Kyiv’s counter-offensive efforts.
According to state sources, Ukraine’s UJ-22 UAV can fly for six hours at a range of 500 miles.
How dangerous is this “vacuum bomb?”
In the video shared by Ukraine Weapons Tracker on X, a Russian TOS-1A appears to be destroyed by the Ukrainian-launched UAV. Often referred to as a “vacuum bomb,” this weapon disperses gaseous clouds of chemicals in the air, which creates a vacuum that can ignite a powerful ripping effect on soft materials when reversed. This horrifying system dates back to the Cold War and was first used by the Russian Army in Chechnya. It is typically fitted onto a T-72 main battle tank, which is capable of holding up to two dozen unguided thermobaric rockets.
As detailed by The Drive,“Once the target is hit, the first explosive charge allows the fuel container to open and disperse a cloud of fuel, and the second charge ignites the incendiary fuel cloud which results in the fiery explosion and a subsequent oxygen-sucking vacuum. The detonation of the rockets causes such a rapid and drastic change in air pressure that taking shelter within a trench or cave, behind a reinforced barrier, or, in some cases, even inside of an armored vehicle would fail to protect a human.”
The destruction of the TOS-1A in the footage above is a win for Kyiv. In recent days, Russian Forces have been trying to retake the offensive in the war, which is proving to be a painful feat. While Kyiv managed to breach Russia’s main line of defenses back in August, it has struggled to expand that gap into a major breach that would enable its troops to advance forward.
— ???????? Ukraine Weapons Tracker (@UAWeapons) October 13, 2023
Maya Carlin, a Senior Editor for 19FortyFive, is an analyst with the Center for Security Policy and a former Anna Sobol Levy Fellow at IDC Herzliya in Israel. She has by-lines in many publications, including The National Interest, Jerusalem Post, and Times of Israel. You can follow her on Twitter: @MayaCarlin.