RPO-A “Shmel” (Bumblebee) operates by a principle of volumetric explosion. A grenade flies onto the premises, breaks into pieces and sprinkles a cloud of finely-dispersing explosive (simply speaking - a rattling suspension) which instantly fills the entire premise. With a delay of parts of a second, it ignites. On the external side of the cloud, the pressure rises. In its center, due to the burning of the mixture, the pressure, on the contrary, catastrophically falls. As a result, in addition to a volumetric explosion, there is an effect of a vacuum explosion. The building folds like a cardboard box. With merely a couple of shots, it is possible to completely destroy a five-story building. This is what happened during the investigatory experiment.
But the experiment did not cause ignition. Why? The answer is simple. Because there was nothing left to burn! A demolished building in which there is nothing, except for walls and a ceiling, and a “living" school with wooden covering, sports mats, doors, plastic and furniture – are not at all the same. Moreover, during the investigatory experiment there was only one shot that was made, whereas 9 used tubes were found around the school.
Experts equate the capacity of an explosion produced by a "Shmel" to an explosion of a 152-mm missile. One could imagine the level of destruction.
Actually the consequences of a “Shmel” explosion are exactly the same as from a household gas explosion, - the principle is the same. And everyone knows what happens when a gas stove explodes. In general, the Public Prosecutor’s statement that a flame thrower, which during explosion produces a temperature of 800 degrees [Celsius], could not cause a fire, sounds at least a bit strange. I had a chance to use a “Shmel” and to see its consequences in Chechnya – the houses burned like candles and they burned down completely. This is a very powerful weapon.
For some reason, “Shmel” is considered a special weapon, and it requires a special order. Bosh. First of all, a flame thrower is not a special weapon, which is defined in its name: RPO stands for Jet-driven Infantry Flame thrower. It is given to common infantry, and not only to special troops. Secondly, during battle, each soldier uses the weapon he was given at his own discretion. Certainly, "Shmels" were given out before storming the school. And the fighters, naturally, have taken advantage of them.
As to the legitimacy of the application of such a weapon while clearing hostages…
According to the testimonies of hostages, the storming fighters threw a grenade before entering. Children said that they heard a warning outside the windows "Lay down, we’re throwing a grenade", then there was an explosion, and only then special troops went in.
Of course, not everyone was acting like this. "Alpha" and "Vympel” (Pendant) had unprecedented losses because they covered children with their own bodies, or created "a living corridor" with their own bodies for hostages.
Published in "Novaya Gazeta" 18.07.2005, # 51