Defence

‘Not aware’: Pentagon on Pak F-16 count after Feb aerial dogfight with IAF

The United States defence department on Friday said it was “not aware” of any investigation that was conducted to ascertain if Pakistan had lost an F-16 in a dogfight with Indian fighter jets on February 27, contrary to a report by a news publication that had gone on to say, citing unidentified defence officials, the count revealed none was missing.

Foreign Policy magazine reported Thursday that US defence personnel conducted recently a physical count of Pakistan’s F-16s and found all intact, none missing. It attributed the finding to two unidentified senior US defence officials and said the count was conducted at the invitation of Pakistan.

A US defence department spokesman told Hindustan Times in a statement that they, the department, “weren’t aware of any investigation like that”, that was said to have been conducted, according to unidentified defence officials cited in the FP report, and referred this reporter to the Department of State.

The state department distanced itself from the news report saying in response to a direct request to confirm or deny it, “As a matter of policy, the Department does not publicly comment on details of government-to-government agreements on end-use monitoring of US-origin defence articles.”

And it went on to reiterate its stated policy on Pakistan: “It is important to note that since January 2018, the United States government has suspended security assistance to Pakistan.”

US government’s position appears to be in line with India, which in the backdrop of the attack, has reaffirmed its account of the downing of the Pakistani F-16, citing “electronic signature” as evidence. “During the aerial engagement that followed, one MiG 21 Bison of the IAF shot down one F-16,” Air Vice Marshal RGV Kapoor said Friday, “The Indian Forces have confirmed ejections at two different places on that day. These were separated by at least 8-10 km. One was an IAF MiG 21 Bison and the other a PAF aircraft.”

India had scrambled its fighter jets to respond to a Pakistan air force intrusion into Indian airspace on February 27. Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman, who was flying a MiG 21 Bison, got a lock on a PAF F-16 and shot it before his own aircraft was hit, forcing him to bail, according to Indian officials.

The wing commander landed in Pakistan and was captured by Pakistan’s armed forces. Pakistani aircraft, on the other hand, fell in Pakistan, India has said and circulated pictures of one of its pilots and it has also said it knew the pilot’s name.

India has also complained to the United States that Pakistan used American-supplied F-16s in the attack in a possible infraction of the memorandum of sale of the aircraft, and handed over evidence, pieces of an AMRAAM (advanced medium-range air-to-air missile) that Pakistani fighter jets had used in the dogfight — no other Pakistani air-force aircraft can fire these missiles.

The United States routinely inspects defence equipment sold by its companies to foreign countries, as part of their respective end-use agreements. Pakistan, for instance, is prohibited from flying F-16s out of the country without notifying the United States in advance, according to the sale agreement.

Foreign policy magazine cited a senior US defence official to say the physical count was conducted at the invitation of Pakistan. And it took a while because not all aircraft were immediately available for inspection due to the conflict.

The report went on to quote an unidentified senior defence official, “all aircraft were present and accounted for”. It cited a second official, who knew of the count, to say no Pakistani F-16s were missing.

The count included F-16s that Pakistan had acquired from Jordan under third-party transfer the report said, adding that they were subject to the same end-user agreement and its rules.

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