Century Of Service Between Them, IAF Says Its MiG-21 Just Scored World’s 1st F-16 Kill

In a Cold War wet dream that has at once stunned and captured the imagination of international security watchers across the world, the Indian Air Force today declared that a MiG-21 Bison fighter managed to shoot down a Pakistan Air Force F-16D on Wednesday morning over the restive Line of Control that separates Jammu & Kashmir from Pakistan-occupied Kashmir.

The MiG-21, from the Indian Air Force’s 51 Squadron ‘Sword Arms’ is said to have conducted the claimed kill using a Russian Vympel R-73 close combat missile. The Indian Air Force today, as part of an effort to conclusively prove that it was a group of F-16 that led the sweep, produced evidence of an AIM-120 AMRAAM missile fired from the F-16, that likely brought down the MiG-21. The IAF also said it had captured electronic signatures of the aggressing aircraft, concluding that it was an F-16. No wreckage of the F-16 — or any other jet — has yet been revealed, though the Pakistan military did first claim it had brought down two jets, subsequently, and conspicuously, correcting the claim.  While the Bison’s pilot Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman was captured in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir, two Pakistani pilots who punched out of the F-16D are currently unaccounted for. Pakistan has switched to claiming no loss after first announcing that it had shot down two Indian jets. The abrupt correction has led to the widespread belief that Pakistan initially believed it had shot down two Indian jets, but discovered only later that it was in fact an F-16D that had come down.

While information has been scant and buffeted by a typical hail of claims and counterclaims by both sides, Livefist has learnt from reliable sources that the unprecedented peacetime aerial confrontation yesterday — which came after a group of Indian Mirage 2000 jets flew into Pakistan a day previous to bomb a terrorist facility in the town of Balakot — was much larger than initially reported.

It is understood that at least 20 Pakistan Air Force jets, a mix of F-16s, Mirages and JF-17s got airborne from a series of air bases in Pakistan and Pakistan-occupied Kashmir, quickly turning south towards Pakistan’s Sindh. They remained in the air for over 30 minutes, possible in an act of deception. Indian airborne early warning assets in the air had picked up the movement, with bases in Srinagar and Punjab alerted. The PAF fighter package then turned north towards the Line of Control, with all but three F-16s turning west towards their airfields, but staying in the air. The 3 F-16s then began the sweep, headed straight towards the Sunderbani sector of the Line of Control. By this time two MiG-21s from Srinagar were airborne and headed straight for the intercept. Two more MiG-21s got airborne a few minutes later, followed by a pair of Mirage 2000s. A pair of Su-30 MKI jets were already in the air on a combat air patrol further south, diverted to provide cover for the intercept. The rare within visual range engagement occured over the Sunderbani sector, with both jets — and all 3 pilots — plunging into Pakistan-occupied Kashmir.

Amidst significant claims made by both sides, perhaps most significant to aviation watchers has been the nature of the close air engagement between two nuclear armed nations, and the Cold War flavour of the actual fight.

Aviation photographer, author and analyst Angad Singh says, “It’s historic, but at the same time I am not too surprised. The Bison is among the most capable of all MiG-21 variants, and I would put money on a capable pilot in a Bison cockpit any day.”

Italian journalist David Cenciotti, who runs he excellent Aviationist blog, writes, “If confirmed, it’s significant, as it would prove once again that when it deals with aerial engagement, not always does the more modern and capable weapon system (in this case the F-16 Block 52) wins. Several factors must be taken into consideration: pilot skills; support from other assets (including fighters and AEW aircraft), ground radars, etc. Above all, RoE play an essential role: if the Rules of Engagement require a positive VID of the opponent, a fighter might be forced to come WVR (Within Visual Range) where a MiG-21 can be particularly threatening. That’s why even 5th gen aircraft regularly train with legacy adversaries.”

He adds, “The MiG-21 Bison is an upgraded version of the Russian-made baseline MiG-21. Although the design is obsolete, its low radar visibility, instantaneous turn rate and acceleration, and the helmet mounted sight combined with high-off-boresight R-73 air-to-air missiles are among the factors that can make the upgraded MiG-21 a threatening adversary, even for more modern fighters.” (More from Cenciotti on Livefist here).

