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For other uses, see Airstrike (disambiguation).
"Air strikers" redirects here. For the basketball team, see Dayton Air Strikers.
Result of an airstrike during the Kosovo War

An airstrike or air strike[1] is an attack on a specific objective by military aircraft during an offensive mission. Air strikes are commonly delivered from aircraft such as fighters, bombers, ground attack aircraft, and attack helicopters. The official definition includes all sorts of targets, including enemy air targets, but in popular use the term is usually narrowed to a tactical (small-scale) attack on a ground or naval objective. Weapons used in an airstrike can range from machine gun bullets and missiles to various types of bombs. It is also commonly referred to as an air raid.

In close air support, air strikes are usually controlled by trained observers for coordination with friendly ground troops in a manner derived from artillery tactics.


A-26 airstrike on warehouses in Wonsan during the Korean War

On November 1, 1911, Italian aviator Second Lieutenant Giulio Gavotti dropped four bombs on two Turkish-held oases in Libya, carrying out the world's first air strike as part of the Italo-Turkish War.[2] The use of air strikes was extended in World War I. For example, at the Battle of Neuve Chapelle in 1915, the British dropped bombs on German rail communications. However, it was not until World War II that the Oxford English Dictionary first records usage of the term "air strike,"[3] which remained two separate words for some time thereafter. The Second World War also saw the first development of precision-guided munitions, which were fielded successfully by the Germans, and contributed to the modern sense of air "strike," a precision targeted attack as opposed to a strafing run or area bombing. The importance of precision targeting cannot be overstated: by some statistics, over a hundred raids were necessary to destroy a point target in World War 2; by the Persian Gulf War, the U.S. Air Force was able to release to media precise footage of television- or radar-guided bombs directly hitting the target without significant collateral damage (using, for example, the LANTIRN pod). Paul Fussell noted in his seminal work The Great War and Modern Memory the popular 20th century tendency to assume an errant bomb hitting a church, for example, was completely deliberate and reflective of the inherent evil of the enemy; over time, expectations for reduced collateral damage have increased to the point that developed countries engaging in war against less technologically advanced countries approach near-zero in terms of such damage and to a large degree, they have done so.

Today, airstrike terminology has extended to the concept of the strike aircraft, what earlier generations of military aviators referred to as light bombers or attack aircraft. With the near-complete air supremacy enjoyed by developed nations in undeveloped regions, fighter jets can often be modified to add strike capability in a manner less practicable in earlier generations, e.g. Strike Eagle.

Airstrikes can be carried out for strategic purposes outside of general warfare. Operation Opera was a single eight-ship Israeli airstrike against the Iraqi Osirak nuclear reactor, criticized by world opinion but not leading to a general outbreak of war. Such an example of the preventive strike has created new questions for international law.

Non-combatant deaths[edit]

Most modern military aircraft such as this F-22 Raptor carry precision-guided munition, which military sources promote as decreasing civilian deaths.

Airstrike campaigns often cause the deaths of non-combatants, including civilians.[4][5] International laws of war apply the principles of [6] military necessity, distinction, and proportionality: An attack or action must be intended to help in the military defeat of the enemy; it must be an attack on a military objective, and the harm caused to civilians or civilian property must be proportional and not excessive in relation to the concrete and direct military advantage anticipated.

Civilian deaths are classed as one component of collateral damage.[7]

Collateral damage may occur to non-combatant facilities and lead to accidental injury of friendly combatants near the intended target.[8] When calling in an airstrike that is close to friendly forces, the forward air controllers will normally use the radio code "Danger Close."

See also[edit]