Bombing lists

It’s the time of year for endless – and often unimportant or uninformative – statistics to be released.  But this one is important, even if its meaning is less than clear.  Micah Zenko has published this tabulation showing the geographical distribution of bombing by the US Air Force in 2016 (from all platforms, including remotely piloted aircraft):


The problem comes in knowing how the figures (‘numbers of bombs dropped’) have been derived, since the Air Force reports numbers of ‘strikes’ not munitions dropped.  Here is US Central Command:

A strike, as defined in the CJTF [Combined Joint Task Force for Operation Inherent Resolve] releases, means one or more kinetic events that occur in roughly the same geographic location to produce a single, sometimes cumulative effect for that location.

So having a single aircraft deliver a single weapon against a lone ISIL vehicle is one strike, but so is multiple aircraft delivering dozens of weapons against a group of buildings and vehicles and weapon systems in a compound, for example, having the cumulative effect of making that facility (or facilities) harder or impossible to use.

Accordingly, CJTF-OIR does not report the number or type of aircraft employed in a strike, the number of munitions dropped in each strike, or the number of individual munition impact points against a target.

You can find a comparison with 2015 here.


Tabulations are often competitive, of course, and irregular readers may be surprise to discover that there is a long history of bombing competitions: you can find an account of the bombing competitions sponsored by the Michelin brothers before the First World War here and of the ‘Bomb Comp‘ hosted by US Strategic Air Command (‘The World Series of Bombing’) here (and a detailed listing here).

This all weighs heavily on my mind at the moment because I’m finishing the written version of my Tanner Lectures, ‘Reach from the Sky‘, which discusses those extraordinary attempts to treat bombing as a sport….  I’ll post the final version as soon as it’s ready.

‘Stalking in the air…’

My title is of course a riff on Howard Blake’s song for the film version of Raymond Briggs‘s The Snowman.  Briggs himself despairs of the saccharine treatment of his original story, which was intended to teach kids about mortality… so at this time of year it’s a starkly appropriate way into Drone Week at Open Canada (a project of the Canadian International Council).


One you navigate to the site, click through on Kill, Watch and then Aid.

Kill: The series opens with a feature essay from Micah Zenko on Lethal Drones, and commentary from Amitai Etzioni (‘Why drones win’), Denis Stairs (‘Drone proliferation’)  and Jennifer Welsh (‘The slow death of the noncombatant’).

Watch: The series continues with a feature essay from Peter Singer on the Robotics Revolution, and commentary from Matthew Schroyer (‘Drones for good’), Ryan Calo (‘Letting drones reach their potential’), Joshua Foust (‘Drone knows and unknowns) and Fraser Holman (‘Are drones right for Canada?’).

Aid: The final section has a feature essay from Jack Chow on The case for humanitarian drones with a response from Nathaniel A. RaymondBrittany Card and Ziad Al Achkar (‘The case against humanitarian drones’).

And there’s more to come…

UPDATE: My own invited contribution – Where drones fit in fields of violence – is here.  In case you’re wondering, I didn’t provide the title – or the subtitle…

(Open Canada also has similar portfolios on Surviving violence: Civilian Protection in Armed Conflict and Twitter and Diplomacy – both worth checking out).