As proclaimed by Pavel Voronov, a renowned Russian expert, and editor at Ferra.ru, the Soviet-produced TOS-1A Solntsepyok, a 220 mm multiple-launch rocket system widely discussed in the context of the conflict in Ukraine, exhibits signs of ineffectiveness.
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The so-called ‘special military operation’ initiated by the Russian Federation, a term it prefers over ‘war’, constitutes a proving ground for various weapon systems. Several amid these have never seen battle before, and their actual performance is now under scrutiny. It has been illuminated that the TOS-1A Solntsepyok, hitherto revered as an invincible, fearsome, and game-changing piece of military hardware, unrivaled globally, has had its reputation significantly damaged.
This development is encapsulated in the case of the much-vaunted Russian TOS-1A Solntsepyok. Previously, this system demonstrated considerable effectiveness in the Syrian conflict. However, its use in Ukraine has unveiled significant issues. Operating on the same principle as the BM-21 Grad, BM-30 Smerch, and the American HIMARS, the TOS-1A Solntsepyok is, essentially, a rocket artillery system.
The United States initially expressed caution regarding the TOS-1A Solntsepyok, a system seemingly impervious to any potential defensive measures. Nowadays, the TOS-1A Solntsepyok is a fully developed, plentifully stocked component of the Russian military. The Russian armed forces further expanded their arsenal last year with the introduction of the TOS-2 Tosochka.
Drawing from Syrian experiences, the TOS-1A Solntsepyok encompasses a tracked chassis, whereas the TOS-2 Tosochka is designed with wheels. These developments raise critical questions among defense industry experts, even before the full-scale deployment of the TOS-1A Solntsepyok.
TOS-1A Solntsepyok is a myth debunked
“The ongoing conflict in Ukraine has brought to light certain realities about so-called ‘world class’ weaponry systems, revealing a number of them as moderately functional at best. Included amongst these is the Solntsepek heavy flamethrower system,” remarked Alexander Kovalenko, a noted military-political analyst, as quoted by “UNIAN”.
Detailing its history, Kovalenko elucidated that the TOS-1A dates back to the 1970s. Despite its initial conception during this period, it was not until 1987 that the first combat model was released, due largely to a series of less-than-impressive evaluations by military staff.
“In the 1990s, showcasing a robust military-industrial complex became a priority for the newly established Russian authorities. Consequently, under Yeltsin’s administration, widescale production began, not only for a mediocre adaptation of the T-72B tank, known as the T-90 but also for the TOS-1A.”
Despite these efforts, Kovalenko notes, production difficulties delayed the system’s presentation until 1999. “This delay should have raised concerns about the efficacy of the system, yet it appears it did not have that effect,” Kovalenko astutely observed.
In a compelling comparison drawn between the TOS-1A and MLRS, an expert astutely points out that the latter, in several critical respects, surpasses the TOS-1A. The TOS-1A, strikingly deficient in comparison to even the BM-21 Grad, leaves much to be desired when stacked against heavier hitters like the “Hurricane” and “Smerch”. Specifically, the impact area delineated for the “Grad” is upwards of 145,000 m², for the “Hurricane”, a formidable 426,000 m², and for “Smerch”, a staggering 672,000 m². In sharp contrast, the TOS-1A’s impact area registers a relatively paltry 40,000 m².
The expert further adds to the discourse on the subject by drawing attention to the startling disparity in range. The functionality of the TOS-1A seems to be significantly overshadowed by the MLRS on this front too. A substantial firing range of up to 30 km has been recorded for the BM-21 “Grad”, while the “Hurricane” boasts an impressive reach of 35 km and the “Smerch” dwarfs these with a formidable expanse of 70 km. In a stark illustration of its limitations, the TOS-1A’s firing range meekly caps at a mere 6 km, the expert concludes.
A small distance
The TOS-1A Solntsepyok, a heavy flamethrower system, bears witness to substantial shortcomings, predominantly linked to its striking dimensions. Its overall performance is impeded by a notably reduced missile range, which is estimated to be a mere 6-7 kilometers. The relevance of this deficiency is truly underscored when measured up to the divisional Grad, whose shells accomplish a flight distance three times the size, reaching upwards of 20 kilometers.
These factors underline Solntsepyok’s core limitation: its operational effectiveness is largely confined to assaulting the front lines of opposing forces. This stipulation leaves it vulnerably exposed, a tantalizing target for both helicopters and attack aircraft. Furthermore, its position, front, and center at the leading edge, virtually gifts ubiquitous visibility to lurking drones.
These aerial observers are extremely efficient in detecting and promptly transmitting the system’s coordinates, thus increasing the Solntsepyok susceptibility to an attack. Not infrequently, if conditions allow it, drones may seize the initiative and commence missile attacks themselves.
Protection and armor
Within the confines of the military vehicle, the crew is shielded nearly as well as the armored vehicle itself. Indeed, formidable armored fortifications are employed to provide outstanding safety to the unit within. The compartment destined to securely hold ammunition of immense destructive potential, however, is draped in armor that falls prey to virtually all projectile types. Herein, the Tactical Operative System [TOS] materializes as a tempting and graceful target for Sabotage-Reconnaissance Groups [DRGs]– entities that Ukraine is plentifully endowed with.
HIMARS has no analog
As revealed through its official assessments, the merits of Solncepek are spoken of with an air of confidence and affirmations of impregnability. Yet, the resilience of this armament has been predominantly put to the test in the fortified combats in Donbas, as a myriad of unofficial accounts narrating equipment losses suggest.
In contrast, grave doubts are swirling around the pragmatic efficacy of this costly machinery, valued at 6.5 million and bearing a reputation for being high-maintenance. The scope of application for this ammunition is, in fact, highly circumscribed, especially when compared to the versatility of the conventional Multiple Launch Rocket System [MLRS].
A sobering confession comes from the lips of Pavel Voronov, who concludes his analysis with a regretful admission of the current inadequacies of the Russian military: “We are forced to acknowledge that, at present, we lack any ammunition that could outperform HIMARS.”
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