Several types of enhanced blast weapons can be seen in photos and videos of Russian forces in Ukraine. Some of these weapons also appear to have been captured by Ukrainian forces. Enhanced blast weapons have been used in many contemporary conflicts, including Afghanistan by the United States, Chechnya by Russia, Mosul by Iraq, Aleppo by Syria, and Karabakh by Azerbaijan.
The terms “thermobaric,” “fuel-air explosive,” and “vacuum bomb” are all used to describe this class of weapons. A multitude of weapons including air-dropped bombs, rocket artillery and shoulder-fired munitions are equipped with enhanced blast warheads.
Enhanced blast weapons are more powerful than conventional high-explosive munitions of comparable size and are more likely to kill and injure people in buildings, basements, and caves.
Because enhanced blast weapons cover a wide area, they are prone to indiscriminate use, especially in or near populated areas. In urban settings it is very difficult to limit the effect of enhanced blast weapons to combatants, and the nature of enhanced blast weapons makes it virtually impossible for civilians to take shelter from their destructive effect.
Enhanced blast weapons are not incendiary weapons nor are they banned under international humanitarian law. Early development of these weapons in the Soviet Union led to them being mistakenly classified as “flame-throwers.”
Although several methods of operation exist for the various types of enhanced blast weapons, they generally function on the same principle: an explosive material is dispersed as a vapor cloud that uses atmospheric oxygen as a fuel when it is detonated. Destruction, death, and injury are caused by the high-temperature blast wave created by the “deflagration-to-detonation” type explosion.
Examples of known Russian enhanced blast weapons include:
- ODAB-series 500kg unguided air-dropped bomb
- KAB-500Kr-OD guided air-dropped bomb
- ODS-OD dispenser, with ODS-OD BLU cluster bombs (8 per dispenser)
- S-8D (S-8DM) 80mm air-to-ground rocket
- S-13D 122 mm air-to-ground rocket
- 9M529 rocket for 300mm Smerch multi-barrel rocket launcher
- 9M51 rocket for 220 mm Uragan multi-barrel rocket launcher
- TOS-1/TOS-1A 220mm multi-barrel rocket launcher (Buratino, "Pinocchio")
- RPO-A Shmel shoulder-fired rocket
- TBG-7V warhead for RPG-7 shoulder-fired rocket launcher