Artillery: September 22, 2000

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Fuel Air Explosives are the grand-daddies of all conventional bombs. The general idea is to spread a cloud of highly combustible material and then ignite it. The result (with existing US and Russian weapons) is a blast zone a couple of hundred meters across, inside of which everything that used to be alive no longer is. Temperatures in the center of an FAE blast can reach 5,000 degrees (F) and pressures can reach 30 times normal. The Russians prefer the term "thermobaric weapons" as they are indeed weapons of heat and pressure. Both the US and Russian Armies designed FAEs for use in clearing mines. The huge overpressure of their detonations was sufficient to detonate all of the land mines in the area. The Russians, however, took the idea forward into use in general artillery and (while the US continued to amaze itself clearing minefields) developed a second and then a third generation of these weapons. When the Russians moved into Grozny, they flattened entire sections of the city with thermobaric weapons to root out the Chechen rebels. FAEs or thermobaric weapons are excellent for use in cities, as the troops tend to be crowded more closely together, and the cloud of fuel spreads into low spots (e.g., bunkers, foxholes) and into buildings through any size of crack or hole. The main thermobaric weapon used by the Russians in the Second Chechen War was the Buratino. This is a 30-barrel multiple rocket launcher (each rocket is 220mm in diameter) built on a T72 tank chassis. This is a direct-fire weapon (the gunner in the vehicle must see his target) with a range of 3.5km for earlier versions and 5km for the latest model. The rockets, upon impact, release their liquid cores, which turn into an aerosol cloud. This is then detonated, destroying an area 200x400 meters. Everything inside that zone will be killed by the overpressure. Those within the next 100-200m out of the zone will be burned or blinded by the flash and wounded by flying debris. That debris can injure people as much as half a mile from the point of detonation. All of the Buratinos officially belong to separate flamethrower battalions, but in practice the individual systems are parceled out to frontline divisions to attack key targets. The other thermobaric weapon commonly used by the Russians is the RPO-A flamethrower. The term "flamethrower" is somewhat misleading. Instead of squirting a spray of flaming jellied gasoline, it is in fact a rocket launcher which fires a warhead that explodes and starts fires. These are also held by flamethrower platoons but in Grozny these platoons were attached to frontline regiments. The launcher can fire thermobaric, incendiary, and smoke rounds. The thermobaric round has a range of 1000m (although it can be used accurately only to 600m) and will kill everything in an area about eight meters in diameter. If used inside, it would destroy a volume of 60 cubic meters (about four or five average sized bedrooms).--Stephen V Cole


 


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