Artillery: The Russian Dragon Roams Central Asia

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September 16, 2011: During an August 30 military parade in Kazakhstan, there was a rare glimpse of the Russian TOS (heavy flame thrower system) 1. This system was first used in 1988, in Afghanistan, and the thermobaric rockets it fired, and the huge balls of flame they created, made a lasting impression on Afghans that saw it in action. Few Afghans on the receiving end survived.

TOS-1 is basically a T-72 chassis, with the turret replaced with an armored box carrying 30 220mm rockets. There is a vehicle crew of only three men (driver, commander and rocket launcher operator). The original rockets were 3.3 meters (10.25 feet) long, weighed 173 kg (381 pounds) and only had a range of about three kilometers. These were replaced eventually with a 3.7 meter (11.5 feet) long, 217 kg (477 pound) rocket with a range of six kilometers.  The system uses a T-72 chassis because of the short range, and risk of coming under enemy fire.

Both versions used a thermobaric warhead. These fuel-air warheads first release a cloud of fuel into the air and then detonate it. This produces a tremendous blast overpressure, plus fire, enormous heat (momentary temperature of 2,500 degrees Fahrenheit) and the removal of all of the oxygen from the area of the explosion. Each TOS-1 rocket can devastate an area of 200 by 400 meters. The exploding cloud basically flattens and burns anyone, or anything, in the blast area. If there are caves or bunkers, those inside are killed or knocked out by lack of oxygen.

Although developed in the 1980s, Russia first displayed the TOS-1 in a 1999 parade. An upgraded TOS-1A appeared in 2001. It’s unclear why Kazakhstan bought the TOS-1, or any of the many other Russian weapons systems. Kazakhstan has no invasion threats, but does have a very corrupt government and close political and economic relations with Russia.

 

 


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