Target of opportunity

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A target of opportunity is a target "visible to a surface or air sensor or observer, which is within range of available weapons and against which fire has not been scheduled or requested."[1] A target of opportunity comes in two forms; "unplanned" and "unanticipated".[2] Unplanned targets of opportunity are those that fall within mission parameters as appropriate targets but were not included within a mission brief. Unanticipated targets are those that fall outside of mission parameters because their availability was not expected, such as an otherwise high-value target being identified at a location where another unrelated mission is underway.


In preparation for most ordinary combat military operations, armed forces are given a series of objectives that may include one or more primary targets.[3] During combat operations, additional targets may be present. Provided any action to deal with those targets[4] would not compromise outlined operational objectives, the military personnel may elect to attack additional targets if the opportunity to do so arises.[5] Operational objectives and primary target allocation will generally not be altered to account for a target of opportunity unless that target is reviewed by a commanding officer and receives a higher target value designation; e.g. if identifiers reveal the target to be a designated high-value target.


World War II[edit]

During World War II, prior to October 1940, the Royal Air Force instructed bomber crews to bring unexpended bombs home. From 9 October 1940, they were instructed to attack any target of opportunity if they could not locate their assigned targets.[6]

Iraq War[edit]

At the beginning of the Iraq War, the US Military destroyed a dwelling considered to be the temporary home of Iraqi President Saddam Hussein. It was described by military sources and in subsequent media reports as a situation where a target of opportunity had presented itself. The result was described as follows: "although the immediate target was destroyed, the opportunity was missed, since the major target escaped, to be captured only many months later".[7]

Nuclear targets[edit]

The United States Department of Defense and NATO has defined a nuclear target of opportunity as "a nuclear target detected observed or detected after an operation begins that has previously not been considered, analyzed or planned for a nuclear strike. Generally fleeting in nature, it should be attacked as soon as possible within the time limitations imposed for coordination and warning of friendly troops and aircraft."[8]


  1. ^ Dictionary of Military and Associated Terms. US Department of Defense. 2005.
  2. ^ target of opportunity
  3. ^ Boeing SLAM ER specs incl. notation for targets of opportunity
  4. ^ Global Security - Smoke Projectiles incl. vs. targets of opportunity
  5. ^ ABC News Australia - Naval operational context
  6. ^ Sebastian Cox (1998). The Strategic Air War Against Germany, 1939-1945: Report of the British Bombing Survey Unit. Routledge. p. 4. ISBN 0714647225.
  7. ^ Samuel Weber (2009). Targets of Opportunity; On the Militarization of Thinking. Fordham University Press. ISBN 9780823224777.
  8. ^ The Military Dictionary. DIANE Publishing. p. 366. ISBN 0941375102. This dictionary was, at the time, the only authorized source of standard terminology for military use by DoD and NATO.