Was a PAK F-16 fighter shot down in a dogfight over Balakot?

There is a story that to this day we can define as a mystery. It is difficult to find the truth when the facts about it are hidden. Even more so when the participants in it are two countries that frankly do not like each other at all.

US F-16 pilot: Su-35 looks good at air shows, but it's junk
Photo credit: Wikipedia

What really happened to the Pakistan Air Force [PAF] F-16 Fighter? Was it taken down? Why is it so hard to tell the truth when today we learn things from stories that are frankly far more important and complicated than an F-16?

The background

On February 26, 2019, the Indian Air Force launched an airstrike in Pakistan’s Balakot area. Balakot is a border province in northwestern Pakistan. New Delhi believes that there is a terrorist training camp in this area. So he sends launchers to destroy the camp. It is believed, at least according to open-source satellite images, that the warplanes did not hit any important targets. This action can be considered a failure, according to many Western international observers.

Еntire Indian fleet of Soviet MiGs will be retired until 2027
Photo credit: Wikipedia

The Balakot action catalyzed subsequent events. Pakistan does not remain indifferent to the Indian attack. During the mutual air battles, the Pakistani Air Force shot down an Indian aircraft. The plane is a MiG-21 and the pilot is Captain Abhinandan Varthamanam, who was captured and held in Pakistani captivity for 60 days. It was at this point that the dispute arose. India claims that before captain Abhinandan Varthamanam was shot down, he and his MiG-21 shot down Pakistani F-16s.

The claims

Islamabad denies that a Pakistan Air Force F-16 was shot down in that engagement by an Indian MiG-21. According to observers, the ruling Indian government did not mention at all the six dead Indian helicopter pilots who were shot down by the Pakistan Air Force in the same aerial battle and used a fabricated story of an F-16 being shot down, making Varthamanam look like something it is not.

Christophe Jaffrelot of Princeton University Press wrote in 2021 that the Balakot strike was a propaganda claim. It has been used by New Delhi to secure the ruling party’s position. Jaffrelot recalls that the same year there were elections in India, and only two months after the battle of Balakot. So, his statements find logic in the background of the upcoming elections.

The National Bureau of Asian Research wrote in a 2022 report that India’s false claims made Washington doubt New Delhi’s reliability. Moreover, the report said the allegations carry a communication risk for India in the context of regional security.

Is there evidence of a downed F-16?

Was a PAK F-16 fighter shot down in a dogfight over Balakot?
Source: BBC

We would logically ask ourselves if there is evidence. We expect them to come from India since that country claims to have shot down the F-16 after all. However, India claims that yes – there is evidence.

India’s Ministry of Defense says an R-73 air-to-air missile was fired at the F-16. The MoD also says some eyewitnesses can confirm the “falling F-16”. The Ministry of Defense also says that there is debris from an AMRAAM missile, which is used precisely by American F-16 fighters.

India also used a letter sent a month after the incident in question. It comes from Washington with a sender Andrea Thompson, then the assistant secretary of state for arms control and international security. According to sources, the letter reprimands Pakistan for using F-16s in the Kashmir region. The author of the letter expresses concern about whether American technologies will fall into foreign hands. However, the letter does not mention the battle of Balakot.

What do external experts say?

According to some sources, an F-16 was shot down over Balakot. They mention a cell phone recording that shows a smoke trail from the sky to the ground. Although they are not talking about a recording of a plane going down, they are suggesting that the track is from an F-16. However, this is an assumption, not proof.

AIM-120 AMRAAM - Advanced Medium-Range Air-to-Air Missile
Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons

Other analysts are following the statements of the two parties involved. They notice that the statements of the Pakistani MoD are not consistent. One moment they claim two downed pilots, the next they claim one. While the Indian MoD is releasing successive messages claiming the same thing – our pilot has been shot down, but before that, he shot down a Pakistani F-16. “Though the evidence is circumstantial, there is enough to show that a PAF aircraft was shot down,” was one observer’s opinion.

Many experts are “hunting for the clue” that India has remnants of the AMRAAM missile. According to them, this is proof that the Pakistani plane was shot down.

Other analysts believe that the F-16 was not shot down over Balakot. Their opinion is opposed by experts who cite “the radar tracks shown by the Air Force on the Andes”. However, the radar tracks do not prove the downing of the F-16, but the downing of the second MiG-21, which India denies.

The truth is a taboo

Sooner or later the truth will emerge. Today, the battle over Balakot is shrouded in mystery. India and Pakistan say two different things and the US remains silent on what happened.

There are tracks, that have not been shown, missile debris that has not been shown, and eyewitnesses that no one has seen. There are phone stocks, which are missing, and the testimony of a pilot who actually defends his country’s position.

On the other side, in Pakistan, there are conflicting statements, a lack of consistency in them, and a warning from the US. One of the two countries is lying, but both are turning this issue into a political card for future success. And the truth in these times is simply taboo.

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