Author : Deepak Sinha

Originally Published 2019-05-29 09:01:17 Published on May 29, 2019
Foot in mouth: A disease we can do without

Balakot, for all intents and purposes is done and dusted, an issue of little political relevance or significance now that just refuses to go away, and that too, for all the wrong reasons. This is not because we are still in the dark as to the number of casualties that air strike inflicted, we are but that is inconsequential because what really mattered then was our intent. But because the Army Chief, General Rawat, and Air Marshal Nambiar, the AOC-in-C Western Air Command, have both been afflicted by what can only be called ‘foot in mouth disease’ over a non-issue.

One may recall that during the long drawn election campaign in a sterling display of self-admitted ignorance Modi had in a television interview stated that “Around 12… for a moment, we thought what we should do in this weather. There are clouds, ‘will we be able to go or not’? So, by and large, the experts’ opinion was: ‘What if we change the date?’ To my mind, there were two issues: one secrecy…. The other… I am not a person who knows this science, but I thought that there are clouds, it’s raining, so there is a benefit that we can escape the radar. I have a raw vision, the cloud can benefit us too. Everyone was confused about what to do. Then, ultimately, I said, ‘it’s OK, there are clouds, go ahead. Chal pade (they started)….”

While his statement came in for criticism then, not just over his lack of scientific knowledge but also from those who believed incorrectly that such decisions should have been left to experts. There appears to be this overwhelming lack of understanding that actions that have immense politico-strategic significance in peace time must be controlled at the highest level, for which Prime Minister Modi certainly deserves full credit. After all, it was President Obama who gave the final go ahead for the raid to kill Osama Bin Laden in Pakistan.

However, with regard to the scientific issues involved in this particular case, ignorance certainly turned out to be bliss because Modi may well not have been so quick on the draw if he had looked at what Britannica.Com has to say on the subject; “Detection of targets in rain is less of a problem at the lower frequencies, since the radar echo from rain decreases rapidly with decreasing frequency and the average cross section of aircraft is relatively independent of frequency in the microwave region. Because raindrops are more or less spherical (symmetrical) and aircraft are asymmetrical, the use of circular polarization can enhance the detection of aircraft in rain. With circular polarization, the electric field rotates at the radar frequency. Because of this, the electromagnetic energy reflected by the rain and the aircraft will be affected differently, which thereby makes it easier to distinguish between the two.”

Now, it may be purely speculation on my part, but surely given these facts Modi in hindsight would probably prefer to have this aspect of his decision making abilities well and truly interred for good. Unfortunately, given the Army Chiefs’ unerring ability to court controversy, his statement in support of Modi’s understanding of applied sciences only brought it back into avoidable limelight, further compounded, off course, by the Air Marshal’s subsequent statement. If their attempt was to bolster their own future prospects, as many among military veterans cynically suggest on social media, it was the wrong way to go about it. Not only was it extremely clumsy, but neither particularly clever nor supportive of Modi’s understanding, given the degree of equivocation in their respective statements.

General Rawat gave us this gem; “There are various kinds of radars working with different technologies. Some have the capacity to see through, some don’t have the capacity to see through. Some kinds of radar cannot see through clouds because of the manner in which it is operating. Sometimes we can, sometimes we can’t…”   The Air Marshal added to our knowledge by suggesting “That is true up to some effect that very strong clouds and very strong convective conditions in clouds prevent the radar from detecting very accurately.” Now, we don’t quite know if Pakistan uses radar systems that cannot see through clouds or whether there were strong convective clouds that night, but frankly speaking, Modi would have been far better off without their unsolicited assistance, but then we wouldn’t have much to laugh at, would we now?

This commentary originally appeared in The Times of India.

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Deepak Sinha

Deepak Sinha

Brig. Deepak Sinha (Retd.) was Visiting Fellow at ORF. Brig. Sinha is a second-generation paratrooper. During his service, he held varied command, staff and instructional appointments, ...

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