Although Pakistan had denied initially, now it has been cleared that one F-16 jet of Pakistan Air Force was shot down by Indian Air Force yesterday. Pakistan had released photographs of debris of India MiG-21 that had fallen inside Pakistan Occupied Kashmir yesterday. But after analysis of those photographs, Indian Air Force has concluded that at least on part of wreckage does not belong to MiG-21, but it matches with the engine of F-16 jet that Pakistan operates. If that is correct, it means the F-16 was shot down by MiG-21 of IAF, which was also shot down by Pakistani ground attack subsequently and the pilot was caught by Pakistani forces.
Enemy fighter planes shooting down each other is part of any modern war, but this MiG-21 downing an F-16 is very significant. Because this means an ancient fighter jet had shot down a much modern jet.
The MiG-21 fighter jet was developed just a decade after the end of second world war by the Mikoyan-Gurevich Design Bureau in the Soviet Union. India first purchased the jets in 1961, and later started making the aircraft at Hindustan Aeronautics Limited under licence. The plane remained the backbone of Indian Air Force for almost half a century, but it was also plagued by safety issues. Out of around 1200 MiG-21 jets inducted by IAF, more than half them were lost in crashes during peacetime, not in a war. India also lost around 200 pilots in those crashes, which had earned the jet the nickname ‘flying coffin’. The MiG-21 is a second-generation fighter jet, which is antique in the time of 4th and 5th generation fighter aircrafts available now.
F-16 Fighting Falcon, developed by General Dynamics and now built by Lockheed Martin, is a 4th generation multirole fighter aircraft. Although more advanced jets like F-22 and F-35 have been developed by Americans, F-16 still remains a major modern fighter aircraft, and it still in production. On the other hand, MiG-21 production ended long ago. Several countries are still purchasing the F-16, while an upgraded version of it, the F-21, has been offered to India by Lockheed Martin. India is still using the MiG-21 due to long delays in the acquisition of newer fighter aircraft by previous governments, and the similar long delay in development of indigenous LCA Tejas aircraft. If the previous governments had acquired modern fighter jets on time, the MiG-21 would have been phased out long ago.
Maximum takeoff weight of F-16 is more than double of MiG-21, which means it can carry more missiles and ammunition during combat. The engine of F-16 is also bigger and generate more power. Although the MiG-21 used by India was of the upgraded Bison variant, F-16 is still much more powerful on paper.
Therefore, this is quite remarkable for the Indian Air Force pilot to shoot down a modern jet using a relatively obsolete jet.
Another significance of the incidence was, it was the first time an American made fighter jet was shot down by a Russian made jet since the 1991 Gulf war. The USA has lost several fighter jets that in Afghanistan and the Middle East, but in crashes and missile attacks.