The TOS-1 Buratino: a Terrifying Russian Thermobaric Menace

When the Italians name something after a bee, it's a cute little trucklet. But when the Russians do the same, it's the building block of the scariest rocket launcher in Eurasia.

Thermobaric weapons excite me. Some of it is the name—also written as fuel-air bomb or vacuum bomb—but mostly it’s the sheer elegance of operation. They work by dispersing their fuel in a cloud of fine particulate, then lighting the cloud on fire. The resulting explosion creates a particularly devastating shockwave while sucking up all the oxygen in the area.

Among the many vacuum bombs in use by various armies is the Russian RPO-A Shmel, where shmel means bumblebee. It is a single-shot bazooka which fires a 4.6-pound thermobaric warhead. You can see it in action here.

Scary, yes. But what if you took the same principle and upped it a bit? By, say, using 220 mm fuel-air rockets and mounting 30 of them on a T-72 tank chassis? You would end up with the TOS-1 Buratino.

The TOS-1 Buratino: a Terrifying Russian Thermobaric Menace

Buratino is a Russian derivative of Pinocchio and you can certainly see why it’s a very appropriate nickname for the TOS-1, which has somehow escaped our list of the ten fiercest Russian military vehicles of all time. It is capable of firing its entire load of 30 warheads over 15 seconds, levelling 40 unfortunate acres in the process. The TOS-1 was put to crushing use against the Chechen capital of Grozny during its siege in December 1999. This is what remained of the city:

The TOS-1 Buratino: a Terrifying Russian Thermobaric Menace


Which, come to think of it, is what my home would look like if the people of Hungary had delayed their 1956 revolution by a few decades, until the Buratino was developed in the late 80’s.

Photo Credit: Militaryimages.net, Vyacheslav Fedorov, Freechechnya.org