Saab JAS 39C Gripen of Swedish Air Force dropped 500 lbs bomb on forest fire

Wide forested areas of Sweden are currently ablaze, due to an unprecedented hot weather linked to climate change. Some of them are hard to reach and potentially dangerous areas. To try and halt the spread of one blaze in and around a military training range in the municipality of Älvdalen, Swedish emergency authorities decided to call for the air force assistance, Joseph Trevithick reports on War Zone.

Saab JAS 39C Gripen of Swedish Air Force dropped 500 lbs bomb on forest fire Saab 39 Gripen C/D (Picture source: Swedish air force)

On July 25, 2018, a JAS 39C Gripen of the Swedish Air Force’s F 17 wing dropped a single 500-pound class GBU-49/B Paveway precision-guided bomb on a part of the burning forest. The fire around the range had been burning for two weeks already, threatening nearby communities and forcing evacuations. “It's an attempt to remove the oxygen from the fire, which is only a possibility because the fire is on a military shooting range,” Johan Szymanski, in charge of the response to the fire, said, according to state broadcaster SVT. “Our view is that the fire is unique and because of this we must use unconventional extinguishing methods.”

The most immediate problem is that the range is potentially littered with unexploded ordnance, posing a hazard to firefighters on the ground. The danger is not just that individuals fighting the blaze might stumble across something and get injured, but that the intense heat from the fire might just set off any leftover shells or bombs. “This was an attempt to solve a unique problem in a difficult-to-reach area,” Szymanski added. “Following the request ... we found that an attempt could be made [to bomb the fire].”

To be sure, the GBU-49/B, a dual-mode weapon with laser- and GPS-assisted Inertial Navigation System (INS) guidance systems, would have allowed the Swedish Air Force to focus their attention on a very specific point. The weapon’s effects were also limited enough to avoid creating any additional fires.

It’s not clear whether the Swedish government will call for more of these firefighting strikes in the immediate future. Szymanski did say that the operation validated the concept and that he or his colleagues might consider doing it again in the future. It’s not the first time the Swedish military has employed actual weaponry to put out fires at this particular range, either. According to an official statement from the country’s Armed Forces, troops have used artillery fire to suffocate blazes in the past.