Veteran MiG-21 fighter pilot & author-historian Air Vice Marshal Arjun Subramaniam says, “An IAF Bison shot down an F-16 with a close combat missile the R-73 and during the pursuit crossed the LC and was brought down by ground fire. It was classic aerial action and of great significance that an F-16 was downed by an IAF Mig-21.”

Stephen Trimble, defense editor at Aviation Week tweeted, “Don’t forget those same MiG-21s embarrassed USAF F-15Cs at Cope India in 2006.” He later told Livefist, “The F-16 was designed specifically to beat the MiG-21, but AMRAAM, which came later, can be a great equalizer if basic fighter maneuvers are not involved.” (More from Trimble on Livefist here).

Air Vice Marshal Manmohan Bahadur, veteran pilot and Additional Director General of India’s Centre for Air Power Studies (CAPS) told Livefist,”For the first time, a third generation aircraft has shot down a fly by wire modern aircraft armed with a much better weapons package and avionics suite. Just goes to prove that the man behind the machine counts — and counts massively. And when it comes to the IAF, adversaries should have no doubts.”

Vishnu Som, defence editor with NDTV, says, “While we don’t know the exact circumstances in which the IAF pilot was shot down, let’s not for a moment forget that he shot down an F-16 first (possibly an F-16 Block 50) with an upgraded MiG-21 Bison, a jet which first entered service with the IAF in the sixties.”

Yusuf Unjhawala, defence columnist and editor of Indian Defence Forum, says, “That a MiG-21 shot down an F-16 is proof of its capability & our pilot training. A few years back MiG-21s won against US F-16s at Cope India.”

Mihir Shah, aviation watcher and columnist, says, “The significance of a supposedly obsolete MiG-21 shooting down a more modern F-16 cannot be understated. It goes to show that legacy systems can (and often are) upgraded to stay competitive against with their more modern counterparts. The MiG-21’s R-73 missile, cued by a helmet-mounted sight, is a formidable close-combat weapon. And it emphasizes the old adage that equipment isn’t everything—the man behind the machine matters just as much, if not more. Wing Commander Abhinandan was a well-trained, experienced pilot, and those qualities showed up in spades during this engagement.”

Independent defence analyst Dr Sanjay Badri-Maharaj says, “The significance of air combat between a MIG-21 and an F-16 cannot be understated. The fact, regardless of claims regarding the loss of an F-16, that MiG-21 fought an F16 on equal terms cannot be understated. Combat capabilities of the MiG-21 remain viable through upgrades to radars and weapons systems. The choice of the R-73 is also interesting. Were the MiGs armed with R 77s or not? If not, it is even more remarkable that the MiG-21 tackled the F-16 on any sort of even basis. However, while we get carried away with individual air combat, the fact that a combination of Pakistani aircraft was met by a combination of Indian aircraft and was unable to achieve its purported objective is perhaps the most important thing to take away from this entire episode.”

21 thoughts on “Century Of Service Between Them, IAF Says Its MiG-21 Just Scored World’s 1st F-16 Kill”

  1. Not the world’s first kill of an F16 though. On 8th October, 1996 a Greek Mirage 2000 downed a Turkish F16.

  2. Go fuck with missle part check the serial no of missle part on google ,you will find missile was sold to Taiwan, second you find the bullet where is the gun ?

  3. Now with Russia’s land & sea based nuclear powerd & hypersonic missiles & targeting various US decision making centres , even taking out whole carrier groups from a safe distance, a game changer & a cause for the US to ponder about, which India need to take note in formulating defense policies.

  4. You can try to sugar coat it all you want but the monumentally moronic decision to to deploy a outdated MiG-21 ultimately resulted in the pilots capture which Pakistan has used as a clever bargaining chip to shifted the scale to it’s favor.

    Pakistan has won this round on all fronts, Pakistan shot down our jet and captured our pilot which has forced India to de-escalate. This should be a wake up call to the imbecile’s in charge of the air force and defense ministry.

