Ukraine: Russia admits using fearsome thermobaric bomb that can vaporise human bodies

10 March 2022, 06:11 | Updated: 10 March 2022, 08:21

The fearsome TOS-1A weapon system has been used in Ukraine
The fearsome TOS-1A weapon system has been used in Ukraine. Picture: Getty

By Will Taylor

Russia has admitted it has used powerful thermobaric vacuum bombs in its invasion of Ukraine – a feared weapon capable of vaporising human bodies.

The TOS-1A "heavy flamethrower" system sucks in air to create a massive explosion that is able to damage internal organs.

The weapon, which disperses particles over a wide area before igniting, can be deadly to people in enclosed spaces – such as buildings in urban warfare

While the weapon is not banned its use does fall under the law of armed conflict's regulations.

Read more: What is a vacuum bomb and its effects? Terrifying thermobaric warhead that can vaporise humans

Read more: PM pledges to tighten sanctions after Russia blitzes hospital in 'horrifying' attack

The British Ministry of Defence [MoD] said on Wednesday night that its use in the invasion was admitted by Russia.

"The Russian MoD has confirmed the use of the TOS-1A weapon system in Ukraine. The TOS-1A uses thermobaric rockets, creating incendiary and blast effects," a tweet said.

The Times reported that Zvezdanews, a TV network used by the Russian defence ministry, described a Sergeant Sergey Gubarev using the weapon at a river crossing in the Chernihiv area of northern Ukraine.

"With precise fire from the TOS-1A heavy flamethrower system, he suppressed enemy artillery and mortar crews, destroyed 14 weapons and military equipment, as well as more than 40 nationalists," it reportedly said.

The British MoD posted a video explaining the weapon system, saying Russia had used it in both Afghanistan and Chechnya.

Read more: Minister warns of 'possibility' Russia will use tactical nuclear weapons in Ukraine

Read more: David Cameron brands Putin a 'phenomenal liar' who lied over shooting down MH17

It said the vacuum bombs have "blast effects" that last longer than conventional explosives, producing a "devastating" impact that can destroy infrastructure, damage internal organs and cause flash burns.

"They cannot be used against military targets in a way that may endanger the civilian population or in a way that the damage they would cause would be excessive to the military advantage gained or where they would cause unnecessary suffering," the video said.

"If President Putin purposefully uses the TOS-1A system against civilians it would be illegal."

Thermobaric bombs, which date back to the Second World War and have been used in Iraq and Vietnam, spread fine carbon metal particles into the air and then ignite them.

The blast sucks in oxygen from the surrounding area. It is capable of vaporising human bodies and damaging internal organs.

An expert told LBC the explosions are "very sustained", usually resulting in a shockwave.

Developments to the weapon mean it has become even deadlier, Dr Patricia Lewis, Research Director for International Security at Chatham House, said.

It would not be used against armoured targets but instead would prove "very destructive" against soft targets such as apartment buildings of lightly armoured defensive positions.

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