Fact check: Did PM Modi say he advised IAF to take advantage of cloud cover to hit Balakot?

First, did the prime minister say exactly what he is being quoted as saying? Second, if he did say it, is his cloud-radar theory false?

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modi cloud radar

New Delhi: Mainstream and social media is mocking Prime Minister Narendra Modi who reportedly said in the course of an interview that the Indian Air Force could use the cover of cloud to avoid detection while conducting airstrikes on Pakistan. Many journalists and social media users are laughing at the suggestion, saying this turns the principle of radar technology on its head.

They say that the military radars are designed specifically to be weather-proof. If that were not the case, both civil aviation and military strikes would be at the mercy of the weather gods.

Modi’s reported cloud-blinds-radar theory

1. Did he advise or did he wonder?

But first, did the prime minister say exactly what he is being quoted as saying by those who are making fun of him to the sheer embarrassment of the BJP?

Second, if Prime Minister Modi did say what he has been reported to have said, is it a false assertion on his part?

The answer to the first question is not a clear yes. Modi never said that was his advice. The prime minister sounded tentative and wondering throughout the narration of the event. In a few of the much-re-tweeted tweets, this is what the prime minister is heard saying:

us samay weather achanak kharaab ho gaya tha, bahut baarish hui thi, aap ko yaad hai? main hairaan hoon, desh ke itne bade pandit log itni mujhe gaaliyan dete hain, lekin unka dimaagh nahin chalta hai. To 12 baje, yeh bhi main pahli baar bol raha hoon, mujhe… hamaare afsaron ko kya lagega mujhe maaloom nahin. To ek pal hamaare mann men aaya, is weather men ham kya karenge? Cloud hai, jaa paayenge, nahin jaayenge. To, by and large, yeh opinion aaya experts ka, ki saa’b, date badal den to kya? Main ne kaha mere mann men do vishay hain: ek secrecy. abhi tak to secret raha hai lekin agar secrecy men kuchh looseness aayi to phir to ham kar hi nahin sakte, karna hi nahin chahiye. Doosra, main ne kaha ki I am not a person jo is saare vigyaan ko jaanta ho. Baarish ho rahi hai to ek benefit hai ki ham radar se bach sakte hain. Main ne kaha ki mera raw wisdom hai. Dekhiye yeh cloud benefit bhi kar sakta hai. To sab uljhan men the, kya karen? To ultimately main ne kaha thik hai, cloud hai, yahi… chal pade!”

[Translation: Around that time, the weather had suddenly deteriorated. It had rained a lot. Do you remember? I wonder all these pundits that keep cursing me, do they not have brains? At 12, I am saying this for the first time; I am not sure how our officers would react to this. So, for a moment, I wondered, what should we do in such weather conditions? there are clouds; could we go or we couldn’t? Then, by and large, I received the expert opinion that we must change the date (of the airstrike mission). I said, ‘I have two things in mind: First, secrecy. So far, the mission has been a secret but if this secrecy turns lax, then we should abort the mission; we should not go.’ Second, I said, ‘I am not a person who knows all the details of this science. It’s raining. Maybe we could avoid detection by (enemy) radars.’ I said, ‘This is my raw wisdom. The cloud may offer us an advantage.’ But they were in a dilemma over what should be done. Ultimately, I said, ‘Okay, there’s cloud. Let’s go!”]

The video clip on Twitter ends here. It is not clear whether the prime minister narrated how the conversation with the IAF officers proceeded thereafter. Presuming this was all that he shared about the dialogue, does it stand the scrutiny of science?

2. PM not entirely wrong

The ‘experts’ who are saying that military radars are all-weather-proof are not entirely correct. Cloud, mist, rain and other forms of precipitation can affect the function and reliability of a radar. Where the prime minister is incorrect, the impact on Pakistani radar might not have been a safe enough option for the IAF to launch the attack if this alone was the consideration while deciding the time of the airstrikes.

Britannica explains, “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. (In fair weather most radars use linear polarization; i.e., the direction of the electric field is fixed.)”

Britannica goes on to say, “Military radar engineers have developed various ways of countering hostile ECM (electronic countermeasures) and maintaining the ability of a radar system to perform its mission. It might be noted that a military radar system can often accomplish its mission satisfactorily even though its performance in the presence of ECM is not what it would be if such measures were absent.”