Thermobaric ammunition is a type of blast-effect ammunition. It is used by some rocket launchers and missile launchers, and thermobaric warheads are also used in air-dropped bombs and artillery shells. A variety of other terms are also applied to the ammunition, including "fuel-air explosive" (FAE), "aerosol bomb" and "vacuum bomb." The term "Metal Augmented Charge" (MAC) is applied to versions which use aluminium powder as their fuel element.
The first thermobaric ammunition project was created during the Second World War by an Austrian physicist named Mario Zippermayr, who performed experiments aimed at creating a surface-to-air missile or rocket system using a fuel-air warhead. This project was known as Hexenkessel ("witch's cauldron"), and the fuel element in his warhead was liquefied brown coal dust. Unlike later fuel-air bombs, his warheads used an internal supply of liquid oxygen.
The first operational thermobaric systems were American, used to clear landing zones for helicopters during the Vietnam War. However, the most enthusiastic adopter of thermobaric weapons was the Soviet Union. Infantry thermobaric rocket launchers replaced obsolete flamethrowers in Soviet service.
Russia is still the greatest user of infantry thermobaric weapon systems, though several other powers also employ them, including the US with the NE ("novel explosive") round for the Mk 153 SMAW.
Thermobaric weapons function according to the same principles as dust and vapor-fuel explosions, which cause phenomena such as grain silo and flour mill explosions. Rather than using an oxidiser-fuel mix as with condensed explosives, a themobaric weapon is almost entirely fuel, which is scattered by a small precursor explosive charge and then ignited a short time later after the fuel has been given time to mix with air, producing a flame front that burns so quickly the result is an explosion.
The primary damage mechanism of a thermobaric munition is blast, and it is particularly deadly in confined spaces where the shockwave is reflected and focused and the consumption of oxygen is so fast and complete than the explosion can cause a brief, partial vacuum.
Thermobaric rounds and companion weapon systems Edit
|RPO-A||Rocket||RPO-A Shmel||Soviet Union|
|Mk 80 Mod 0||Rocket||Mk 153 SMAW||United States|
|XM1060||Grenade round||40mm launchers||United States|