According to the US Pentagon, Russia fired more than 625 missiles in the two weeks following its invasion of Ukraine, including around 100 in the first hours of the attack. Most of them were short-range ballistic missiles and some were surface-to-air missiles.
But there is one weapon that does more damage than regular missile strikes. Thermobaric weapons, also known as aerosol bombs or fuel-air explosives, are two-stage munitions. Russia has been accused of deploying these sinister weapons, first by Ukraine’s ambassador to the United States and then by British Defense Secretary Ben Wallace.
Wallace said during a visit to NATO ally Estonia on March 3: “To what extent [Russian President Vladimir Putin] will go, what weapons he will allow to achieve his ultimate goal is unknown, but we have seen the use of massive amounts of artillery. We have seen the deployment of thermobaric artillery weapon systems and we are concerned about the extent of these.
Images from Ukraine circulating online, which show Soviet-made 220mm 24-barrel TOS-1 multiple rocket launchers capable of launching thermobaric weapons mounted on T-72 tanks, have yet to be verified. independent, just like the use of these weapons in the war until then. But analysts and experts say it’s only a matter of time.
How do thermobaric weapons work?
A thermobaric weapon can be used in missiles or bombs, and is filled with an aerosol fuel and toxic powdered metals. When detonated, the explosive fuel quickly disperses, creating a large cloud of fuel which then ignites on contact with the surrounding oxygen.
Royal United Services Institute research analyst Sam Cranny-Evans explained in a Tweet: “The explosion causes two things: enormous heat, up to 3,000 kelvins (2,700°C) as well as a long period of relatively high overpressure. The pressure or shock wave created is not as high as a conventional high explosive (HE), but it lasts longer, creating more damaging effects.
As all oxygen burns in the surrounding area, if thermobaric weapons are used against a building, the pressure itself can kill anyone hiding inside.
These weapons are highly effective in wreaking havoc in urban areas and can penetrate bunkers or underground metro stations, which, like those where Ukrainian citizens take shelter from air raids, by sucking air from the occupants’ lungs. .
Thermobaric bombs were used by the Soviet Union against China in the 1969 Sino-Soviet conflict and in Afghanistan in 1979.
Western nations have also used such weapons since the 1960s in Vietnam and in the mountains of Afghanistan. Rudimentary versions of thermobaric weapons were, however, already developed by Germany during World War II.
Reports also suggest that Russia deployed arms in 1999 in Chechnya, with devastating humanitarian consequences, which Human Rights Watch has condemned.
Thermobaric weapons are not yet banned, but there are many arguments against their development and use. Even if a military installation is targeted by a thermobaric missile, the effect of the detonation is likely to spread to civilian areas.
Russia has neither admitted nor denied using thermobaric weapons in Ukraine.
Recent Russian thermobaric weapons programs
Tula Arms Plant, part of Russian state-owned ROSTEC, announced production of the 9M1133F-1 anti-tank missile with a thermobaric explosive warhead in 2019.
9M133F-1 missiles are fired by Russian Kornet anti-missile systems. The Russian Defense Ministry reported in January 2019 that another combat vehicle armed with the Kornet anti-tank missile system was undergoing state trials for the Airborne Force.
The vehicle is the Kornet-D1 self-propelled anti-tank missile system mounted on the chassis of the BMD-4M airborne assault vehicle.
The Kornet anti-tank missile system, developed by the Shipunov Design Bureau of Instrument-Making, can eliminate tanks and other armored targets. Russia reportedly continued testing the latest version of the Kornet-D1 self-propelled self-propelled anti-tank missile systems towards the end of 2021 as it builds up military troops on its Ukrainian border.