Russian flame-throwing systems: 6 hectares of scorched earth in one salvo
Written by Vladimir Tuchkov; Originally appeared at SP, translated by AlexD exclusively for SouthFront
On August 19, during the exercises of the Radio-Chemical Defense Forces of the Southern Federal District of the Volgograd province with the help of the heavy flame-throwing systems, the salvos of TOS-1A “Solntsepyok” halted the offensive of imaginary superior forces. The defenders supporting 20 SU-24 airplanes and MI-8 helicopters set an airborne screen hiding the positions of the Radio-Chemical Defense Forces.
“Solntsepyok” is a very serious weapon. Its use in manoeuvres is associated with serious preliminary preparations, the goal being to minimize the risks for imaginary enemies, against whom it is used. Its maximum range of effectiveness approaches 6 kilometres. In the Volgograd province the flame-throwing systems’ salvos covered 60,000 sq. metres, which turned it into scorched earth, on which it is impossible to find anything alive.
However, this is not the limit of military engineering. In the spring of this year, the head of the Office for the Defence Order of the Ministry of Defence of the Russian Federation, Mikhail Osyko reported that currently the issue is the creation a new type of heavy flame-thrower, which will have greater accuracy, range and killing power than “Solntsepyok”.
The history of the flame-thrower is more than a century long. They were first used during the First World War. The pioneers of this field were the Germans, who invented the knapsack flame-thrower. Its mode of function was as follows: first, a cylinder valve opens with compressed nitrogen, which through a flexible tube flowed to the nozzle. Then the battery-operated ignition was turned on. After which the 12-litres cylinder valve opened with a combustible mixture, which ignited at the exit of the nozzle, streaming a jet of nitrogen to a distance of up to 30 metres.
By today’s standard, the system was not very effective and not convenient in its usage: the 36-kilogram flame-thrower had to be carried. And the store of combustible mixture was enough for a mere 45 seconds of uninterrupted work. However when the time came to kill the flame-throwers, the enemy was terrified of the “machine from hell”. Consequently for each one of them, two soldiers were assigned to support them with their personal weapons.
In the Red Army, the first knapsack flame-thrower ROKS-1 made its appearance at the beginning of the 1930’s. During the Great Patriotic War a third modification was made on the weapon; for blowing out the fire streams compressed air was used, inflating the balloon with a hand pump. A special powder cartridge carried out the ignition. There were a few recipes where various proportions and combinations were used of “available” substances, petroleum, benzene, diesel fuel, kerosene, mazout, creosote… When using thick (not sprayed) mixtures the distance reached 40 metres.
During the Great Patriotic War the usage of the knapsack flame-throwing weaponry in the Red Army was very effective. There were 34 thousand troops, 120 tanks, self-propelled guns and armoured personnel carriers, more than 3 thousand bunkers and other reinforced firing positions and 150 vehicles destroyed.
Despite the fact that in the middle of the war, flame-throwing tanks started to appear possessing significantly greater ammunition and survivability, portable flame-throwers were still used, because they had their advantages, not available to the heavy weaponry.
However now they have different operating principles. In the 1970’s the engineering mind came to the obvious conclusion: since the flame jet for the firing range, and the use of lethal substances is not very effective, then it is necessary to throw the capsules with the combustible composition. The first jet capsule flamethrower “Lynx” was created at the KBM in Tula in 1975. It had a range of 200 metres.
The dreadful weapon “Bumblebee” in Afghanistan was so effective that the spooks baptized it “Devil-pipe”. The range of the effectiveness of the “Bumblebee” reached 1000 metres. he principle of action and design differ little from a grenade launcher or MANPADS. The 90mm modification of the “Bumblebee-M” soon appeared with a range of up to 1700 metres effectiveness.
The difference between rocket and jet flame-throwers is not only the range but in the power of the striking impact with a smaller amount of combustible mixture. Simple ignition capsules are used as well as thermobaric capsules. In addition to the “hellfire”, they create excessive pressure, capable of destroying reinforcements of any kind. One charge with a weight of the mixture of about 3.2 kg can destroy everything living in a volume of 80 cubic metres. The area of damage in open space is 50 cubic metres. The explosive effects of the 90mm calibre flame-thrower charge are equivalent to a 155mm calibre charge.
In addition to the portable version of the “Bumblebee”, there is a modification installed on combat flame-thrower vehicles: LMC-1 and LMC-T, created on the base of the IFV-2 and T-72.
In 2005, KBM issued “on the mount” another portable flame-thrower, “Varna-S”. It is a hybrid of a jet and rocket flame-thrower. It fires a cluster of metallic helium flammable materials with white phosphorus and other additives. “Varna-S”, which has virtually no recoil, is intended for use in confined spaces and in close range.
It is quite clear that the trend of flame-thrower tanks was continued because of their great combat capabilities. And soon afterwards, just as for the portable flame-throwers, the principle of shooting not jets but charges were modified. As a result, their structure is very similar to volley fire systems.
A decision was taken in 1980 on arming the heavy flame-thrower system TOS-1 “Pinocchio”, developed by KB Transport engineering in Omsk on the base of the T-72 tank. Instead of the gun turret on the tracked chassis a block with 30 tracks for shooting unguided rockets of 220mm calibre was installed. The shells, weighing 217 kilogrammes have incendiary and thermobaric warheads. The range is between 400 and 3600 metres.
TOS-1 “Pinocchio” proved itself best during the Afghan war. The effect of thermobaric charges increased in the mountains with the impact of shock waves on the cliffs.
In 2001 a new modification was carried out on the weapon, TOS-1A “Solntsepyok”. The chassis stayed the same. But the quantity of guided missiles was reduced to 24 while maintaining the impact strength. A new fire control system also appeared. A laser distance metre was set as well as a ballistic calculator that allowed determining the required elevation angle if a deviation from the target does not exceed 10 metres. It is also possible to fire in night-time conditions. The range increased to 6700 metres. The changes affected the transport and loading vehicles, which were transferred from a wheeled chassis to a tracked chassis.
The area covered with one salvo is 40,000 cubic metres. The firing on targets can be single or paired shots. In the first case, the whole ammunition load is released in 12 seconds, in the second case, in 6 seconds.
The portable flame-thrower “Bumblebee-M”, and the heavy flame-thrower system “Solntsepyok” are used in Syria. The USA, with great envy, monitor Russian modern weapons used in the fight against ISIS*. The magazine Popular Mechanics gave “Bumblebee” the epithet “horrifying”. The “Solntsepyok” was given this characteristic: “…a full salvo of its 24 rockets will make a rectangle 200 meter [sic] by 400 meters—a bit more than 8 city blocks—hell on earth for anyone caught inside… its [sic] hard to find something scarier that the TOS-1A” [link here].
* The movement “Islamic State” (IS) was declared a terrorist organisation by the decision of the Supreme Court of the Russian Federation on 29 December 2014; its activities are prohibited on Russia’s territory.