This Isn't a Grenade, But Russian Forces Can Throw It and Gain an Immediate Advantage


It’s no secret that Russian troops have an advantage in technology over the Ukrainian forces that they’re currently fighting. To look at just how thorough that advantage is, however, one needs to examine a weapon that looks, at first glance, as if it could be BB-8 from “Star Wars.”

It’s anything but that friendly, however — even if it doesn’t explode or even hurt anyone on its own.

According to the U.K. Daily Star, the gizmo in question is the “Sphera” — a spy device that costs over $20,000 and can gather intelligence through cameras and microphones.

The device was used in Syria — and, if the pace of invading Russian forces remains at a slog or the conflict is reduced to street fighting in major urban centers, it could end up getting deployed in Ukraine. (The Western Journal will keep you up to date on all the news and analysis from the Ukrainian conflict; you can help us bring America the truth by subscribing.)

This is the device in question, a ball that is surrounded by high-tech (and well-protected) cameras and microphones:

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“These ‘robo-balls’ which look like the BB-8 droid from ‘Star Wars’ have been battle-tested in Syria, where they were used to gain secret intelligence,” the Daily Star reported.

“They can be tossed into dense combat areas or ‘trouble zones’ and, using four video cameras with a 360-degree view, gather pictures and audio to be sent to military operatives up to 50 meters [164 feet] away.”

Here’s BB-8, for comparison:

BB-8, however, is fictional — whereas this can give Russian troops an instant battlefield advantage.

In addition to the cameras and microphones, they also have LED lights and a transmitter that can send radio signals to deliver audio and video data from the balls.

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The devices can operate in -5 Fahrenheit conditions up and are good all the way up to 113F.

The first time the Sphera was used was in 2018 during the Syrian conflict, where Russia provided support to Bashar al-Assad’s regime. It’s unclear whether or not they’ve been deployed to Ukraine yet — although it wouldn’t be the most worrying weapon Russia is purportedly using there.

Putin’s forces are reportedly using two separate controversial weapons in the attack on Ukraine: cluster munitions and thermobaric bombs.

The former is a type of munition that launches numerous small mini-bombs by spinning in the air. As The Washington Post noted, “The weapons are notorious for producing dud bomblets that can explode if they are disturbed, making them dangerous to civilians, including children, even after the fighting.”

“Human Rights Watch reported last week that a Russian ballistic missile carrying a cluster munition struck near a hospital in Vuhledar, a town in the Kyiv-controlled part of Donetsk in eastern Ukraine, on Feb. 24,” the Post noted.

“The attack killed four civilians, injured 10 more and damaged health infrastructure, the organization said. Human Rights Watch verified photographs showing the remnant of the weapon allegedly used — a 9M79-series Tochka missile with a 9N123 cluster munition warhead. Weapons in that series can have ranges of up to 43 or 75 miles.”

Thermobaric weapons, meanwhile, create intense heat by exploding in two stages.

First, the missile will release an aerosol with fuel and small pieces of metal. Then, a charge will ignite the cloud.

While they’re known as “vacuum” weapons because people believe they suck air out of the lungs of anyone nearby, that’s not really how they work. Instead, because of the intense pressure created by the blast waves, they can damage people’s lungs.

Vehicles that can carry thermobaric weapons have also been spotted in Ukraine:

U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, Linda Thomas-Greenfield, also noted this: “We have seen videos of Russian forces moving exceptionally lethal weaponry into Ukraine. That includes cluster munitions and vacuum bombs — the use of which directed against civilians is banned under the Geneva Conventions,” she told the United Nations last week.

The Washington Post reported it was unclear whether their use would constitute war crimes, “since that would depend on a legal question over the extent to which Russian forces minimized risk to civilians.” Someone wrote that with a straight face.

So, no, the Sphera isn’t the most frightful thing that could be deployed in Ukraine. It’s just a reminder that, as the Ukrainians fight valiantly against Russian aggression, Russia still has an advantage in weapons both small and large that can do cataclysmic damage — as well as a despot not afraid to use them. Some of these weapons don’t even need to explode.

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C. Douglas Golden is a writer who splits his time between the United States and Southeast Asia. Specializing in political commentary and world affairs, he's written for Conservative Tribune and The Western Journal since 2014.
C. Douglas Golden is a writer who splits his time between the United States and Southeast Asia. Specializing in political commentary and world affairs, he's written for Conservative Tribune and The Western Journal since 2014. Aside from politics, he enjoys spending time with his wife, literature (especially British comic novels and modern Japanese lit), indie rock, coffee, Formula One and football (of both American and world varieties).
Morristown, New Jersey
Catholic University of America
Languages Spoken
English, Spanish
Topics of Expertise
American Politics, World Politics, Culture