Russian sources have reported that the deployment of TOS-1A 220mm rocket artillery systems has been key to facilitating the surrender of alleged far right Neo Nazi militia units in Ukraine, with the unique asset’s role having gained it considerable publicity. “The military command of the Central Military District notes the high efficiency of the use of heavy flamethrower systems and also that in the area of the operation of TOS crews, Ukrainian nationalists voluntarily surrender ever more frequently, abandoning positions and ignoring their commanders’ orders,” the Defence Ministry reported. The commander of a TOS-1A unit in Ukraine, referred to only by the name ‘Matvey,’ stated regarding the use of the assets: “The efficiency of heavy flamethrower systems is achieved through the personnel’s high skills and their interoperability. It is most of all effective to employ heavy flamethrower systems against enemy personnel entrenched in shelters.”
The deployment of TOS-1A units on a significant scale for operations in Ukraine was reported in May, following prior deployments by Russian forces to support counterinsurgency operations in Syria in 2016 and their use by Iraqi, Syria and Azerbaijani units which received them after the placing of export orders. The system is prized for its ability to neutralise infantry in fortified positions such as those in Ukraine, with its thermobaric ammunition able to rupture the lungs of victims in the vicinity of each impact. The weapons systems have been dubbed ‘flamethrowers’ due to their ability to clear out fortifications. Due to their special status and use of thermobaric warheads, the systems are deployed under the Nuclear, Biological and Chemical Protection Troops rather than regular Russian Army artillery units. Russian sources have frequently alleged that Neo Nazi militias are responsible for a significant portion of Ukraine’s overall warfighting capabilities, and while it has been confirmed that such units have had some involvement in the conflict, the veracity of such allegations and the nature of those units which TOS-1 units have been responsible for neutralising in recent days remains uncertain.