The American F-16 fighter jets, which were part of the Pakistan Air Force (PAF) fleet that attempted an attack in the Rajouri sector last Wednesday, fired two AIM-120 Advanced Medium-Range Air-to-Air Missiles (AMRAAMs) at IAF jets that repulsed the Pakistani attempt, The Indian Express has learnt.
Sources said one of the AMRAAMs missed its target and fell on the Indian side of the Line of Control (LoC) — it was assessed from the volume of debris that was collected by Army troops. The other missile is believed to have hit the Mig-21 Bison aircraft piloted by Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman, which went down on the Pakistani side of the LoC.
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Sources said American experts, who were shown the debris from the Indian side, have confirmed that remains in such quantity could only have come from a missile that had missed its target.
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Manufactured by American firm Raytheon, AMRAAM is the premier missile in the PAF arsenal and, sources said, it is significant that it missed its target. Last Thursday, IAF had displayed parts of the debris of this missile at a press conference.As for the other missile, an IAF statement issued Wednesday clarified that one F-16 of the PAF was shot by the MiG-21 Bison piloted by Wing Commander Varthaman and that it fell across the LoC. Varthaman, who ejected inside Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (PoK) was captured by the Pakistan Army and handed over to India last Friday.
The use of AMRAAMs is also significant because it can only be fired from F-16 aircraft. Pakistan has officially claimed that it did not use any F-16 in the air strike, which emanates from concerns of American action as there are end-user restrictions imposed by the US on the use of these aircraft by PAF.
While these aircraft can be used for self-defence, which would permit the firing of an AMRAAM, the employment of these fighter jets for an air attack on Indian military targets would be questionable. Sources said the US government would get to know the details of its employment during periodic end-user monitoring inspections but is unlikely to make them public.
AMRAAMs allow a pilot to target an aircraft that is beyond visual range, in the day or at night, and in all weather conditions. They have autonomous guidance capability, which allows the pilot to manoeuvre immediately after missile launch.
In June 2006, Pakistan had ordered 500 AIM-120C-5 AMRAAMs for $269.6 million to equip its F-16C/D Block 50/52+ and F-16A/B Block 15 MLU fighters. The first batch of AMRAAMs was delivered to PAF on July 26, 2010. At that time, it was the largest order of AIM-120C-5 missiles, and the first such deal between Raytheon and Pakistan.