Claim: The weather was not good on the day of airstrikes. There was a thought that crept in the minds of the experts that the day of strike should be changed. However, I suggested that the clouds could actually help our planes escape the radars.
Fact: False. Not only do clouds not hinder radar, cloudy conditions can adversely affect the ability of air-launched weapons to strike targets, experts told Factchecker.
Explanation: “In brief, I would say the radar is not affected by clouds,” Air Marshal VK Jimmy Bhatia (retd.), former chief of the western air command, told Factchecker.
“Radar technology works on radio waves — they move up and down and left and right to scan the area,” Air Marshal A K Ahluwalia (retd.), another former chief of the western air command told Factchecker.
These waves bounce off an object, and the signal that returns is picked up by a receiver and shows up on a scope, giving the pilot a visual of the atmosphere.
“There may be a little bit of degradation if there is rain, lightening and thunder, but radar works under most weather conditions, and there is definitely no degradation in cloudy weather,” Ahluwalia said.
“Even aircraft have radars, scanning the sky in front of you. These do not have the same power as radars used in a control room on the ground, but if you are airborne, you can still get information on whether there is an object in front of you,” Pushpinder Singh, founding editor of the Vayu Aerospace and Defence Review, told Factchecker.“Clouds have nothing to do with it–radar may tell the aircraft that the cloud ahead has rain or ice and it is best to avoid a bumpy ride,” said Pushpinder Singh.
But clouds can affect weaponry
While radar can see through cloud, there are weapon systems, said experts, that are affected by clouds, such as television-guided missiles.
A TV-guided missile is an air-to-ground missile, controlled remotely by a pilot, who steers it using the live images it sends. Clouds could also affect “scene-matching weapons” fired from an aircraft. The missile matches pre-programmed images to its live feed.
“You won’t be able to feed in target images, and the weapon will not be able to accurately hit the intended target in cloudy weather,” Bhatia said, adding that clouds also affect “visual targeting”, limiting a pilot’s line of sight.
“The effect of cloudy weather depends on the type of weapon used in an airstrike,” said Bhatia. “During the Kargil war, we used laser-guided bombs, which were sent to the target riding on a laser beam directed at the target through a pod. So, from the ground or from the air, if the pilot is pointing a laser at the target, and there are clouds over the target, the pilot cannot see the target and release the weapon.”
In Balakot specifically, the air force’s SPICE-2000 missile–made in Israel–was used for the air strike. This is a precision weapon that uses satellite data in the initial phase of its flight after release; towards the terminal phases of the flight, it uses a digital map to strike the target. Such missiles, said Ahluwalia, use a combination of satellite and pre-programmed guidance and may be affected by low-lying clouds during its “terminal stage”.