Satellite Images vs Bunker Buster Ammo: Contrary Claims on Balakot

However, Indian media reports claim IAF used precision-guided bombs in the air strike.

4 min read
The Reuters image (pip) shows that the Madrassa that IAF Airstrike has claimed to hit is still standing.

High resolution satellite images produced by a San Francisco-based satellite operator Planet Labs and reviewed by Reuters have shown that the Jaish-e-Mohammed-run madarsa that was reportedly targeted by the IAF in Balakot still appears to be standing, even after India claimed its aircraft had hit it and killed a large number of militants.

Indian media reports, however, claim the IAF jets used precision-guided bombs with "penetration warheads" in the strike, causing "internal" damage to the buildings. The bombs, according to the reports, are designed to penetrate buildings, bunkers or shelters before exploding inside.

The following is a representational video of how a Spice-2000 precision-guided bomb might work:

At least six buildings are visible in the images taken on 4 March, six days after the air strike by the Indian Air Force.  

The Planet Labs satellite images give a clearer look at the structures the Indian government has said it had attacked. The Reuters report suggests that the images from Planet Labs are detailed to as small as 72 cm (28 inches).

The report further draws a comparison of the same spot from an April 2018 image, saying it is practically unchanged ever since. It also says that there were no signs of damage on the building structure.

“There are no discernible holes in the roofs of buildings, no signs of scorching, blown-out walls, displaced trees around the madarsa or other signs of an aerial attack.”
Reuters Report

'If the Strike Was Successful, There Would Be Signs of Damage to Buildings'

The air strike, carried out on 26 February, is claimed to have hit all the intended targets at the madarsa site in Pakistan's Balakot. However, these images can now cast a shadow of doubt over the claims being made.

A Reuters email to the External Affairs and the Defence Ministries went unanswered, as of 6 March – the date of publishing the report.

Reuters quoted Jeffery Lewis, the director of East Asia Nonproliferation Project at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies, who has 15 years of experience in analysing satellite images, as confirming that the high-resolution satellite picture actually showed the structure in question.

He, however, told the news agency that the images don't show any signs of bomb damage. Lewis viewed three other high-resolution Planet Labs pictures of the site taken within hours of the image provided to Reuters.

The government has not yet publicly disclosed the weapons used in the strike. However, sources told Reuters that 12 Mirage 2000 jets, carrying 1,000 kg of bombs, carried out the attack. A defence official had earlier said the aircraft had used the 2,000-lb Israeli-made SPICE 2000 glide bomb in the strike.

Lewis, along with another expert who also analyses satellite images, said weapons that large would've caused obvious damage to the structures visible in the picture.

“If the strike had been successful, given the information we have about what kind of munitions were used, I would expect to see signs that the buildings had been damaged,” Lewis told Reuters.

Pakistan has refuted India's account of the air strike, saying that the operation was a failure and that the Indian jets dropped their bombs on a largely empty hillside.

Pakistan's Director General of the Military Press Wing, Major General Asif Ghafoor, had said that there was no damage to any infrastructure after the Indian air strike and that this has been vindicated by both domestic and international media after visiting the site.

Reuters also reported witness accounts from locals, saying that after extensive interviews with people in the surrounding area, there was no evidence found of a destroyed camp or of anyone being killed.

Although villagers confirmed a series of huge explosions, they said the bombs appeared to have landed among trees.


‘Spice 2000 Bombs Caused Internal Damage to Buildings’: What Other Reports Say

The Reuters article seems to be at odds with various other reports that suggest that the IAF may have hit its targets by dropping the Israeli Spice-2000 bombs.

An NDTV report published on 6 March directly contradicted the Reuters report, saying that a "closer analysis of pre-blast and post-blast (satellite) images indicate four likely bomb entry points on the roof of the largest structure at the camp."

Changes, or possible damage, can also be observed on the ground and other structures in the proximity, NDTV pointed out.

According to sources cited by India Today TV, in a report dated 6 March, the IAF jets used the precision-guided S-2000 bombs with "penetration warheads" in the strike, causing "internal" damage to the buildings.

An earlier report by The Indian Express had cited government sources as saying that four buildings were hit by the air force within the madarsa campus, adding that evidence is available with intelligence agencies in the form Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR) imagery.

On the kind of damage that is done by Spice 2000 bombs, military officials told the daily, "It first penetrates through the roof, then enters the building and explodes after a delay. It is meant to hit the command and control centres and does not destroy the building. The software has to be programmed with the type of roof – its thickness, material of construction etc – and that, accordingly, sets the delay period for the PGM (precision-guided munition)."

As per SAR imagery, the roofs of the buildings had gone missing on the first day, but were repaired after two days, a government official had told the newspaper.

Largely corresponding with what The Indian Express report suggested, another NDTV report had cited government officials as denying that the Spice 2000 bombs missed their targets.

While some reports have pointed out craters in the vicinity as proof that the target was missed, officials had told NDTV that these craters could not have been due to the use of S-2000 bombs.

If these bombs were to strike the ground, they would have left mounds of earth instead of craters, the officials said, adding that the craters could have been the result of terrorists training with IEDs.

(At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)

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