The Indian Air Force (IAF) has reiterated that it shot down a Pakistani F-16 fighter jet during the air action on February 27 in the Nowshera sector near the Line of Control (LoC). The IAF statement followed an article in US-based Foreign Policy which claimed that the United States had counted the F-16 aircraft with the Pakistan Air Force (PAF) and found that no fighter jet was missing in its inventory.
IAF, sources said, based its claim on circumstantial evidence. This is because camera and radar images, which prove that the F-16 was shot down, have been lost with the Mig-21 Bison aircraft — piloted by Wing Commander Abhinandan — which crashed on the Pak side of the LoC, officials said.
The circumstantial evidence included images from Electronic Support Measures of AWACS, crash-site debris which showed parts that are not of Mig 21 Bison, radio telephony intercepts which showed that one aircraft did not return and wireless intercepts of Pak army units.
“After the IAF attack on the terrorist camp at Balakot on Feb 26, PAF attempted a riposte on Feb 27. A large force of PAF F-16s, JF 17s and Mirage III/V aircraft were picked up by IAF radars. They were intercepted by IAF Su30-MKI, Mirage-2000 and Mig-21 Bison fighter guided by ground radars and AWACS. All attempts of PAF to attack any targets were thwarted by the IAF. During the aerial engagement that followed, one Mig 21 Bison of the IAF shot down one F-16 in Nowshera sector,” IAF said in its statement.
IAF sources said the AWACS images clearly showed that only F-16 aircraft were in the vicinity of the Mig-21 Bison piloted by Wing Commander Abhinandan while JF17s were in the north.
The aerial engagement took place west of Jhangar on the LoC and Wing Commander Abhinandan fired a R73 Archer missile.
Images of the fired missile posted by Pak Army show that the warhead of one missile had been initiated by a proximity fuse, presumably after hitting the F-16. Moreover, The Indian Express saw two AWACS pictures, taken eight seconds apart, which show an F-16 missing.
That the missing aircraft was an F-16, sources said, was also confirmed by the electronic signature and radio telephony monitoring of various PAF aircraft. Moreover, images and videos posted on social media platforms by Pakistan show the debris of the wreckage which does not pertain to a Mig-21 Bison fighter jet.
“Indian forces have confirmed sighting ejection at two different places on that day. The two sightings were at places separated by at least 8-10 km. One was an IAF Mig 21 Bison and the other a PAF aircraft. Electronic signatures gathered by us indicate that the PAF aircraft was an F-16,” the IAF statement added.
As per IAF sources, the Army witnessed the first parachute – of Wing Commander Abhinandan as he ejected after his Mig21 was shot down – coming down in General Area Sabzkot where he was captured by 7 Northern Light Infantry (NLI) of Pakistan Army. The second parachute was witnessed in General Area Tandar, which coincides with the last location of the missing F-16 aircraft.
IAF sources said the second parachute was of the F-16 pilot who was taken to the Corps Military Hospital, as DGISPR Major General Asif Ghafoor had initially announced that two Indian pilots were in its captivity.
Even Pakistan PM Imran Khan had repeated the claim that evening before DG ISPR altered his statement. IAF sources said that various eyewitness accounts from Pakistan, posted in social media platforms, also show that two parachutes were seen coming down and two pilots captured on Pakistani side of LoC.
IAF sources presented wireless intercepts from the Army which show communication from Pakistan Army’s 7 NLI at Tandar. At 1205 pm, it spoke to someone and said, “Ye enemy ka tabaah hua hai jo parinda thaa enemy ka thaa unke wo jo dono parinde wale hain un dono ko pakad liya”.
At 1242 pm, it spoke: “Enemy ka jo tabah huwa hai parinde wale pakad ke humne apni unit mein laya, abhi dusra bhi 658 (Mujahid Battalion) walon ne unko bhi pakad liya”. In general area Barot, a wireless intercept at 3.20 pm shows that it said, “Wing Commander Abhinandan Mig21 pilot dusra zakhmi CMH transfer dusra ek zakhmi wo CMH me hai”.
IAF sources claimed that it provided sufficient circumstantial evidence to prove that an F-16 aircraft of PAF was shot down and it went down on Pakistani side of LoC where its pilot ejected from the fighter jet.
The IAF’s assertion comes in the wake of US-based Foreign Policy magazine’s report that cited US government officials saying that Pakistan’s F-16 combat jets “have all been accounted for”.
It cited unnamed Pentagon officials as saying that the counting was done at Pakistan’s request as part of end-user agreement and took some time as the aircraft were deployed.
The report also quoted US officials as stating that Pakistan did not violate any sale conditions of F-16 by using them against India on February 27.
After the report, Pakistan military urged its Indian counterpart to “speak the truth” about the “actual losses” in the dogfight that took place after Pakistan Air Force retaliated to India’s airstrikes on “non-military targets” in Balakot.