Day 45 – Q 3. What are thermobaric weapons? How do they function? Explain. (15 Marks)

  • IASbaba
  • March 16, 2022
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GS 3, Sci & Technology, TLP-UPSC Mains Answer Writing
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3. What are thermobaric weapons? How do they function? Explain. (15 Marks)

थर्मोबैरिक हथियार क्या हैं? वे कैसे कार्य करते हैं? समझाएं।


Candidates need to write about the thermobaric weapons and explain how they function.


Fears have risen over the use of thermobaric weapons by Russia after the Ukrainian ambassador to the US said a vacuum bomb – another term for the weapon – had been used during the invasion. These weapons have been used by Russian and western forces since the 1960s. The US relied on them in its attempts to eliminate al-Qaida in the mountains in Afghanistan. 

Thermobaric Weapons 

  • The thermobaric weapon, also known as an aerosol bomb or fuel air explosive, is a two-stage munition. 
  • These weapon suck in oxygen from the surrounding air to generate a high-temperature explosion and are effective at their “specific purpose” of “primarily destroying defensive positions”. 
  • While they would not be used to penetrate a tank, they could be a very destructive weapon against an apartment complex or other building. 
  • They are not illegal even though their effects can be pretty horrific, because of that effect of creating a vacuum and sucking the air out of the lungs of defenders.

How the Thermobaric Weapons Function

  • The first-stage charge distributes an aerosol made up of very fine material – from a carbon-based fuel to tiny metal particles. 
  • A second charge ignites that cloud, creating a fireball, a huge shock wave, and a vacuum as it sucks up all surrounding oxygen.
  • The blast wave can last for significantly longer than a conventional explosive and is capable of vaporising human bodies.
  • Such weapons are used for a variety of purposes and come in a range of sizes. They are often used in a “bunker-buster” role to destroy defensive positions. Extremely large, air-launched versions are designed to destroy caves and tunnel complexes.


One of the things we know about Russian tactics is that they are willing to destroy everything. It’s clear that the Ukrainians are hunkering down in some of the cities as that continues the Russians are going to resort more and more to using whatever weapons they have including thermobaric weapons in built-up urban areas.


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