A radical new proposal raises the idea of using military ordinance and aircraft to battle wildfires, such as the ones burning in California.
In a piece for War on the Rocks, Air Force officer Mike Benitez said dropping bombs onto a wildfire or sending a sonic boom through it could cause a shockwave that might put the fire out.
Benitez referenced a 2014 study that found shockwaves to be an effective firefighting method. In another example, a Swedish Air Force jet dropped a 500-pound bomb onto a forest fire this year, which resulted in the fire being extinguished. And while dropping a bomb on a fire could work, it is also costly — one piece of ordinance can be several hundred thousand dollars to as much as $2 million.
"Regardless if a new munition were developed for this mission, and the fact that using munitions to fight fires may be extremely effective in certain situations, the concept is simply not scalable or useful in most scenarios," Benitez wrote.
"Knowing that both sound waves and shock waves can affect fire, what can produce these but is economically reusable and has none of the side effects of a traditional explosion? Simple: A sonic boom. Any aircraft capable of exceeding the speed of sound (Mach 1) creates a sonic boom along its flight path."
Benitez then proposed how to create the proper sonic boom to put out a forest fire, which could involve multiple military aircraft flying in various formations. Positioning the boom on just the right path could, in theory, extinguish the majority of the fire.
From that point, firefighting aircraft could then dump retardant on the remainder of the fire to put it out.
"This could then permit firefighters on the ground to close with and engage the fire on a more manageable level," Benitez wrote. "Integrating this into the current list of firefighting capabilities may produce synergistic effects that would help contain and quell the largest parts of the fire. If it were a military operation, this would be called force-packaging."
Wildfires are currently burning in nearly every corner of California, leaving more than 800,000 acres of charred Earth and several people dead.
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