The US Navy has a way to get rid of warships it no longer uses — using them as target practice and gunning them down with missiles

A US Navy shoot exercise on August 13, 2007 in the Pacific Ocean
A US Navy shoot exercise in 2007 in the Pacific Ocean.Jordon R. Beesley/U.S. Navy via Getty Images
  • The US Navy conducts exercises called "sinkex," where old vessels are destroyed for target practice.

  • However, all US Navy vessels must be stripped of pollutants before they are sunk.

  • Brazil is now trying to dispose of a 34,000-ton warship. But it's laden with asbestos, a toxic mineral.

Brazil is in the news for its leaked plans to abandon and sink its biggest warship in international waters — but the US Navy has been doing that with its old navy vessels for over a decade.

In an exercise known as the "sinkex," old vessels are used as target practice for the US Navy. During this exercise, the ships are taken at least 60 miles away from land, per the US Environmental Protection Agency. Other military ships and helicopters then gun the boats down and sink them.

The "sinkex" helps improve the military's tactics with "live-firing against a surface target at sea," the US Navy said on its website.

In September, the US and UK jointly sank the decommissioned US missile frigate, the USS Boone, in the north Atlantic. The exercise, Atlantic Thunder 22, saw both forces using helicopters, planes, and a guided-missile destroyer to sink the ship.

And in July, the US Navy sank the USS Rodney M. Davis, a guided-missile frigate that was launched in 1985. This "sinkex" was part of a large-scale exercise along the Pacific Rim.

Since 2010, the US Navy has been sinking up to four vessels every year by using them as target practice, per the US Environmental Protection Agency.

Brazil is now trying to dispose of its biggest warship, the São Paulo. The country's stated plan is to abandon this 34,000-ton warship in international waters.

Another idea has also been floated: The Folha de São Paulo local newspaper reported, citing anonymous sources, that some in the Brazilian Navy would rather shoot it down in a training exercise.

That prospect alarmed environmental experts like Jim Puckett, the executive director of the anti-waste non-profit Basel Action Network. He told Time that sinking the São Paulo would be "gross negligence."

The Folha de São Paulo also reported that the Brazilian environment ministry was concerned about the plan, which could release large amounts of asbestos — a highly carcinogenic toxin — into the ocean.

These kind of concerns are less salient with US sinking missions, because they are required to first be stripped of pollutants that could contaminate the ocean. The ships sunk under the US Navy's "sinkex" must follow guidelines under the Marine Protection, Research, and Sanctuaries Act regarding the disposal of vessels at sea.

Under these guidelines, the ships' fuel tanks need to be emptied and flushed of petroleum. All pollutants that might chemically pollute the waters must also be removed before the ship is blasted apart and sunk.

Representatives for the US Navy did not immediately respond to Insider's request for comment.

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