Ukraine Live Day 606: International Concern Over Russian Thermobaric Rocket Launcher Seen In Donbass

October 16, 2015
A Russian "TOS-1 Buratino" multiple rocket launcher fires during the "Russia Arms Expo 2013" 9th international exhibition of arms, military equipment and ammunition, in the Urals city of Nizhny Tagil, September 25, 2013. REUTERS/Sergei Karpukhin

Yesterday’s live coverage of the Ukraine conflict can be found here. An archive of our liveblogs can be found here. For an overview and analysis of this developing story see our latest podcast.

Please help The Interpreter to continue providing this valuable information service by making a donation towards our costs.

For links to individual updates click on the timestamps.

For the latest summary of evidence surrounding the shooting down of flight MH17 see our separate article: How We Know Russia Shot Down MH17.

The UK Raises Red Flag Over New Russian Weapons system Spotted In Ukraine

In the final days of September, with Russia’s intervention in Ukraine being largely ignored by the media due to the ceasefire — and due to the fact that Russia’s intervention in Syria was overshadowing other Kremlin-related news — the OSCE reported spotting a TOS-1 ‘Buratino’ in eastern Ukraine, in territory controlled by Russian-backed fighters. The Buratino is a weapon capable of firing thermobaric warheads which light the air on fire, a weapon which excels at killing people who are inside buildings, bunkers, and even armored vehicles.
Today the UK delegation to the OSCE tweeted this:
The British Ambassador and Head of the UK Delegation to OSCE, Sian MacLeod, added that there has been no Russian answer on the presence of advanced Russian weapons systems spotted by the OSCE in eastern Ukraine including the Zhitel radio jammer which may have brought down several OSCE drones:
We’d also note that this weapon has recently appeared in Syria for the first time:

The US military is also paying close attention to the use of Russian drones in both  Ukraine and Syria. In conflicts like Iraq and Afghanistan, US drones have ruled the skies. Now, Russian drones are operating in large numbers and are — according to US General David Perkins, head of Training and Doctrine Command for the US Army — being used to target artillery systems, including the Buratino.

Breaking Defense reports:

“In Iraq and Afghanistan, we were kind of the only ones that had Unmanned Aerial Systems [UAS or UAVs] and they pretty much flew in uncontested airspace,” Perkins said. “Now, what we’re seeing in the Ukraine, is the enemy has unmanned aerial systems, they’re deploying them pretty effectively, and the airspace we’re used to operating them in is becoming very contested.”

Nor do the Russians use their drones the way Americans do, for prolonged surveillance and the occasional precision strike. Instead, the Ukrainians have learned, the hard way, that when they see certain kinds of Russian UAV overhead, an all-out barrage will follow.

The Ukrainians report that “when they see certain type UAVs, they know in the next 10-15 minutes, there’re going to be rockets landing on top of them,” Hodges said. This isn’t precision fire, but heavy bombardment. “It shreds light-skinned armored vehicles,” Hodges said, citing studies by Potomac Foundation president Phillip Karber, who’s extensively visited the Ukrainian battlefront.

Russian cannon and rocket artillery causes 85 percent of Ukrainian casualties, Karber told the AUSA conference, his slides showing columns of burnt-out transports and rows of body bags. The Russians use scatterable submunitions that Western nations have renounced for doing too much collateral damage, he said. They employ thermobaric weapons that create enormous fires. They have precision weapons that target the thinly armored tops of armored vehicles.

Russian Drone Threat: Army Seeks Ukraine Lessons

AUSA: Watch the skies: The US Army's is paying close attention to Russia's "massive use of drones [to spot for] artillery," Gen. David Perkins, head of the powerful Training & Doctrine Command, said here today. "In Iraq and Afghanistan, we were kind of the only ones that had Unmanned Aerial Systems [UAS or UAVs] and they pretty much flew in uncontested airspace," Perkins said.

View full page →

Oct 16, 2015 20:23 (GMT)

The use of themorbaric weapons, referenced by Karber, does not seem to have been disputed by the US Army generals who were at this event. Is that a soft recognition that Buratinos have already been used by the Russian-backed fighters, as the Ukrainian military has already claimed?

In January this year, Ukrainian military spokesman Leonid Matyukhin said that Russian-backed forces had shelled Donetsk Airport with Buratinos

As we noted at the time, video footage and reports from the ground indicated that rocket artillery of a different type to the ubiquitous Grad MLRS was certainly in use during the final days of the assault: 

Either way, as that article points out, the US and its allies are now operating in close proximity in Syria or, in the case of American ally Ukraine, in direct opposition to Russia, and both advanced artillery systems and advanced drones will be in use in these conflicts which many experts believe are more closely related, due to Russian interference in both, than is readily apparent.

James Miller and Pierre Vaux