Artillery types

Russian thermobaric artillery system: TOS-1 is a real killer

The TOS-1 “Buratino” is one of the most frequently used flamethrower weapons today. A former Soviet system, the TOS-1 is the mainstay of the Russian thermobaric artillery arsenal. It has been used significantly in conflicts across the former Soviet Union, including most recently during Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

A funny name for a deadly weapon

While its nickname Buratino refers to a beloved Pinocchio-like character in Russian popular culture, this thermobaric multiple rocket launcher system is a serious instrument. Originally developed between 1977 and 1994 by the Russian company Omsktransmash (itself a subsidiary of the public company Uralvagonzavod), the Buratino is made up of 30 missile launcher tubes mounted on the chassis of a T-72A tank, also produced by Uralvagonzavod.

The TOS-1A, a newer version of the system, has 24 tubes and is known by the nickname Solntsepek, which means “sun spot” in Russian. The new TOS-2 system used the same configuration as the TOS-1A, but its missile tubes are mounted on a Ural truck rather than a T-72 chassis. The TOS-2 was the first used in the field as part of Kavkaz exercise 2020.

The acronym TOS stands for tyazholaya ognemotnaya system, or “heavy flamethrower system” in English. As a word to describe the TOS-1 system, “flamethrower” is not quite adequate. Instead, missiles launched by a TOS-1 are built around a fuel-air explosive, or FAE. Unlike napalm, which sticks to its target as it burns, blasts come from aerosol chemicals that spread quickly and react to cause a powerful, long-lasting explosion that sucks air out of the targeted area. This makes the TOS-1 deadly against enemy formations in all settings. Neither armor nor entrenchment can isolate the target from the effects of an FAE explosion.

The TOS-1 is an infamous weapon

As a thermobaric weapon, the TOS-1 is designed to target an opposing force’s manpower in open and confined spaces. In particular, the weapon serves as fire support for armored and infantry formations. Equipped with three militaries, the TOS-1 has a minimum range of 400 meters and a maximum range of 6,000 meters (0.25 to 3.7 miles.) During normal firing, the system can cover up to 40 000 square meters on fire, a formidable weapon to use to clear large areas with indirect fire. The TOS-1 is fully team with communication, observation, fire-fighting and nuclear-biological-chemical protection systems.

The TOS-1 was one of the first weapons systems to Walk in Ukraine in February. Ben Wallace, UK Defense Secretary, accused Russia to use it at the start of the war. Russian forces appear to have lost several TOS-1s in combat, some of which were likely captured by Ukrainian forces. In addition to Russia, the TOS-1 is in the arsenals armed forces of Armenia, Azerbaijan, Iraq and Kazakhstan. Saudi Arabia is also believed to have purchased TOS-1s.

Picture: Creative

Although the TOS-1 is not the only thermobaric missile system in the world, it is certainly one of the most infamous. Given its wide proliferation and chilling ability to wreak havoc on any type of armed formation, the TOS-1 Buratino and its derivatives will likely continue to be used in future conflicts.

Wesley Culp is a research fellow at the Center for the Study of the Presidency and Congress. He writes regularly on Russian and Eurasian leadership and national security topics and has been published in The Hill and the Diplomatic Courier. He can be found on Twitter @WesleyJCulp.