Battle damage assessment

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Battle damage assessment (BDA) is a generalization of the earlier term, bomb damage assessment. While it has always been important, and not necessarily easy when only pilots' or other weapons delivery personnel can give data, the advent of precision-guided munitions makes it more critical: if a single weapon was sent to a target, it is critical to know if it hit in what may be a very small target area. It is usually conducted by intelligence personnel, possibly augmented with weapons and target system specialists.

BDA is the estimate of damage resulting from the application of lethal or nonlethal military force. Battle damage assessment is composed of physical damage assessment, functional damage assessment, and target system assessment.[1]



Before nuclear weapons, the air campaigns against Britain, Germany,[2] and Japan,[3] in after-the-fact analysis, showed that attacks on population could cause much misery, but did not break morale.


During Operation DESERT STORM, there were considerable problems in determining battle damage to tanks and other armored vehicles. While an explosion that blows the turret some distance away from the tank clearly kills it, a near miss can be resisted by the armor, even though a pilot might believe the explosion included the target.

Air commanders had assumed pilot reports would be adequate, but the J-2 division of United States Central Command, in the words of General H Norman Schwarzkopf Jr., "vehicles must be on their back like a dead cockroach before J-2 will assess a kill." [4]


Imagery directly from the nose of a guided bomb, or from a tracking camera, became iconic for the Gulf War. Post-analysis, however, did not always show success. For example, MIM-104 Patriot missiles defending against Iraqi SS-1 SCUD missiles indeed detonated near the target, but more often hit the missile body rather than the warhead. Apparent hits on tanks sometimes were near misses, although none would argue with a turret blown some distance from the tank.

PGMs that use imaging sensors definitely improved BFA when they transmit their view of the target up to the moment of impact. Such information, however, cannot show the actual damage to the target. There is only an assumption about what a weapon would do at the point of impact. New BDA methods deploy a towed sensor just before the weapon strikes, far enough behind the weapon that it can transmit the exact impact point and explosion because it is destroyed as it flies into the blast.


A technique that will give such information would, for example, release a sensor and transmitter, or perhaps tow it, that is far enough behind the weapon to show the actual effects. Another possibility is cooperative information streams from multiple weapons variously loitering or approaching targets on different trajectories.[5]


  1. US Department of Defense (12 July 2007), Joint Publication 1-02 Department of Defense Dictionary of Military and Associated Terms
  2. United States Strategic Bombing Survey (30 September 1945), Summary Report: European War
  3. United States Strategic Bombing Survey (1 July 1946), Summary Report (Pacific War)
  4. Richard B. H. Lewis (Spring 1994), "JFACC Problems associated with Battlefield Preparation in DESERT STORM", Airpower Journal
  5. "Battle damage Assessment Capabilities", International Online Defense Magazine, August - September 2007