How Air Force database is preventing its old bombs from claiming new victims
The US military estimates that an Air Force lieutenant colonel is saving hundreds of lives a year through a new database he is creating of past bombing campaigns. He's also challenging the history books.
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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.
IN PICTURES: US military muscle
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, ‘There’s got to be a database for this,’ but much to my surprise, there was no database,” Robertson says. “We’re using all of this energy finding targets, but we weren’t 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.
In the process of putting the database together, Robertson began to turn his attention to America’s 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 America’s wars was emerging. “We were finding the conventional wisdom of what we thought happened didn’t actually happen,” he adds. “We’re starting to see what we think we know of history isn’t 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. “That’s much more than anyone thought,” Robertson says.
The history books have long held that the German forces didn’t 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.