Russia’s Bunker-Smashing Rockets Have Arrived in Iraq

Baghdad could deploy TOS-1 rockets to shatter militants’ defenses


Photos have appears on Iraqi social media depicting Russian-made rocket artillery arriving in Baghdad. The snapshots, published on July 25, show TOS-1A systems unloading from giant An-124 cargo planes.

The rockets could help Baghdad battle Islamic militants.

TOS-1 was the Soviet army’s secret hammer during the last decade of the Cold War. It fires powerful rockets to smash enemy trenches, fortifications and buildings, cracking defensive lines to allow tanks and infantry to punch through.

The Soviets deployed TOS-1 for the first time in Afghanistan in 1989, a full decade before publicly unveiling the rocket launcher. In 2009, the Russian rolled out TOS-1s for counterinsurgency drills and officially offered to export the rocket launcher as a means of defeating rebels and militants.

TOS-1A is the upgraded version—and arguably the most destructive artillery piece in the world. TOS-1A includes a T-72 tank chassis, allowing it roll right through enemy gunfire in order to get close enough to attack. The launchers fires 24 220-millimeter rockets, each with a 100-kilogram thermobaric warhead.

A single TOS-1 rocket is more powerful than a conventional 1,000-pound explosive munition.

TOS-1s in Baghdad. Photo via Iraqi social media

The system has limited range compared to other heavy artillery systems—just six kilometers. But that’s far enough to keep the rocket battery safe from enemy tank-hunters.

Striking from short range also increases accuracy and reduces rocket dispersion in the target area. TOS-1A has a ballistic computer that can calculate firing angles with just 90 seconds of prep time.

The presence of TOS-1A in Iraq is in line with the Iranian approach to defeating Sunni rebels in Syria. Iran has been helping Iraq battle the militant Islamic State of Iraq and Syria after ISIS captured northwestern Iraq in June and subsequently attacked an Iranian border post.

In Syria, Iranian-backed fighters have fired Barakan and Falagh heavy rockets in order to smash rebel front-lines before major ground assaults.

But the Russian TOS-1 is a step beyond what the Iranians have deployed in Syria. TOS-1 is more powerful and more accurate. It could signal Baghdad’s intention to launch counterattacks against ISIS.

Each time militants dig in, TOS-1 could root them out. The huge rockets could wipe out entire stretches of ISIS’ defensive lines and open up paths for Iraqi ground troops.