I have deliberately held back from writing about the Indian-Pakistan air skirmishes as much reporting seemed a toxic blend of nationalism, sensationalist machine comparisons and baseless speculation. Now that a little time has passed I spoke to Justin Bronk from the RUSI think-tank to find out more.
The shootdown/s – what happened?
For certain? An Indian MiG-21 Bison was shot down and crashed on the Pakistani side of the Line of Contact, presumably whilst pursuing Pakistani fast jets as they flew back to their own airspace after their signalling strike on Indian territory. It is likely, given the AIM-120 missile wreckage recovered by the Indian side with serial numbers visible (and the lack of subsequent American contradictory statements or ‘leaks’) that a Pakistani F-16 fired at least one missile towards the Indian fighters. Whether it was the one which hit the MiG-21 is another question.
Which claims are unconfirmed or suspect?
The fact that two aircraft were repeatedly reported to have been seen to fall suggests that something else was downed. The Indians do not appear to have lost an Su-30 as was claimed, but then again, if a Pakistani F-16 was indeed hit and crashed on the Pakistani side of the LOC then the ISI did a fantastic job of keeping anyone from finding and reporting on the wreckage. I’m personally inclined to think that only the MiG-21 went down but I certainly wouldn’t rule out completely that another aircraft was destroyed.
Beyond that, there are a million and a half suspect and unconfirmed claims on both sides flying around the twittersphere, mostly completely ridiculous and firmly in the realm of nationalistic shitposting.
Where did it take place?
Over the India-Pakistan LOC. The type that shot down the IAF Bison is disputed –
-What are the benefits to India of it being an F-16?
I suppose they can feel marginally better about their aircraft being destroyed by an American-made fighter rather than a Pakistani-Chinese one?
-Which type do you believe it was?
There is evidence to suggest that an F-16 at least fired an AIM-120C towards Indian territory. Whether a JF-17 was also involved in the engagement and actually fired the missile which destroyed the Bison is something that I certainly can’t answer.
Greatest misunderstanding in the media?
That this engagement turned out the way it did due to the inherent advantages of one type of fighter over another. In reality this was part of a complex air engagement where ground and air based surveillance assets, electronic warfare, strike package sequencing, tactical decisions and pilot judgement all played a key role. Reducing this incident to a game of top trumps between Indian and Pakistani aircraft is missing the point. Tyler Rogoway wrote a wonderful blowout piece on this which I heartily concur with!
What could each air arm learn from the incident?
That supposedly carefully limited and calibrated punitive or signally strikes across the LOC can escalate extremely quickly and unpredictably given the performance of modern airborne sensors and missiles. Once an aircraft(s) are shot down, the domestic media on both sides will inevitably go into a feeding frenzy, and social media will erupt in a storm of fake claims, shitposting and demands for revenge. The truth will take a long time to figure out and in such a tense border situation, may not matter if things spiral out of control. The Hush-Kit Book of Warplanes will feature the finest cuts from Hush-Kit along with exclusive new articles, explosive photography and gorgeous bespoke illustrations. Order The Hush-Kit Book of Warplanes here
Was a PAF aircraft shot down? If so what type?
If one was, it was most likely an F-16; Indian claims were specific and supposedly based on electronic and radar signature analysis. If they are correct that an aircraft on the Pakistani side was hit, then there is little reason to suspect that their combat ID is wrong.
Are the actions of the IAF and PAF legal?
Depends which court is judging 😉
How does PAF and IAF fighter pilot training compare?
Both are highly professional forces which have traditionally modelled themselves on the British Royal Air Force in terms of training ethos, uniform, rank structure etc. They both conduct regular exercises and training abroad and are highly thought of as professionals by the air forces who interact with them. Indian training is slightly more varied and their tactics less uniform simply as a function of the incredible number of different fast jet types they operate. However, this also gives them more opportunities for dissimilar air combat training (DACT) and to try novel approaches to each different capability set.