Russia’s Fearsome TOS-1 Flame Throwing Multiple Launch Rocket System Should be Illegal – Instead They are a ‘Hot Product’

Photo by Kirill Borisenko via Wikimedia Commons

Even as Team Biden-Harris obsesses over negotiating arms control with everyone, the Russians are hell bent on expanding their already deadly arsenal of advanced weapons, especially hypersonic missiles. But in this case their older tank chassis-mounted, tracked TOS-1 ‘Buratino’ multiple launch rocket system (MLRS) with incendiary thermobaric warheads is especially lethal.

The most recent version dates back to 2001, with older variants being used by the Soviets in Afghanistan in the 1980s.

Brent Eastwood explains that:

The TOS-1 is utilized for clearing out and burning up troops in emplacements such as bunkers, buildings, and trenches. It can also light up armored personnel carriers. The three-man crew is tucked inside the launcher for better force protection. The TOS-1 is deployed with other tanks and armored personnel in accordance with Russian armored warfare doctrine.

And 19fortyfive.com notes: “ducking for cover won’t help” when the rounds from these monsters detonate. It adds:

Flamethrower rockets from the TOS-1 Buratino can light up territory roughly the size of two football fields. This results in fires that can burn and suffocate anyone who stands in its path. The rocket launchers sit on a T-72 tank chassis. There are 24 220mm rockets in 24 tubes. The rockets weigh around 400 pounds with incendiary or thermobaric warheads.

Thermobaric, also called vacuum or fuel-air explosives, means that the TOS-1 rockets release a chemical cloud that inflames the air underneath it and sucks the life out of anyone in the impact zone.

Russian army drones help identify targets for the TOS-1 Buratino. Thankfully it has shorter ranges than other multiple-launch rockets systems – at about 3,500 meters to 6,000 meters depending on the age of the variant. A full salvo can be launched in 12 seconds.

While some argue that these weapons should be banned by international treaty or law, they currently are not. And the U.S. uses thermobaric fuel air explosive bombs and warheads as well. Though not yet as part of an MLRS system.

But the Russian system is in great demand. Even American allies are buying these Russian monsters.

Iraq has used the Buratino against ISIS terrorists, and this year Saudi Arabia bought some TOS-1 systems as part of a $3 billion arms shipment.

More concerning, it has also appeared with Russian-backed separatist fighters in the conflict in Ukraine and has been sent to Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Kazakhstan.

It may be too late to put this fearsome genie back in its bottle, so NATO and the United States should prioritize taking these beasts out with airstrikes or other means at the outset of any conflict. Or risk having its troops fried or suffocated in place. ADN

Paul Crespo is the Managing Editor of American Defense News. A defense and national security expert, he served as a Marine Corps officer and as a military attaché with the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) at US embassies worldwide. Paul holds degrees from Georgetown, London, and Cambridge Universities. He is also CEO of SPECTRE Global Risk, a security advisory firm, and President of the Center for American Defense Studies, a national security think tank.

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