I follow world geopolitics pretty intensely. I credit epic, political space opera settings like Dune and, of course, BattleTech for my many years of interest. I was browsing some of the latest Russian shenanigans in Ukraine and Syria when I saw a Russian armored vehicle that made me wonder if they’ve been buying from Quickscell.
The TOS-1 Buratino really is a mobile warcrime waiting to happen, as it uses only incendiary and thermobaric 220mm munitions in the 30-tube launch system. The rockets have a minimum range of 400 meters and a maximum effective range of 3.5km. Short enough of a range that the system and crew are quite protected by the armored chassis of a T-72 MBT. Well armored by artillery standards anyway. This video shows that they can expend their loadout very quickly:
Russia has been avid fans of rocket-based artillery systems in multiple range classes from the short ranged Grad all the way up to (potentially nuclear) Short Range Ballistic Missiles like the FROG and Scarab since the Second World War. But what sets the Buratino apart are its literal firefighting abilities. The incendiary munition contains several dozen submunitions that scatter a highly flammable gel above a target area. Imagine an inferno-based FASCAM or Arrow IV cluster munition ruleset. I can’t think of many MechWarriors that could unsee that mental image.
The real workhorse munition is thermobaric. Taken from the Greek words for “heat” and “pressure”, thermobaric weapons use an aerosolized fuel and air mix to create an extremely powerful and very long duration concussive blast wave matched only by nuclear weapons. In fact, they have been known as the ‘poor man’s atomic bomb’ since their advent decades ago. They recently came back into popular use, especially in the Russian military as a means to crush reinforced bunkers, pulverize buildings and neighborhoods, and even suffocate and incinerate troops taking refuge in deep caves. The Russian military absolutely loves their thermobaric weapons. They even developed a repeating grenade launcher for infantry use.
A 2000 U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency study of thermobaric weapons said:
“The [blast] kill mechanism against living targets is unique–and unpleasant…. What kills is the pressure wave, and more importantly, the subsequent rarefaction [vacuum], which ruptures the lungs…. If the fuel deflagrates but does not detonate, victims will be severely burned and will probably also inhale the burning fuel. Since the most common FAE fuels, ethylene oxide and propylene oxide, are highly toxic, undetonated FAE should prove as lethal to personnel caught within the cloud as most chemical agents.”
So even if it doesn’t kill you, it kills you. Who came up with this, Stephan Amaris?
The western military dogma is all about precision. Electronic this, GPS or laser-guided that. The U.S., for example, gave up their Fuel Air Explosives not long after Vietnam, while Russia is perfectly fine with simple effectiveness with little regard for peripheral damage and casualties even today. Weapons like the Buratino really showcase the differences in the two schools of thought on the art of war.
Whether in the 20th century, or the 31st.
Well bargained, and medium-well done.