Pavel Voronov, a respected Russian authority and editor, has raised concerns about the performance of the Soviet-made TOS-1A Solntsepyok, a 220 mm multiple rocket launch system that has been a topic of discussion in the Ukraine conflict.

The Russian Federation’s so-called ‘special military operation’, which is essentially a war, serves as a testing ground for various weapons systems. Some of these systems are being used in combat for the first time, and their effectiveness is being closely monitored. The TOS-1A Solntsepyok, once considered an unbeatable and intimidating game-changer in military technology with no global competition, has seen its reputation take a hit.

This is particularly evident in the case of the highly touted Russian TOS-1A Solntsepyok. While it proved to be highly effective in the Syrian conflict, its deployment in Ukraine has revealed significant shortcomings. The TOS-1A Solntsepyok operates on the same principle as the BM-21 Grad, BM-30 Smerch, and the American HIMARS, making it essentially a rocket artillery system.

Initially, the United States was wary of the TOS-1A Solntsepyok, which seemed to be immune to any defensive countermeasures. Today, however, the TOS-1A Solntsepyok is a well-established and well-stocked part of the Russian military arsenal. The Russian military further bolstered its arsenal last year with the addition of the TOS-2 Tosochka.

The TOS-1A Solntsepyok features a tracked chassis based on experiences from Syria, while the TOS-2 Tosochka is wheel-based. These developments have sparked important discussions among defense industry experts even before the full-scale deployment of the TOS-1A Solntsepyok.

The ongoing conflict in Ukraine has exposed the truth about several so-called ‘world-class’ weapons systems, showing that many of them are only moderately effective. One such system is the Solntsepek heavy flamethrower system, as pointed out by Alexander Kovalenko, a well-known military-political analyst, in a statement to “UNIAN”.

Kovalenko provided a brief history of the TOS-1A, explaining that it was originally conceived in the 1970s. However, due to a series of underwhelming evaluations by military personnel, it wasn’t until 1987 that the first combat model was introduced.

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 the efforts, Kovalenko points out that production issues delayed the system’s debut until 1999. “This delay should have been a red flag about the system’s effectiveness, but it seems it was overlooked,” Kovalenko wisely noted.

Performance Issues

An expert makes a compelling comparison between the TOS-1A and MLRS, noting that the latter surpasses the TOS-1A in several key areas. The TOS-1A falls short when compared to even the BM-21 Grad, let alone heavyweights like the “Hurricane” and “Smerch”. Specifically, the impact area for the “Grad” is over 145,000 m², for the “Hurricane”, a formidable 426,000 m², and for “Smerch”, a staggering 672,000 m². In stark contrast, the TOS-1A’s impact area is a mere 40,000 m².

The expert further contributes to the discussion by highlighting the significant difference in range. The TOS-1A is significantly outperformed by the MLRS in this aspect as well. The BM-21 “Grad” has a substantial firing range of up to 30 km, while the “Hurricane” has an impressive reach of 35 km and the “Smerch” outclasses these with a formidable range of 70 km. In a clear illustration of its limitations, the TOS-1A’s firing range is capped at just 6 km, concludes the expert.

Limited Range

The TOS-1A Solntsepyok, a heavy flamethrower system, has significant shortcomings, primarily related to its limited dimensions. Its overall performance is hindered by a notably reduced missile range of just 6-7 kilometers. This deficiency becomes glaringly apparent when compared to the divisional Grad, whose shells achieve a flight distance three times greater, reaching over 20 kilometers.

These factors highlight Solntsepyok’s main limitation: its operational effectiveness is largely limited to assaulting enemy front lines. This requirement leaves it vulnerably exposed and an enticing target for both helicopters and attack aircraft. Moreover, its position at the forefront provides easy visibility to lurking drones.

These aerial observers are highly efficient at detecting and quickly transmitting the system’s coordinates, thus increasing Solntsepyok’s vulnerability to attack. Often, if conditions permit, drones may take the initiative and launch missile attacks themselves.

Protection and Armor

Inside the military vehicle, the crew is protected almost as well as the armored vehicle itself. Indeed, robust armored defenses are used to provide exceptional safety to the crew inside. However, the compartment designed to securely hold ammunition of immense destructive power is covered in armor that is vulnerable to virtually all types of projectiles. This makes the Tactical Operative System [TOS] an attractive and easy target for Sabotage-Reconnaissance Groups [DRGs], which Ukraine has in abundance.

HIMARS Has No Equal

Official assessments speak highly of Solncepek’s merits and tout its invincibility. However, this weapon’s resilience has been primarily tested in the fortified battles in Donbas, as numerous unofficial accounts of equipment losses suggest.

In contrast, serious questions are being raised about the practical effectiveness of this expensive piece of machinery, which costs 6.5 million and is known for being high-maintenance. The application range for this ammunition is quite limited, especially when compared to the versatility of the conventional Multiple Launch Rocket System [MLRS].

A sobering admission comes from Pavel Voronov, who concludes his analysis with a regretful acknowledgment of the current shortcomings of the Russian military.

 “We are forced to acknowledge that, at present, we lack any ammunition that could outperform HIMARS.”