India's downed F-16 claim: Report raises doubt

The aerial combat between the two neighbours happened a day after IAF fighter jets struck at a Jaish-e-Mohammed terror camp at Balakot in Pakistan to avenge the killing of 40 CRPF soldiers in a terror attack at Pulwama in Jammu and Kashmir. ANI photo

India’s claim of shooting down one of Pakistan’s F-16 combat aircraft in a dogfight on February 27 has now come under question.

Foreign Policy – a reputed US journal on international relations – on Friday published a report in which unnamed US officials were quoted to note that each of Pakistan’s F-16 fighter jets were accounted for.

The officials were involved in an F-16 head counting exercise undertaken in the wake of the recent Indian Air Force-Pakistan Air Force aerial battle on February 27.

The aerial combat between the two neighbours happened a day after IAF fighter jets struck at a Jaish-e-Mohammed terror camp at Balakot in Pakistan to avenge the killing of 40 CRPF soldiers in a terror attack at Pulwama in Jammu and Kashmir.

In a press statement on February 28, IAF stated, “In the aerial combat that ensued, one F-16 of PAF was shot down by an IAF MiG-21 Bison. The F-16 crashed and fell across the Line of Control in Pakistan occupied Kashmir.”

It was the same MiG-21 piloted by Wg Cdr Abhinandan Varthaman. The MiG took a hit from the PAF fighter aircraft and crashed inside Pakistan. Wg Cdr Abhinandan was captured by the Pakistani forces, but was returned to India after nearly 60 hours following diplomatic pressure.

The IAF claims of the vintage Russian-origin MiG-21 downing a more advanced American fighter jet F-16 made instant headline all over the world.

Foreign Policy now quotes senior US Defence official having knowledge of the headcount exercise to suggest that every piece of the aircraft is accounted for and protected.

Some of the aircraft were not immediately available for inspection due to the conflict. That’s why it took the US personnel several weeks to account for all the jets.

But now the count has been completed and all aircraft were present and accounted for, the report says quoting the official. A second senior officer has also confirmed that US authorities on the ground found that no F-16 was missing.

The IAF and Defence Ministry has not so far responded to the Foreign Policy report.

The counting is a part of a US government investigation that was initiated after India asked the Donald Trump administration to probe the use of F-16 against India in violation of the fighter jet’s sale conditions. The US can carry out such probes as a part of the End User Agreement for the military equipment that it sells to other countries.

The US journal report contradicts what Air Vice Marshal R G K Kapoor, Assistant Chief of Air Staff (Operations and Space) had stated in a press conference on February 28.

“There is enough evidence to show that F-16s were used in this mission and Pakistan is trying to hide this fact. Also, parts of AMRAAM Air-to-Air missiles, which is carried only on the F-16 in the PAF were recovered East of Rajauri within the Indian territory. Therefore the fact remains that one F-16 of PAF was shot down by an IAF MiG-21 Bison aircraft,” he mentioned.

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India's downed F-16 claim: Report raises doubt

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