IAF insists PAK F-16 shot down, contests Pak "disinformation" on LoC dogfight, stresses "heightened state of military readiness"
India on February 28 said it had credible evidence that its air strike on the Jaish-e-Mohammad terrorist camp at Balakot in Pakistan on February 26 had the desired effect.
In an inter-services media briefing in New Delhi, it also strongly contested Pakistani "disinformation" about the aerial combat over the Line of Control (LoC) the previous day, insisting that it shot down a twin-seater F-16 fighter of the Pakistan Air Force (PAF).
Parts of an ASRAAM missile recovered from the Indian side were produced to substantiate that the version that F-16s were among the "packet" of PAF fighters which breached the LoC on February 27 and were intercepted and pushed back by the IAF. Among the Pakistani fighters, only the F-16s are known to be armed with the American AMRAAM missile. Pakistan has denied crossing the LoC, and not accepted either using F-16s in the aerial engagement with India or the shooting down of one of their fighters.
"We have fairly credible evidence which proves damage to the (Balakot terrorist) camp," said Air Vice Marshal RGK Kapoor. "We've got the effect we desired. It is up to the Government to decide if it wants to make the evidence public," he elaborated, while adding that it would be "premature to talk about the number of casualties (inflicted in the air strike)".
Air Vice Marshal Kapoor also welcomed the announcement by the Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan promising the release of Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman, the pilot of the IAF MiG-21 Bison shot down by Pakistan, from their custody. "We're happy that the pilot is being released. We see it as a gesture in consonance with the Geneva Convention," he said.
India emphasised a "heightened state of military preparedness" involving the Army, Navy and Air Force, playing down reports of any de-escalation with Pakistan.
"In the aerial combat that ensued one F-16 of the Pakistan Air Force was shot down by Indian Air Force MiG 21 Bison aircraft. The F-16 crashed and fell across the LoC in Pakistan-occupied Jammu and Kashmir. The IAF lost one MiG 21 aircraft. Though the pilot ejected safely his parachute drifted into PoJ&K, where he was taken into custody by Pakistan Army," he said.
The joint briefing by Air Vice Marshal Kapoor, Major General SS Mahal and Rear Admiral DS Gujral emphasised that Pakistan had attempted to bomb an Indian Brigade Headquarters but was foiled in its attempt by a quick Indian riposte which involved scrambling MiG-21 Bison, Sukhoi-30MKI and Mirage 2000 fighters to beat back the Pakistani intruders.
"On 27th of February, at around 1000 hours, Indian radars detected a large package of Pakistan Air Force aircraft heading towards Indian territories, towards general area of Jhangar. They breached the Indian airspace west of Rajouri in the Sundarbani area," Air Vice Marshal Kapoor said. .
" The invading aircraft were engaged at various levels. The IAF aircraft including MiG-21 Bison were tasked to intercept the intruding PAF aircraft. The Pakistan Air Force aircraft attempting to target military installations were intercepted by the IAF aircraft, which foiled their attempt," he said.
He also said that although PAF bombs fell in the compound of India's military installation, it failed to cause any damage.
Air Vice Marshal Kapoor sought to address three elements of Pakistani disinformation that two Indian aircraft and three pilots were shot down, that the Pakistani aircraft intentionally dropped weapons in open spaces on the Indian side and that no F-16 was flown by the Pakistanis or shot down.
"There is enough evidence to show that F-16s were used in this mission through their electronic signatures. Parts of AMRAAM air to air missile which is carried only on the Pakistani F-16s was recovered east of Rajouri within the Indian territory," he said. These parts were produced before the media.
The senior IAF officer emphasised that a PAF F-16 was shot down in the aerial combat, that this aircraft fell on the Pakistani side of the LoC, and that two parachutes of ejecting F-16 pilots were seen by Indian troops on the ground. He also pointed out that the wrecks spotted and photographed on the Pakistani side were not part of the MiG-21 which the IAF lost. "We have only one plane missing," he said.
Major General SS Mahal of the Indian Army narrated a spate of ceasefire violations by Pakistan across the Sunderbani-Bhimbergali-Kishanghati section of the LoC, and an Indian response "in the same fashion".. Indian Air Defence and Mechanised Forces are in a "heightened state of readiness", he said, adding that the Indian Army will "continue to target agencies which act against India".
Rear Admiral Gujral said the Indian Navy was "deployed in a high state of readiness and was poised in all three dimensions".