Show of force

A show of force is a military operation intended to warn (see Warning shot) or intimidate an opponent and to showcase one's own capability or will to act if provoked. Shows of force may also be executed by police forces and other armed, non-military groups.


Many strike missions by aircraft over insurgency areas involve the use of flare drops and low-level passes only, being intended for intimidation of suspected enemy forces rather than immediately being used for attacks.

Shows of force have historically been undertaken mostly by a military actor unwilling to engage in all-out hostilities, but fearing to 'lose face' (i.e. to appear weak). By performing a carefully calculated provocation, the opponent is to be shown that violent confrontation remains an option, and that there will be no (or no further) backing off on the principle the show of force is to defend.[1] Shows of force may be actual military operations, but in times of official peace, they may also be limited to military exercises.[2]

Shows of force also work on a smaller scale – i.e. military forces on a tactical level using mock attacks to deter potential opponents, especially when a real attack on suspected (but unconfirmed) enemies might harm civilians. As an example, most air "attacks" during OEF and OIF have been simple shows of force where jet aircraft drop flares only while making loud, low-level passes. One recent 12-month report for Afghanistan noted 18,019 strike sorties by United States military aircraft, but weapons use in only 3,330 of these missions.[3]

Risk of escalation

Main article: Conflict escalation

Shows of force, while intended as 'gestures' have a risk of being considered part of a larger or more extensive operation, and can invite responses or retaliation beyond those intended.

Notable examples

See also


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