Russia’s unusual thermobaric rocket launcher has proliferated to another country. In use in Russia, Kazakhstan, Azerbaijan, Iraq and Syria — the enormous tracked launcher is now in service in Algeria, according to imagery revealed on Algerian television. The TOS-1A Buratino is named after a Tolstoy adaptation of “Pinnochio,” given the long turret.
The turret is actually an enormous steel box of 24 individual tubes containing 220-millimeter thermobaric rockets filled with fuel-air explosives that can devastate an area within 300 meters through a combination of heat and overpressure. The rockets emit an aerosol which then ignites in a blast, sucking the oxygen out of a person’s lungs.
Horrific as it is, the TOS-1A is effective at killing in close quarters such as entrenchments and urban areas. Iraqi TOS-1As went to battle most recently in the Old City of Mosul. Azerbaijan deployed the launchers during an eruption of fighting with Armenia in 2016.
The short range of the TOS-1A’s rockets — 3,500 or 6,000 meters depending on the type of rocket used — makes the weapon vulnerable compared to most other forms of heavy artillery. The Buratino must get relatively close to the front line.
The vehicle is somewhat protected with an armored T-72 tank chassis acting as the launcher’s base. But a direct hit to the high-profile launcher itself could set off a devastating explosion.
Algeria’s purchase of TOS-1As is part of a large-scale modernization for what is one of the largest and best-funded armies in Africa that has sporadically fought with Islamist insurgents since the Algerian Civil War diminshed in the early 2000s.
Algeria continues to support the Polisario Front which seeks to expel Moroccan troops from Western Sahara. The first of Algeria’s Buratinos, however, appear to be deployed near the Libyan border.
Photos appeared in the Russian press in February 2018 of the TOS-1As under construction at their Uralvagonzavod plant in Omsk. There were 16 vehicles on the assembly line and — judging from their appearance — received a special coat of radar-absorbent paint. But a bulky tank chassis with a missile launcher on the top is hard to hide.
This article originally appeared on WarisBoring
A weapon like this at the hands of the Nigerian army will be a nightmarish scenario for Boko Haram. Thermobaric rockets are noted for producing a large long-duration pressure waves.
The Nigerian army actually has one thing going for it, the theatre of operation. Northern Nigeria is perhaps a decade behind Southern Nigeria in development. This means huge swathes of land are sparsely populated.
Furthermore, the Sambisa forest, the epicentre of the war and hitherto impregnable fortress of Boko Haram is 66,000 sqr miles in size. That’s 22 times the size of Lagos with nothing but a flat, dusty terrain. The Nigerian army can basically detonate a 20 kilotons nuclear device in the heart of the Sambisa without worrying about potential collateral damages.
Thermobaric shells produce a much greater incidence of primary blast injury than the 122mm shells of the RM-70 the Nigerian army fields.
When thermobaric shells impact, the result is a plasma cloud that reaches temperatures of between 2,500-3000′ Celsius4. The whole area with catches fire suddenly, all at once, sending out a powerful shock wave.
The blast takes longer than in a normal, high-explosive bomb, and the shock wave can reverberate, hitting the people inside at high force over and over again. Depending on distance from the blast, the shock wave will rupture eardrums, it will affect organs where there is a tissue interface of varying densities, such as the lungs and bowels.
There is no place to hide. The psychological impact will see a mass desertion of Boko Haram fighters.
The Nigerian army should consider indicting multiple ground launched thermobaric artillery systems. If an Algeria at peacetime can have it, why not Nigeria that’s been in a decade long bitter war of attrition?.