All Pakistan F-16s counted, none missing: US report

New Delhi/Washington: India’s claim of shooting down a Pakistani F-16 in February has been challenged as a report citing unnamed US officials said that all US-supplied fighter jets to the Pakistan Air Force (PAF) have been counted and none is missing.

The report in the American Foreign Policy journal said that “two senior US defence officials with direct knowledge of the situation talked about the recent count of F-16s and found none missing”.

India has maintained that one of its MiG-21s flown by Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman had shot down a F-16 of the PAF in an aerial battle over the Line of Control (LoC) on February 27 before the Indian pilot went down with his jet and got captured.

New Delhi has claimed that the PAF used a pack of F-16s to violate the Indian air space and produced pieces of AMRAAM missile as evidence. But there was no confirmation as the wreckage of the aircraft or the fate of the Pakistani pilot remained shrouded in mystery.

“It is possible that in the heat of combat, Varthaman, flying a vintage MiG-21 Bison, got a lock on the Pakistani F-16, fired and genuinely believed he scored a hit. But the count, conducted by US authorities on the ground in Pakistan, sheds doubt on New Delhi’s version of events, suggesting that Indian authorities may have misled the international community about what happened that day,” said the report.

The Indian Air Force (IAF) and the Indian government are yet to respond to the report.

According to Foreign Policy, one of the senior US defence officials with direct knowledge of the count said that Pakistan invited the US to physically count its F-16 planes after the incident as part of an end-user agreement signed when the foreign military sale was finalized.

“Generally in such agreements, the US requires the receiving country to allow US officials to inspect the equipment regularly to ensure it is accounted for and protected,” said the report.

“Some of the aircraft were not immediately available for inspection due to the conflict, so it took US personnel several weeks to account for all of the jets,” an unnamed US defence official was quoted as saying in the report.