If a reasonably modern fighter was placed into a situation where they had to engage in aerial combat while in IMC (say if radar picked up non-squawking aircraft coming from a hostile military airbase toward a no-fly zone that you're patrolling, and said no-fly zone and its immediate vicinity are full of clouds), could it be done? What techniques would be used? Or would the fighters seek to meet each other away from the cloud cover, since aerobatic maneuvering in IMC is generally not a good idea?

Furthermore, if it was an unknown (not necessarily known-hostile) aircraft incoming, could it be intercepted in IMC, or would the intercept have to wait until the unknown aircraft emerged into VMC?


2 Answers 2


In the first scenario, where it sounds like you're assuming that the intruder aircraft is known to be hostile even without seeing it, a shot with a radar missile would be unaffected by the IMC, and that scenario is a pretty straight-forward kill.

The hard part of IMC for a modern fighter aircraft isn't killing the target, it's getting the positive ID on it that's necessary before shooting in order to assure the chain of command that you aren't, in fact, about to kill a neutral or friendly aircraft who's wandered into the wrong place at the wrong time with the wrong squawk. THAT is where VMC becomes necessary, in most cases, to get the required visual ID on the target.

Using radar alone, an interceptor could close to some reasonably short distance (say, inside a mile, with some altitude separation as well), and if the unknown aircraft enters VMC even briefly, then the intercept could be completed to the point where one interceptor makes the visual ID. With the aircraft being known to be hostile, that interceptor could break away, and a wingman, maintaining position further back, could then take the shot with a radar missile.

Presumably, the "bad guy" has some mission to complete, and most of those (though not all) tend to need VMC to accomplish -- dropping bombs or taking photos or whatever. So chances are probably pretty good that the intruder is going to get to VMC eventually. (Or, if he drops bombs off of radar/GPS, then that act itself might be sufficient confirmation of hostile intent that the interceptors would be cleared to engage, ensuring that the bandit doesn't live to ever repeat that mission.)

  • $\begingroup$ In most no-fly zone situations in recent memory, the mission the pilot violating the zone is most often sent on is martyrdom, more or less trying to get shot down just outside the NFZ so his country can claim a violation of the cease-fire and try to rally their forces. $\endgroup$
    – KeithS
    Commented Jul 7, 2015 at 4:13

If the fighter has radar SA to the offending aircraft, it can very easily affect a radar interception and close to within up to .1NM of the bogey if a visual ID and escort are required.

Otherwise, if a facility, such as an air intercept controller, has already deemed the aircraft to be hostile then the fighter will engage the aircraft as appropriate through the use of radar guided munitions.

In situations where an aircraft is already known to be hostile, BVR engagements will likely be the initial engagement choice anyway, and, in this case, it doesn't matter what the weather conditions are because the fighter is running an entire engagement based on his radar and will remain outside the visual arena anyway.


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