How Do Military Pilots Aim Guided Weapons Through Clouds?

How do military pilots aim guided weapons through clouds? originally appeared on Quora: the place to gain and share knowledge, empowering people to learn from others and better understand the world.

Answer by Tim Morgan, commercial pilot, on Quora:

How do military pilots aim guided weapons through clouds? 

It depends on how the weapon is guided.

Laser-guided: It’s generally not possible for the pilot to aim the weapon. Clouds scatter the laser energy and make visual acquisition of the target impossible. It is possible, for the pilot to drop the laser-guided weapon, and have someone on the ground below the clouds provide the laser energy, that the weapon tracks once it breaks through the clouds.

Beam-riding: Beam-riding weapons cannot be used through clouds, as the clouds scatter the laser energy.

Electro-optical: Also cannot be used through clouds. These weapons use an onboard camera to image the target, which must be able to see the target.

Inertially-aided: These weapons simply use an onboard GPS and INS to fly to a pre-programmed coordinate. Clouds are no matter for them. A pilot can program a bomb-on-coordinate (BOC) attack, using coordinates passed from ground observers or intelligence personnel, and precisely hit a target from miles away with no visual contact.

Radar-guided: Active radar-guided weapons, such as radar-guided missiles, and passive radar-guided weapons like anti-radiation missiles use direct or reflected radar energy as a guidance source. Clouds do scatter some radar energy, but the amount of radar energy scattered by a cloud depends on its moisture content. A cloud with a large amount of water in it may effectively “block” a target from being seen by a missile’s radar receiver.

Note that there are many weapons with hybrid guidance systems that can increase their effectiveness in dealing with cloud layers. Examples include the GBU-54 Laser JDAM, which can be either inertially-aided or laser-guided; the Israeli SPICE bomb which uses both inertial guidance and electro-optical imaging; and others.

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