Saudi Arabia Eyes Acquisition of Russian TOS-1A Heavy Flamethrower System MLRS

During the World Defense Show 2024, held from February 4 to 8 in Saudi Arabia, Alexander Mikheyev, CEO of Rosoboronexport, the state defense agency of Russia, announced Saudi Arabia's interest in acquiring the TOS-1A heavy flamethrower system. This system, also known as a thermobaric rocket launcher, has been a subject of interest for various nations due to its formidable destructive capabilities.
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Russian-made TOS-1A heavy flamethrower at Defense Exhibition Army-2021 that was held near Moscow. (Picture source Vitaly Kuzmin)

The TOS-1A system, a staple in the Russian arsenal, is renowned for its use in conflict zones, notably for its deployment by Russian forces in Ukraine. The Russian Ministry of Defense has published several videos on social media, showcasing the TOS family's effectiveness in the ongoing conflict. These demonstrations highlight the system's high-power mass destruction capabilities, particularly against fortified positions.

Alongside the TOS-1A, Russia introduced the third generation of its thermobaric rocket launcher system, the TOS-3, nicknamed "Dragon." The TOS-3 is an advancement over its predecessors, incorporating the launching system of the TOS-2 but mounted on a tank tracked chassis similar to the TOS-1A. This development underscores Russia's commitment to enhancing its heavy flamethrower systems, both for domestic use and international sales.

The use of the TOS-1A in Ukraine by Russian forces has been a point of contention, drawing international scrutiny. The system's deployment in conflict zones underscores its effectiveness in warfare, particularly in neutralizing enemy fortifications and personnel. However, the use of such powerful weaponry has raised concerns regarding civilian casualties and the broader humanitarian impact.

Saudi Arabia's interest in the TOS-1A system indicates a growing trend among nations to bolster their military capabilities with advanced weaponry. The acquisition of such systems by countries in volatile regions could shift the balance of military power and influence regional security dynamics.

The TOS-1A heavy flamethrower system, known for its distinctive role on the battlefield, is a sophisticated piece of military technology that combines the lethal efficiency of thermobaric weapons with the mobility and protection of armored vehicles. Developed in Russia, the TOS-1A is mounted on the chassis of a T-72 tank, offering significant armor protection to its operators. This system is designed to launch 220mm rockets equipped with thermobaric warheads, which are capable of delivering devastating blasts and shockwaves over a wide area. The TOS-1A's primary function is to engage enemy fortifications, personnel, and lightly armored vehicles, making it a formidable tool in breaking through entrenched positions. Its effective range is approximately 6 kilometers, allowing it to strike from distances that mitigate the risk of return fire. The system's ability to lay down a blanket of high-temperature pressure waves can obliterate entrenched defenses and personnel, making it a critical asset in combined arms operations.

The relationship between Russia and Saudi Arabia in the realm of defense has been evolving, marked by increasing dialogue and potential agreements that signify a mutual interest in strengthening military and technical cooperation. The interest of Saudi Arabia in acquiring systems like the TOS-1A highlights a significant aspect of this relationship, indicating a desire to diversify its military capabilities with advanced weaponry.

Russia, on its part, has been keen to expand its defense market, offering state-of-the-art military equipment to countries looking to upgrade their arsenals. The potential acquisition of the TOS-1A by Saudi Arabia not only signifies the trust in Russian military technology but also points to a broader strategy of enhancing its national defense capabilities with highly effective and specialized weaponry.

This burgeoning defense relationship between Russia and Saudi Arabia is reflective of a larger trend in the international arms trade, where nations seek to establish partnerships that can offer them an edge in military technology and strategic capabilities.

For Russia, Saudi Arabia represents an important partner in the Middle East, a region where Moscow seeks to assert its influence and expand its defense export portfolio. For Saudi Arabia, acquiring advanced systems like the TOS-1A aligns with its goals of ensuring national security and maintaining a deterrent against threats.

Defense News February 2024