Two Swedish fighter jets JAS 39 Gripen. Photo by Robin Lorentz-Allard
13 Aug 2018

US Air Force officer urges fire services to adapt the Swedish method of bombing forest fires


During the forest fires in Dalarna, Sweden, the wildfire was bombed with fighter jets, a method which is now being noted in the United States. US Air Force Mike Benitez believes that the American Air Force should consider the Swedish method.

The vast forest fires on the American west coast are increasing even more in size - 30,000 people are now working to fight the fires which covers more than 6500 square km / 650,00 hectares.

During the forest fires in the military area Trängslet in the the Swedish county of Dalarna, fighter jets of the model Jas 39 Gripen weere called in in order to bombard and blow out the fire from the sky. This created a pressure wave which disturbed the oxygen supply to the fire. The bomb was released from 3,000 meters height and weighed 227 kilograms / 500 pounds.

It was the first time that the method was used in combating forest fires, and the Armed Forces do not rule out that it may be necessary to copy this method on American soil.

The Swedish bomb method is now being covered in US air force press and US Air Force officer Mike Benitez is discussing whether the US military should follow suit and combat the now over one hundred fires ravaging in the country by bombing them.

"Obviously this would be more useful in areas further away from civilization, and could be used as a technique to shape or vector a fire to contain it. This was recently put into practice in Sweden, where a Gripen fighter jet from the Swedish Air Force dropped a single 500-pound bomb on a forest fire, momentarily depriving the blaze of oxygen and successfully extinguishing it within 100 yards of the detonation point. Despite this success, the delivery and warhead weren’t optimized for the task... A single B-1 bomber, carrying up to 84 500-pound air-bursted bombs, could tailor its effects to cover an area with shockwaves that mirror the footprint of firefighting tanker drop patterns... ", Benitez writes on the defense blog War on the Rocks.


Professor believes the bombing method has very limited use

Michael Gollner, Assistant Professor of Fire Protection at the University of Maryland, said the bombing of the fire in Sweden was unique given the risks involved with ground forces below and the risk of ammunition being blown up in the military area.

"It's an interesting idea, but I think there are very few situations where it's useful. Sweden was a unique case, where traditional firefighting had probably worked well if it were safe to implement it, Gollner said to the Air Force Times.

Over 100 terrain fires are currently burning in the United States. Thunderstorms and drought increase the fire risk in the United States. Over 30,000 people are woring to fight the fires now extending from Washington in the north to New Mexico to the south. Firefighters from Australia and New Zealand have come to help

California has been severely affected - a total of eight people have died in the Redding firewood in the northern part of the state, but on Thursday a mechanic helped fight fire in a car crash.

The Swedish method is not applicable to the biggest fires, says Professor Michael Gollner.

"This could work for very small fires, where almost all possible fuels are also extinguished. For larger fires it is impractical and also harmful to the ecosystems in the areas, he says.

The forest fires near Redding is 73 250 hectares in size and has destroyed around 1,100 homes. The fire raging in the Mendocino, Lake and Colusa districts north of San Francisco is 131,600 hectares in size, and 3500 firefighters are working to fight the fire.


Cover Photo: Two Swedish fighter jets JAS 39 Gripen. Photo by Robin Lorentz-Allard