Pakistan holds the key to the real F-16 story
The controversy over the Indian Air Force (IAF) killing a Pakistani F-16 during the February 27 aerial dogfight between the air forces of the two countries refuses to die. In order to quash all doubts, the IAF called a press briefing on Monday and released evidence supporting its claim. If one puts all the circumstantial evidence together, it does presents a compelling narrative. To begin with, the Pakistani army spokesperson, Asif Ghafoor, spoke of two pilots captured on the day of the dogfight. Later he changed his statement to claim that Pakistan had just one Indian pilot in custody. Pakistan also made the claim that F-16s were not at all used in the dogfight. The IAF has conclusively established that this was patently untrue.
Now, did a Mig-21 Bison actually shoot down an F-16? On Monday, the IAF released radar images which show a Pakistani F-16 vanishing in a matter of eight seconds. The IAF also has telephone communications intercepts which corroborate the fact that two pilots were captured. Parachutes were sighted at two different locations. In normal course, this much evidence would have sealed the debate. However, a recent report in the Foreign Policy magazine quoted two unnamed senior US defence officials, who revealed that an audit of F-16s in Pakistan has been conducted and no plane was found missing. If this report is accurate, then there is no question of an F-16 being shot down on February 27. Then, the US Defence department said it was unaware of any such count having been undertaken. Pakistan has also released an image of missiles retrieved from the Mig-21 Bison that fell in Pakistan-occupied Jammu and Kashmir. The experts are divided on whether one of those missiles (as seen in the picture) actually hit an F-16.
The IAF has released all the evidence it could without comprising confidential information, but the key lies with the Pakistan army, which had claimed the capture of two pilots but went completely mum on the second pilot. It is for the Pakistani media now to probe the matter and ask penetrating questions of the top armed forces officials in the country. Still, this is a good time for the IAF to review the happenings of the day and introspect on its battlefield capabilities and communication strategy.