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Strafing is the practice of attacking ground targets from low-flying aircraft using aircraft-mounted automatic weapons. This means that, although ground attack using automatic weapons fire is very often accompanied with bombing or rocket fire, the term "strafing" does not specifically include the last two. Cannons have to be mounted differently for strafing - strafing requires a further and lower convergence point than aerial combat. Because of the low altitude required for strafing, it is very risky for the pilot, who is exposed to handheld missiles, surface-to-air missiles, anti-aircraft artillery and machine gun fire. Planes designed for strafing may include additional armour around and underneath the cockpit to protect the pilot.
Less commonly, the term can be used—by extension—to describe high-speed firing runs by any land or naval craft (e.g. fast boats) using smaller-caliber weapons and targeting stationary or slow-moving targets.
While the earliest use of military aircraft was for observation and directing of artillery, strafing was frequently practiced in World War I. Trenches and supply columns were routinely attacked from the air in the second half of the war. Strafing with machine guns was used when precision was needed (facing small targets), but non-strafing attack methods (primarily small bombs) were preferred for larger targets, area targets, or when low-altitude flying was too risky.
The German army was the first to introduce a class of aircraft specially designed for strafing, the ground-attack aircraft. Planes built specifically for strafing include the German World War I Junkers J.I, which was armored to protect it from ground-based gunfire. The Junkers J.I. had two downward-facing machine guns that were used for strafing.
These developments continued through World War II with dedicated aircraft including the concept of the heavily-protected cockpit or "bathtub" to permit the pilot to survive counterfire from anti-aircraft batteries.
For the RAF the best ground attack plane was the Hawker Hurricane II. It was armed with four 20 mm (.79 in) wing-mounted cannon.  The Hawker Typhoon was used in the later stages of the war. It had four "60 lb" RP-3 rockets. 
For the US, the Republic P-47 Thunderbolt was one of the key ground attack planes. It was armed with eight .50 calibre machine guns  The B-25 Mitchell bomber was one of the key US planes used for strafing. It was used for low-altitude strafing runs in the Pacific War.
The Russian Ilyushin IL-2 Sturmovik was one of the key Russian ground attack planes. It had heavy armour around the engine, underside and canopy. It was armed with 20mm to 23mm to 37mm cannons depending on the model. 
In the Korean War in 1950-1953, USAF planes strafed targets deep behind the front line and had a perceptible impact on the progress of the ground war - but the concept of strafing was already in decline.
In 1960s, when precision-guided weapons became widespread, strafing temporarily fell out of favor as unnecessarily risky— some American fighter aircraft or attack aircraft of that time (such as the F-4 Phantom and A-6 Intruder) did not have built-in cannon or machine guns. In the Vietnam War, this was found to be a deficiency, and improvised "gunships" had to be used in strafing missions.
The A-10 Thunderbolt II is an American twin-engine, straight-wing jet aircraft developed by Fairchild-Republic in the early 1970s which is the only United States Air Force aircraft designed solely for close air support of ground forces. The A-10 was built to attack tanks, armored vehicles, and other ground targets with limited air defenses.
The A-10 was designed around the GAU-8 Avenger, a 30 mm rotary cannon that is the airplane's primary armament and the heaviest such automatic cannon mounted on an aircraft. The A-10's airframe was designed for survivability, with measures such as 1,200 pounds (540 kg) of armor for protection of the cockpit and aircraft systems that enables the aircraft to continue flying after taking significant damage. The A-10's official name comes from the Republic P-47 Thunderbolt of World War II, a fighter that was particularly effective at close air support. The A-10 is the main US plane designed to do strafing runs.
Since 2001, Coalition pilots in Iraq and Afghanistan have used strafing runs to support ground forces in areas where explosive ordnance could cause unacceptable civilian casualties. Strafing runs done by F-16s are very risky for the pilot. The cities of Damascus and Aleppo were strafed by helicopter gunships in the Syrian civil war.
The AC-130 Gunship, which is equipped with rotating-barrel Gatling guns, is specifically designed for strafing ground targets.
In 2004, the United States Air Force accidentally strafed one of its own country's middle schools in the strafing of the Little Egg Harbor Intermediate School incident.
strafing — The delivery of automatic weapons fire by aircraft on ground targets.
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