Safety Handbook for Journalists

7. Aircraft and Drone Awareness


An unmanned combat air vehicle, also known as a drone, is an unmanned aerial vehicle that is usually armed. Aircraft of this type have no on-board human pilot. Drones are usually under real-time human control, the virtual pilots are in a control centre controlling the drones though GPS and through the high-resolution cameras. The drones mission can differ in nature from spying to carrying attacks on pre-established targets or carrying spontaneous attacks. Even if drones are less manoeuvrable than the F16, for instance, it is still one of the arms of choice by a large number of countries.


An air strike is an attack on a specific objective by military aircraft during an offensive mission. Air strikes are commonly delivered from aircraft such as fighters, bombers, ground attack aircraft, attack helicopters, and drones.

Weapons used in an airstrike can range from machine gun bullets, missiles, to various types of bombs. In close air support, trained observers for coordination usually control air strikes with friendly ground troops in a manner derived from artillery tactics. One of the methods used in airstrikes is strategic bombing.

Strategic bombing is a military strategy used in a total war with the goal of defeating an enemy nation-state by destroying its economic ability and public will to wage war rather than destroying its land or naval forces. It is a systematically organised and executed attack from the air which can utilise strategic bombers, long- or medium-range missiles, or nuclear-armed fighter-bomber aircraft to attack targets deemed vital to an enemy’s war-making capacity.

What are the indicators of the possibility of an air attack?

  • Look for strategic targets located near your location (e.g. military bases, socioeconomic targets).
  • Military offensives or offensives against rebel forces.
  • Clearing the way for troop movement.
  • Rebel strongholds in mountainous and other hard-to-access terrains.
  • Movement with rebel forces (by foot and vehicle).
  • Observe and hear what is happening, for example look for jet engine smoke.
  • Hearing anti-aircraft guns firing or anti-aircraft alarms.

Proactive countermeasures:

  • Where there is risk of an air attack do not report in large open spaces where you can easily be detected by aircraft. Only gather news in areas where you are covered from air view.
  • Check weather reports for low clouds and bad weather, as aircrafts will not fly or may not detect you in poor weather conditions.
  • Always wear body armour and helmet in high-risk areas, even when in vehicles.
  • Do not use satellite equipment or spend long periods of time on the phone as you can get triangulated and detected by military electronic systems. If triangulated, you might receive imminent aircraft or drone fire.
  • Do not travel in vehicle convoys for long periods of time with military or opposition forces. This is definitely a potential target.
  • If you are newsgathering in a town of strategic military value that is likely to come under attack, get in and out as fast as you can and avoid main supply routes.
  • Do not highlight or expose yourself in mountainous areas and avoid stopping on high ground.
  • Possibly have media panels on your vehicle so that aircrafts can identify you as part of the media. Bear in mind, however, that this did not do the BBC any good in Iraq as they came under air attack from friendly fire as sometimes guerrilla forces use this technique to move when in a vehicle convoy.
  • Never locate yourself in large media buildings or makeshift media centres, as recently these locations have become targets for air attack.
  • Try not to go into buildings that are occupied by opposition forces.
  • Never locate close to obvious or likely military targets, such as airfields, barracks, fuel depots, official buildings or strategic points such as crossroads, railheads, power stations and official radio and TV buildings.
  • If you are in contact with conventional forces commanders, consider providing them with the GPS coordinates of your location and presence on the ground, and advance information about the routes and timings of vehicle movements.
  • At your location, gaffer tape all of the windows and use heavy curtains to help deflect broken glass.
  • Always keep observing for potential air attacks!

Air Attack

In the event of an air attack, the correct action taken will depend on the type of attack and your location. The following procedures may be appropriate, depending on the circumstances:

In the open

  • Never run about in the open as you will be subject to more risk.
  • If you cannot reach a bomb shelter or protective cover, drop to the ground and crawl into immediate hard cover.
  • Exposure to blast can damage eardrums: remember to cover your ears with your hands and keep your mouth slightly open.
  • If it is possible to roll or crawl into a ditch, into a building or behind a wall without raising your profile, do so. This may give you some protection. Otherwise, remain still. Most blast and shrapnel fly upwards from the site of the explosion in a cone shape, so your best defence is to stay as low as possible.
  • Do not move until you are confident that the attack has finished. Beware: Other attack waves might happen as it is quite common for an aircraft to do a second sortie.

In a building

  • If you are in a building, drop to the ground and move away from windows immediately.
  • Seek immediate cover under a staircase or supportive corners of the room.
  • Be aware of falling structures and roofs.


  • If driving, decide whether to accelerate out of the bombing zone, or abandon the vehicle and seek immediate cover.
  • If the attack is on your current route, seek an alternate route. 
  • If your vehicle is directly attacked or you are stuck in a convoy, you should get out and seek cover away from the vehicle.
  • Keep observing the skies for signs of aircraft when driving.
  • Do not travel in a convoy in high-risk areas and always assume that your vehicle will be targeted.