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‘Over in 90 seconds’: Officers detail India, Pakistan air duel along border

The dogfight between Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman and a Pakistan Air Force over the skies of the Nowshera in Rajouri district of Jammu Province lasted just 90 seconds.

india Updated: Mar 01, 2019 11:26 IST
Sudhi Ranjan Sen
Sudhi Ranjan Sen
Hindustan Times, New Delhi
iaf air strike,indian air force attack,indian air force
IAF officers show sections of an exploded AMRAAM missile, said to be fired by Pakistan Air Force (PAF) F-16s which were found in Rajouri district. (Vipin Kumar/HT Photo)

The dogfight between Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman, flying a Russian made MiG-21 and a Pakistan Air Force US made F-16 over the skies of the Nowshera in Rajouri District of Jammu Province on Wednesday lasted just 90 seconds, a senior Indian Air Force (IAF) officer said on condition of anonymity.

The 90 seconds will perhaps go down in the history of aircraft encounters.

In the 90 seconds, the Pakistani fighter fired two US AMRAAM missiles and an aging MiG-21 shot down a fourth generation F-16 fighter — a feat that will go into the history books considering the asymmetry between the two fighters. Soon after, the MiG, piloted by Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman was shot down.

The AMRAAM missiles are beyond visual range missiles, which means they can be fired from a stand-off distance. They are also all- weather and day and night capable missiles. Parts of the AMRAAM missile were recovered by India and made public in a press conference in New Delhi.

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“Only F -16 aircraft can fire AMRAAM missiles. These have been used in violation of conditions imposed on Pakistan by the United States when these were sold,” a second senior IAF official who did not want to named said.

Those conditions state that the fighters can’t be used in offensive actions but only defensive ones.

On Wednesday, the incoming pack of 12 Pakistani fighters, comprising US-made F-16, French-made Mirages and JF-17 fighters made in Pakistan were detected by an Airborne Warning and Control System (AWAC) hovering inside India. Pakistan was responding to air strikes on a Jaish-e-Mohammed terror camp in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.

Immediately, fighters from Avantipora, Srinagar and other airfields were scrambled. The MiG-21 being the closest, approached the PAF fighters, a senior official in the security establishment who did not want to be named said. From a distance, the entire dogfight was picked up the AWAC and also other Indian fighters.

The MiG-21 locked on to the F-16 when it was flying at about 15000ft and the F-16 at about 9000 ft. The MiG-21 started diving to get a better shot at the F-16. The F-16 took evasive measures. It went into a steep climb,” a second senior official in the security establishment said and added that “the F-16 climbed to about 26000 ft.”

By this time the MiG-21’s pilot had skillfully manoeuvred his aircraft behind the PAF fighter, positioning itself at a sixty-degree angle for maximum impact. It fired a Russian made Vympel R-73 (NATO name AA-11 Archer) missile hitting the F-16. Even as R-73 missile was closing into its target, the wingman of the F-16 now in the crosshairs moved in. He fired his weapon and hit the MiG-21. “No radio call from the MiG -21 was received,” the official said.

Rarely, if ever, has a MIG-21, designed and developed in the 1960s at the height of the cold war, shot down an F-16. The MiG-21 which shot down the F-16 on Wednesday joined the Indian Air Force in 1980s. “The MiG-21’s were upgraded, but the design is the same. It takes immense skill to out-manoeuver a fourth generation fighter. It is similar to taking on a BMW automobile in a race , with a Maruti-800,” a test pilot with the IAF who did not want to be named said.

First Published: Mar 01, 2019 06:25 IST