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Air Force A-10 accidentally fired rocket into AZ desert

An A-10C Thunderbolt II with the 188th Fighter Wing, Arkansas Air National Guard conduct close-air support training Nov. 21, 2013, near Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Ariz. (Jim Haseltine, U.S. Air Force / Flickr)
September 06, 2019

During a Thursday morning training exercise, a U.S. Air Force A-10C Thunderbolt II jet fired a rocket into the desert near Tucson, Ariz. This was not supposed to happen.

No injuries or damages were reported following the incident and the rocket landed in an empty desert wash near Mount Graham, in the Jackal Military Operations Area, about 60 miles northeast of Tuscon, according to an Air Force press release.

“This training area is not designated for munitions release,” the press release noted.

The Air Force is investigating why the M-156 rocket was launched in the first place.

The A-10C in question was attached to the 354th Fighter Squadron from the 355th Wing, stationed at the Davis-Monthan Air Force Base in Tucson.

The M-156 rocket, weighing in at 23 pounds and measuring 4.5 feet in length, is filled with a white phosphorous payload.

White phosphorous is often used by military forces to create smoke screens to conceal troops or mark targets, though it has seen controversial use as an incendiary weapon used to burn out enemy positions. Though white phosphorous is not specified directly, the UN’s 1980 Protocol on Prohibitions or Restrictions on the Use of Incendiary Weapons does prohibit incendiary weapons used in war and use of white phosphorous munitions has been criticized.

The A-10 Thunderbolt II, known for its 30 mm GAU-8 Avenger rotary cannon, is a ground attack jet that fills a close air support role for both the Air Force and Marine Corps. The jet is often referred to as the “Warthog.”

According to an Air Force fact sheet, the jet has seen regular updates since its first iteration was introduced to Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, in 1975. The jet has a 16,000-pound payload capacity and often carries 500 and 2,000-pound bombs, mine dispensing units, radar jamming pods, Air-to-ground AGM-65 Maverick missiles and air-to-air AIM-9 Sidewinder missiles, among other weapons in addition to the signature rotary cannon.

The ground attack fighter has seen continued use in U.S. combat operations, including those in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The Air Force has not said if the recent incident is due to human error or is a result of the aircraft’s aging service life.

The Air Force has continued to maintain the jet in recent months, but has said “working on an aircraft that has been flying for nearly 40 years wasn’t without challenges.”