How Air Force Database Is Preventing Its Old Bombs from Claiming New Victims

By Mulrine, Anna | The Christian Science Monitor, January 3, 2013 | Go to article overview

How Air Force Database Is Preventing Its Old Bombs from Claiming New Victims


Mulrine, Anna, The Christian Science Monitor


The work of one amateur historian in the US Air Force is quietly upending the conventional wisdom and history of Americas wars.

It is also helping to map the unexploded bombs of Americas air campaigns across Europe and Southeast Asia, saving hundreds of lives each year, by US military estimates.

It has the weighty warrior acronym of the old Nordic god of thunder: THOR, the Theater History of Operations Report, which is fast becoming a critical tool for Air Force officials.

Lt. Col. Jenns Robertson, a space strategist by training, was working in a staff job in 2005, and his bosses routinely wanted to know how many bombs various US planes had dropped during a particular battle or air campaign.

I thought, Theres got to be a database for this, but much to my surprise, there was no database, Robertson says. Were using all of this energy finding targets, but we werent keeping track of whether we were hitting them or not.

Robertson put together a database of the bombs America has dropped since 2001, in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and posted it to a classified network that US troops use to plan attacks and chat with one another. In the process, it got quite popular, he says.

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In the process of putting the database together, Robertson began to turn his attention to Americas air campaigns in previous wars World Wars I and II, Korea, and Vietnam to learn what targets US forces bombed, and when.

He began culling through the shelves of the Air Force Historical Research Agency at Maxwell Air Force Base in Alabama. There was data that had been sitting on the shelves since 1946 or 1947, Robertson says.

In the process of putting these databases together, a hidden history of Americas wars was emerging. We were finding the conventional wisdom of what we thought happened didnt actually happen, he adds. Were starting to see what we think we know of history isnt the case.

It turns out that the biggest divergence in data and from long- held beliefs has come in his analysis of World War I.

Between 1914 and 1918, military planes made more than 17,000 bombing sorties and dropped almost eight million pounds of bombs. Thats much more than anyone thought, Robertson says.

The history books have long held that the German forces didnt excel at logistics planning, which enabled ground forces to overwhelm them.

But in light of the new history he is compiling, It looks like aerial bombing gutted the German spring offensive and caused the German lines to collapse, he says.

And while ground forces may have overwhelmed the German troops, it was likely because they didnt have any supplies as a result of the bombings.

The French alone dropped three million pounds of bombs at a time when each bomb weighed about 112 pounds. Thats far more sorties than had previously been realized, Robertson adds.

Yet that was hard to discern in the aftermath of battle. Did people recognize what the Air Force had done? Probably not. Seven miles beyond the front lines, nobody sees the planes, he says. There were no military forensics back then. Ground troops see craters, think it must be artillery, and move on. …

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