by David Crane
The U.S. Army is developing new thermobaric munitions for their BDM(Bunker Defeat Munition) and M203 grenade launchers, and ultimately for the XM29/OICW(Objective Individual Combat Weapon) as well. This is a long time coming. The Russian army has been using thermobaric light support weapons since its Soviet/Iron Curtain days. The Russian RPO-A Shmel is a perfect example. The RPO-A is kind of like a rocket-propelled flame thrower, and was used to great effect against Afghani Mujahideen in their Afghan War in the late ’70’s and early ’80’s. Any group of Mujahideen that were unlucky enough to be on the receiving end of an RPO-A while holed up inside a bunker or cave had virtually no chance of survival, since the fireball goes everywhere, including around corners.
Basically a thermobaric weapon deflagrates, rather than exploding. In other words, it creates a huge expanding fireball that burns up everything in its coverage zone. A thermobaric munition kills via three methods. The first is…
de-oxegenation. When fired into an enclosed space, like a bunker or building, the munition sprays its fuel(either liquid or liquid gel) out in the form of a fine mist, and ignites it. The resulting expanding fireball uses up all the available oxygen. The second lethal aspect is the burning/heat aspect, assuming all the oxygen hasn’t already been sucked out of one’s lungs. Finally, there is something called over-pressure, which has a blunt trauma effect that can also be lethal.
What’s interesting is that the U.S. military has had thermobaric technology for quite some time, but has been hesitant to employ it. One of the reasons for this is that they are skittish about thermobaric weapons that use liquid as the fuel. Talley Defense has had a thermobaric-type warhead for their M72 LAW (Light Anti-Tank Weapon) for quite some time, but the Army hasn’t wanted to adopt it. I say thermobaric-type because, from what I understand, the munition employs a gel, rather than liquid, and is not a true or purely thermobaric weapon. I will research this further to make sure I’m correct in this last point. I’m not sure if the thermobaric BDM munition the Army is going to be testing is Talley Defense’s SMAW-D or SMAW-D/CS or not, but I will research this as well.
It’s unfortunate that the U.S. Army and Marine Corps don’t yet have these weapons available for our troops, because they would come in very handy right now, specifically for the purpose of burning out Iraqi army and Republican Guard strongholds, especially once we get to Baghdad. Once there, we will most likely experience some very heavy fighting from Iraqi forces that are dug in like Alabama ticks. The point is that nothing kills quite as effectively as a thermobaric weapon inside a confined space, which is most likely where these forces will be hiding or holed up in Baghdad.
Click here to read a Wired.com story about thermobaric weapons, and see some pics. The article was written by Noah Shachtman.
Click here to read a paper on thermobaric munitions/weapons.
Here’s a link to some more info on the RPO Shmel family of weapons.