Sources from Ukraine suggest that the Russian Federation has reportedly begun to equip Geran-2/Shahed-136 kamikaze drones with a newly designed thermobaric warhead, weighing a substantial 40 kg. This information was brought to light by Sergey Beskrestnov, a specialist in communications, PEP, and EW, also known as “Flash”, who provided a photograph of the said warhead for reference.
To comprehend the potential of a 40-kilogram thermobaric charge, consider the Bumblebee jet flamethrower, which weighs a mere 3 kilograms but can affect an area of 80 cubic meters indoors or a 50 square meter radius outdoors. The power of a charge that is more than ten times heavier is indeed formidable!
The impact of a 40-kilogram thermobaric warhead on a Geran-2/Shahed-136 drone can be intricate to grasp due to various factors, including its type (single-stroke or two-stroke) and its components. Nevertheless, such a warhead could potentially affect a large area, possibly spanning hundreds of square or cubic meters.
Experts often compare the power of this thermobaric warhead to the TOS-1A Solntsepek, a significant heavy jet flamethrower system. The exact weight of the warhead used by the TOS-1A is not officially disclosed, leading to unofficial estimates ranging from 30 kilograms to 90 kilograms. The missiles themselves also vary, with weights ranging between 173 and 217 kilograms.
While it is believed that a warhead of this size could affect most of a substation or warehouse, the true power of a thermobaric weapon is its effective use in enclosed spaces. This includes residential buildings, where its destructive force is magnified due to the overpressure at the front of the shock wave.
Consider this scenario: a single-use thermobaric explosive is detonated. The explosion creates a shockwave, and the elements of the thermobaric mixture are activated. This mixture reacts with the surrounding air and its own components, forming a “cloud” with a remarkable temperature between 2400 and 2600 °C, lasting about one second.
Interestingly, this “cloud”, unlike the shockwave produced by a traditional high-explosive device, expands and permeates its entire environment. This means there’s no escaping it, even by hiding behind corners. The aftermath of this explosion is not just the intense heat, but also a powerful shockwave that can have harmful effects on the lungs, auditory system, and more.
However, it’s still unclear whether this kind of ammunition operates on a single-strike basis. If it’s an older, two-strike version, it initially disperses a liquid that forms a gaseous and airy mixture, and then the “cloud” detonates. This older model is notably less effective in open terrains and is more weather-dependent.
Energy infrastructure is under threat
As Ukraine prepares for the long winter, it faces more than just cold weather. The formidable Geran-2/Shaed-136, a preferred weapon of Russia, is primarily used to attack buildings or disrupt Ukraine’s energy infrastructure. The expected damage this season could exceed that of the previous year, as the integration of thermobaric warheads into these drones could change Ukrainian perceptions and cause unprecedented destruction.
The harsh winter of the previous year is still vivid in the nation’s memory. From October 2022 to March 2023, Russia launched a continuous series of missile and drone attacks on Ukraine’s civilian energy infrastructure, plunging large parts of the country into darkness. Millions of Ukrainians were left without electricity, heating, and water in the face of severe winter weather, resulting in a significant human toll.
The financial toll was equally catastrophic. The United Nations estimates that the physical damage to Ukraine’s energy infrastructure last winter amounted to $10 billion. Power plants and transmission lines were the main targets of the destruction, severely affecting Ukraine’s overall energy capabilities. Before the bombing campaign began, Ukraine had about 13.6 gigawatts [GW] of thermal capacity. By the spring of 2023, only 4GW remained operational.
Ukrainian front-line soldiers have reported that the Gepard SPAAG, a weapon long retired from the Bundesfera, is currently the most effective defense against Russian kamikaze drones.
With access to the necessary ammunition – a challenge once faced towards the end of the war but no longer an issue – this weapon can effectively protect and significantly reduce potential damage to the Ukrainian energy infrastructure.
A Ukrainian soldier has reported to the local press about the remarkable effectiveness of a certain gun in countering Shahed-136/131 cluster munitions and its capability to intercept cruise missiles. Furthermore, the Gepard has demonstrated exceptional efficiency in ammunition consumption, which is particularly vital when dealing with cost-effective winged ammunition, as it requires only a handful of rounds to neutralize each target.