America Bombs Great Barrier Reef

Marine Harriers dropped four unarmed bombs into the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park last week after missing another target.

Marine Harriers dropped four unarmed bombs into the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park last week after missing another target.

AP (“US drops unarmed bombs on Great Barrier Reef“):

Two American fighter jets dropped four unarmed bombs into Australia’s Great Barrier Reef Marine Park last week when a training exercise went wrong, the U.S. Navy said, angering environmentalists.

The two AV-8B Harrier jets launched from aircraft carrier USS Bonhomme Richard each jettisoned an inert practice bomb and an unarmed laser-guided explosive bomb into the World Heritage-listed marine park off the coast of Queensland state on Tuesday, the U.S. 7th Fleet said in a statement Saturday.

The four bombs, weighing a total 1.8 metric tons (4,000 pounds), were dropped into more than 50 meters (164 feet) of water away from coral to minimize possible damage to the reef, the statement said. None exploded.

The jets from the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit had intended to drop the ordnances on the Townshend Island bombing range, but aborted the mission when controllers reported the area was not clear of hazards.

The pilots conducted the emergency jettison because they were low on fuel and could not land with their bomb load, the Navy said.

The emergency happened on the second day of the biennial joint training exercise Talisman Saber, which brings together 28,000 U.S. and Australian military personnel over three weeks.

That’s rather unfortunate.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Jenos Idanian says:

    Obviously, the reef was harboring suspected Al Qaeda terrorists…

  2. Tony W says:

    Bit of a design flaw that the plane cannot land with the load it carried at take-off?

  3. Jenos Idanian says:

    @Tony W: I’d bet it’s more of a matter of policy than design, based on two concepts:

    1) Planes don’t land with live bombs — they usually jettison them over something relatively safe if they can’t drop them on their target.

    2) The old rule is “you train like you fight,’ and you don’t want pilots getting used to landing with bombs (even dummies).

    SImilarly, planes in trouble in the air — even airliners — tend to jettison most of their fuel before landing to minimize both stress on the plane and risk of fire.

    Also, landing puts a whole different set of stresses on an aircraft than taking off does, and that could also be a factor.

  4. B. Minich says:

    Stupid reef had it coming, harbor ing all those poisonous animals.

  5. Franklin says:

    Perhaps they need a better backup plan if they can’t anticipate hazards in the bombing range.

  6. Franklin says:

    @B. Minich: Reefer madness?

  7. PJ says:

    This was just a warning shot. Next time they’ll bomb the Sydney Opera House.

  8. Jenos Idanian says:

    For the record, my use of “harboring” was inadvertent. I WISH I could claim credit for that as a deliberate pun, but it wasn’t.

  9. matt says:

    @Jenos Idanian: Indeed accelerating a load results in stresses that are opposite of decelerating that load. I’m not even sure they could safely land with even dummies due to the risk of shearing the drop mechanisms.

  10. Console says:

    @Tony W:

    Most big planes take off with more weight than they can land with. Although the extra weight is typically fuel.