India and Pakistan Aerial Battle

IAF MiG-21 Bison
IAF MiG-21 Bison.

David Oliver For the first time in the 21st Century, the air forces of India and Pakistan are becoming involved in air combat.

Following the terrorist attack which killed forty Indian personnel and injured five on February 14 by a suicide bomber of Pakistan-based terror group in Indian-administered Kashmir, the Indian Air Force (IAF) 2000Hs launched an airstrike guided by the EMB-145 Netra AEW&C aircraft against suspected militant bases in Pakistan territory during the night of 26 February. In response Pakistan Air Force (PAF) fighters launched airstrikes on ‘non-military’ targets on 27 February claiming they were clear areas in Indian-administered Kashmir across the Line of Control (LoC) and that there were no casualties on the ground.

What happened next is disputed but it is clear that IAF MiG-21 Bisons, the latest variant of an aircraft that saw action in the 1971 the war with Pakistan, were scramble to intercept the attacking PAF aircraft. In the following air battle, the IAF claimed to have shot down one PAF aircraft while the PAF claimed to have shot down two IAF aircraft with its F-16s although this has not been confirmed.

The IAF later admitted that it had lost on MiG-21 and that the pilot appeared to have been captured by Pakistan forces after ejecting. The second IAF aircraft claimed by the PAF has not been confirmed nor has the PAF aircraft claimed to have been shot down by the IAF.

The Pakistan government’s official Twitter account released a video of what it claimed was one of the Indian pilots who had been shot down. The man, whose face was bloodied and blindfolded, gives his name and service number, before telling a man questioning him: “I’m sorry sir, that’s all I’m supposed to tell you.” An Indian government official speaking on 28 February that there would be no deal on Air Force pilot captured by Pakistan, and that the government expected that he is returned immediately. The captured IAF pilot, Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman, was released on 1 March.

In the immediate aftermath of the air battle, the IAF ordered Kashmir’s main airport in Srinagar along with at least three others in neighbouring states to close and Pakistan shut its airspace, with commercial flights in the country cancelled and flights from the Middle East and India were also affected.

In a separate incident, and IAF Mi-17V-5 crashed at Budgam in Indian-administered Kashmir on 27 February en route from Srinagar Airport. Six military personnel were killed in the crash but the cause is unclear.

by David Oliver