The Russian TOS-1A thermobaric rocket launcher has become a symbol of the devastating losses sustained by Moscow’s forces in Ukraine as they continue their offensive to capture more territory in the Donbas region.
First deployed in the 1980s, the TOS-1A is a multiple launch rocket system (MLRS) specifically designed for use in urban and mountainous environments. The weapon fires rockets which generate an intense pressure wave and extreme heat in their wake, capable of melting human organs within a 650ft radius.
On Valentine’s Day, Ukraine launched a fierce counter-attack against Russian forces stuck in a minefield, resulting in the destruction of at least 30 enemy armoured vehicles and one TOS-1A. Footage of the aftermath showed the explosive wreckage of the weapon, highlighting the extent of the losses incurred by Moscow’s forces in the botched advance on the eastern town of Vuhledar.
In a daily intelligence briefing, British military officials on Monday claimed that Russia’s elite 155th and 40th Naval Infantry Bridges had sustained “very high losses” in Vuhledar and were “likely combat ineffective”. Ukraine’s forces are dug in heavily fortified defensive positions, including bunkers connected to the coal mines. It appears that the TOS-1A’s thermobaric rockets are particularly suited to breaking enclosed bunkers, making them a key weapon in the Russian arsenal.
Russia’s forces in Ukraine have made Vuhledar one of the key targets for their renewed offensive efforts in the east, but have sustained heavy losses in the process. Videos of Russian tanks and armoured vehicles being destroyed in failed attempts to cross the heavily-mined area have circulated widely online.
Elsewhere, pro-Russian channels on the Telegram messaging app have advanced on Bakhmut, another key target for the Russian offensive, and taken a nearby railway station. It is believed that Russian forces are under significant political pressure to make gains around Bakhmut in time for the one-year anniversary of Vladimir Putin’s invasion later this week.
Despite the TOS-1A’s devastating capabilities, it appears that Moscow’s offensive efforts are spread too thinly over “five-six axes” in the Donbas to make a significant impact. Britain’s Ministry of Defence believes that if Russia’s spring offensive fails to achieve anything then tensions within the Russian leadership will likely increase.
It is likely that Ukraine’s forces will be better suited to “absorbing the Russian attack and exhausting Russian offensive potential, than taking the initiative later this spring”. Intelligence officers inside Nato now no longer believe Russia has the firepower to carry out a successful assault on the eastern Donbas region, and that 2023 will be the year of a Ukrainian counter-offensive supported by donations of Western weapons.