    Is the Indian air force mentally retarded or just plain corrupt ?, Too slow and incompetent to built its own jets in time, too slow and incompetent to inducted jets brought from foreign countries.

  5. The Cartoonist

    This is maybe the first ==claimed== downing of an F-16, but not the absolute first kill : in a previous incident in 1996, a Greek Mirage 2000 shot down a Turkish F-16 two-seater as described in this article http://www.f-16.net/aircraft-database/F-16/airframe-profile/3371.
    A rumour till 2003, this was officially alleged by Turkish government and denied by Greek government in 2003 : see article http://www.ekathimerini.com/14350/article/ekathimerini/news/deadly-1996-aegean-clash-is-confirmed.

  6. Narotham Reddy

    Very proud of Braveheart WC Abhinandan Varathan and their distinguished service to IAF and India…

    The shooting down of F-16 by a Mig-21 Bison will become a folklore story…

    Pray for his safe return to India and his family… but I betcha he will go straight to the base and on to another Mig-21 Bison…

    Now it is Time pull up boots and strap them and get to work on a war footing basis…?
    Get the Mirage-2000 and Mig-29 upgraded on unrgent basis…?
    Accelerate Tejas-IA and II programs… ?
    Redouble efforts on AMCA program…?
    MMRCA 2.0 program is too long and too risky process…?
    Order 18 Super Sukhoi SU-30MKI from Russia and additional 36 from HAL with as much manufacturing and maintenance technology as India can manage to get…?
    If Russia wishes to push SU-35,, then take it on the promise that they will transfer all manufacturing and maintenance technology and upgraded radar, avionics, and engine for SI-30 MKI…?
    Order additional 18 Rafales from France and manufacture additional 36-54 from HAL with as much manufacturing and maintenance technology as India can manage to get…?
    Rafales with Meteor missile will be force multiplier…?
    I think all politicians and public must agree with a unified plan for pressing needs of armed forces… No politics anymore…

  7. It appears the F-16s turned away from the approaching Bisons towards their own airspace, allowing the R-73s infra-red seeker to get a fine lock-on. Instead of breaking away after launch Abhinandan followed his victim, a common error when the blood is up, and allowed the F-16 wingman to shoot him down. The Westward momentum carried both jets and pilots into PoK.

    J. Sircar

  8. Deepak Malhotra

    It’s true that a professional and valiant pilot has downed an F 16 with a MIG 21 Bison and it’s a great achievement. Kudos. But why do we have such equations? Wars are meant to be won…. at times at great cost. Why not give our pilots and soldiers the best machines in the world. We have the resources.

  9. At least provide a picture of downed F-16 as we provided with the serial number and injured pilot. Stop lying as it will eventually back fire one day. Two Migs down and 2 pilots lost and 2 captured show some respect at least to them.

  10. Couple of things to be clear the Mig 21 Bison isn’t a 1960s aircraft it’s an upgrade from Mig 21 Bis which is from early 80s. The aircraft he flew was upgraded to Bison with Israel radar interms of Radar comparison the F16 D he shot is possibly block 50. Bison has a HDU with Hotas and can fire both R73 Vymple and R77 BVR. But where pilot skill comes is an ace pilot knows his machine like palm of his hands and was able to get his machine perform at the highest level. He knew only way he could shot a F16 down is WVR classical dog fight, and in that Mig 21 is lethal, small RCS and fast F16 radar might not have been able to pick him up in BVR and because he got in low altitude and on high off bore sight he got a radar lock and was able to keep that on despite F16 doing escaping maneuvers and finally fired his R73 for a kill shot, incredible skill from a pilot who clearly knows his strengths against F16

  11. FoxtrotGolfLima

    Though it is a shame incredible machines were lost, the fact such a technology gap was upset by skill and will fascinates me. I hope the pilots of both nations are fine and wish their people well.

  12. Why wasn’t Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman be allowed to ve interviewed by an independent and international news station about India’s claimd of his shooting down of any PAF jets on 26th February 2019? Then the world can judge and analysis and make a conclusion about the air skirmishes.

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