According to Ukrainian insiders, the Russian Federation is said to have embarked on arming Geran-2/Shahed-136 kamikaze drones with a newly developed thermobaric warhead, which has an impressive weight of 40 kg.
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This development was unveiled by communications, PEP, and EW specialist, Sergey Beskrestnov, often referred to as “Flash”. He augmented his claim with an accompanying photograph of the mentioned warhead.
So, what are the implications of a 40-kilogram thermobaric charge? Well, to give you an idea, a considerably smaller Bumblebee jet flamethrower comes in at just 3 kilograms and is capable of impacting a space of 80 cubic meters indoors or a 50 square meter radius in an outdoor setting. Now imagine the might of a charge that’s over 10 times heavier!
What is the effect?
Understanding the impact of a 40-kilogram thermobaric warhead on a Geran-2/Shahed-136 can be a complex task, given the multitude of factors that come into play. These include its variant – whether it’s single-stroke or two-stroke – and its components. However, the power of such a warhead can certainly affect a sizable area, potentially covering hundreds of square or cubic meters.
As a matter of fact, specialists often equate the potency of this thermobaric warhead to the TOS-1A Solntsepek – a substantial heavy jet flamethrower system. The precise weight of the warhead the TOS-1A handles isn’t officially revealed, creating a range of unofficial assumptions spanning from 30 kilograms to 90 kilograms. Furthermore, variations in the missiles themselves exist, with weights fluctuating between 173 and 217 kilograms.
While it is suggested that a warhead of this magnitude could impact the majority of a substation or warehouse, the true strength of a thermobaric weapon lies in its effective deployment within enclosed areas. This includes residential buildings, where its devastating power is amplified due to the overpressure at the front of the shock wave.
Imagine this: a one-off thermobaric explosive is set off. The moment it goes off, a shockwave is created, following which the elements of the thermobaric concoction mobilize. This mixture interacts both with the ambient air and its own components, thereby producing a “cloud”. This “cloud” has a staggering temperature ranging from 2400 to 2600 °C and its lifespan is approximately one second.
Now, the intriguing part is that this “cloud”, unlike the shockwave triggered by a classic high-explosive device, expands and pervades its entire surroundings. The implication here is that there’s no evading it, not even by taking cover behind corners. The aftermath of this explosion is not just the monumental heat, but an incredibly robust shockwave that can adversely impact the lungs, auditory system, and so on.
However, there’s still uncertainty as to whether this type of munition operates on a single-strike basis. In case we’re dealing with an older, two-strike version, it sprays out a liquid initially which results in a gaseous and airy mixture, and only then does the “cloud” detonate. This archaic model is notably less effective in open terrains and shows higher weather-dependent behavior.
Energy infrastructure is at risk
Although the long winter shadows are already starting to cast their chill over Ukraine, the country is bracing itself for more than just cold weather. The fearsome Geran-2/Shaed-136, a weapon of choice for Russia, is largely employed to assault buildings or to wreak havoc on Ukraine’s energy infrastructure. The anticipated damage this season may even surpass that of last year, as the incorporation of thermobaric warheads into these drones could redefine Ukrainian perceptions while inflicting unparalleled destruction.
The sinister winter freeze of the last year is still fresh in the nation’s memory. Between October 2022 and March 2023, Russia orchestrated a relentless onslaught of missile and drone strikes on Ukraine’s civilian energy infrastructure, submerging large parts of the country in darkness. With millions of Ukrainians left without electricity, heating, and water in the face of extreme winter weather, the human toll of this campaign was substantial.
The financial toll was equally devastating. According to the United Nations estimates, the physical damage to Ukraine’s energy infrastructure last winter amounted to $10 billion. Power plants and transmission lines bore the brunt of the destruction, critically hampering Ukraine’s entire energy capabilities. For context, before the onset of the bombing campaign, Ukraine boasted around 13.6 gigawatts [GW] of thermal capacity. By the spring of 2023, merely 4GW remained operative.
Front-line soldiers from Ukraine have indicated that the Gepard SPAAG, a weapon long since retired from the Bundesfera, is presently the most effective defense against Russian kamikaze drones.
Given access to the required ammunition – an obstacle once met towards the end of the war but no obstacle now – this weapon can effectively safeguard and substantially decrease the potential harm to the Ukrainian energy infrastructure.
A soldier from Ukraine shared with local media the gun’s notable success in combating Shahed-136/131 cluster munitions and its ability to intercept cruise missiles.
Moreover, the Gepard proves to be impressively economical in terms of ammunition usage, which is particularly crucial while downing economical winged ammunition as only a few rounds are needed for each target.
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