Syrian government forces are making advances in Idlib province – the last bastion held by the anti-government terrorist groups. The Syrian army had some tough resistance to overcome, but success was at hand once Syria’s Russian-made TOS-1A Solntsepyok thermobaric heavy flamethrower systems were transported to the province and joined the fight. This formidable weapon had been used by Iraqi forces against the Islamic State militants in the battle of Mosul. It proved very effective supporting the infantry during the operation launched by Syrian government forces to free the city of Palmyra from Islamic State terrorists in 2017. TOS-1A systems also guard the Russian military base at Hmeimim, Syria. It is a very effective tool when conducting anti-ambush missions, which makes it a perfect weapon to use against terrorists.
The Solntsepyok uses the BM-1 combat vehicle, which is fitted with a rotating launch system that can fire 24 rockets. It boasts a cutting-edge fire-control system, with a laser rangefinder and an enhanced, sophisticated ballistic computer. The required angle of elevation can be determined if the deviation does not exceed 10 m. All operations can be conducted from inside the vehicle in order to protect the crew from enemy fire. The flamethrower can be fired at night. If a target is detected within the range of visibility, it can be engaged in just 90 seconds. The flamethrower is protected by a 902G four-barreled smoke-grenade launcher.
The launcher is fitted onto the chassis of a T-72A tank with an 840 HP diesel engine. The TOS-1A is used in conjunction with the TZM-T all-terrain reloading vehicle, which is equipped with a crane and carries a full set of 24 rockets for reloading.
The Solntsepyok is designed to attack infantry, fortifications (including bunker busting and light armor dug-in positions in mountains), secured caves, rural strongholds, urban areas, and other enclosed spaces. The system is different from multiple launch rocket systems (MLRS) in that it uses different types of munitions: 220mm rockets with thermobaric or fuel-air explosives. They are almost as devastating as tactical nukes. A gaseous cloud of chemicals is dispersed into the air. Then a vacuum explosive detonates it to release a high-pressure shock wave with great destructive force. The air is sucked out of confined areas, creating a partial vacuum. The cloud penetrates buildings, caves, and trenches, and the vacuum ruptures the lungs.
A single explosion can destroy several city blocks. A round containing a mixture weighing about 3.2 kg can obliterate everything within an area of eighty cubic meters. A full salvo of one battery consisting of five TOS-1As can clear an area of 40,000 square meters if fired at maximum range. The weapon can be used effectively for mine-clearing missions.
The American GBU-43 Massive Ordnance Air Blast (MOAB) known as the Mother of all Bombs – the largest non-nuclear munition ever dropped on a battlefield – produces the same effects on a smaller scale. Incendiary rounds can also be used. Russia’s arsenal includes the Aviation Thermobaric Bomb of Increased Power (ATBIP), but it has never been used in combat.
The flamethrower’s maximum firing range is 6 km, which exceeds the ranges of most anti-tank missile systems. The minimum range is 400 m. It takes no more than 0.5 seconds to launch a single rocket or to “ripple fire” two in tandem. The entire payload of 24 ninety-kilogram rockets could be fired in either 12 or 6 seconds, respectively.
This is a unique weapon that other armies lack. But, not content to rest on her laurels, Russia is also developing a new generation heavy flame-throwing system. The Tosochka heavy flamethrower (sometimes erroneously called the TOS-2) with the Russian Army in accordance with Russia's 2018-2025 state armaments program. It can be mounted on the tracked vehicle platform of the Armata main battle tank. The system will be installed on a wheeled chassis so that it can operate effectively in the desert. It will be an attractive option for potential buyers from the Middle East. It’s also important to note that these weapons are not banned and thus their use is not a breach of international law.