Russian TOS-1 ‘Flamethrower’ Thermobaric Rocket Systems Neutralise Ukrainian Militias on Southern Frontlines

The Russian Military deployed TOS-1 thermobaric 220mm rocket artillery systems, otherwise known as Solntsepyok ‘scorching sunlight’ systems, to neutralise Ukrainian paramilitary units near the Southeastern Ukrainian city of Gulyaipole. A Defence Ministry representative stated regarding the strikes: “The crews of the Solntsepyok flamethrower systems destroyed the temporary deployment point of the nationalists in the Gulyaipole area.” The successful use of the TOS-1 marks the latest of several in which the system has proven highly successful, with its unique capabilities having reportedly forced the surrender of alleged Neo Nazi militia units in January. The Defence Ministry reported at the time: “The military command of the Central Military District notes the high efficiency of the use of heavy flamethrower systems and also that in the area of the operation of TOS crews, Ukrainian nationalists voluntarily surrender ever more frequently, abandoning positions and ignoring their commanders’ orders.” The commander of a TOS-1A unit in Ukraine stated at the time regarding the use of the assets: “The efficiency of heavy flamethrower systems is achieved through the personnel’s high skills and their interoperability. It is most of all effective to employ heavy flamethrower systems against enemy personnel entrenched in shelters.” 

The TOS-1 began to be deployed in Ukraine on a significant scale in May 2022, and is prized for its ability to neutralise infantry in fortified positions. The artillery system uses thermobaric ammunition which works by dispersing a gaseous cloud of chemicals into the air which are then detonated by a vacuum explosive to release a high pressure shock wave. The effect is that air is sucked sucked out of confined areas with tremendous force, destroying buildings, caves, trenches and other fortifications and rupturing the lungs of all present in the vicinity.  Due to their special warheads TOS-1s are deployed under the Nuclear, Biological and Chemical Protection Troops rather than regular Russian Army artillery units. The TOS-1 began to be deployed by the Russian Paratroopers from April, and have reportedly seen production of their ammunition expanded very significantly as the Military is expected to field the systems in much larger numbers long after a potential end to hostilities. The system has also been in high demand overseas with Syria, Iraq, Saudi Arabia and Algeria being among its foreign operators.