New Delhi: The Indian Air Force (IAF) has gathered enough military intercepts and real-time images of electronic surveillance to nail Pakistan for constantly denying that one of its F-16 jets was shot down by a vintage IAF MiG-21 Bison.

The IAF has clinching digital evidence to show how a Pakistani F-16 jet and its pilot were brought down during an aerial dogfight on February 27. Rejecting reports of a US publication that the F-16s with the Pakistan Air Force (PAF) were all accounted for, the IAF said, "We have confirmed sighting ejections at two different places on February 27 and were separated by at least 6-10 km. One was an IAF MiG-21 Bison, which Wing Commander Abhinadan Varthaman was flying and the other a PAF aircraft.

The electronic signatures gathered by the IAF confirms it was the PAF’s F-16. The evidence collected by the IAF includes images from Electronic Support Measures of ground radars and Airborne Warning and Control System (AWACS), crash site debris, which showed parts that are not of the MiG-21 Bison, radio telephony intercepts, which showed that one aircraft did not return, and wireless intercepts of Pakistan Army units.

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AWACS images show 11 F-16s. It also shows that Varthaman was involved in a dogfight with an F-16. Also the radio transmissions intercepted establish that two fighter jets went down along with its pilots, but till date, the identity of the other pilot has not been revealed by Pakistan.

After the IAF attack on the terrorist camp at Balakot on February 26, the PAF attempted a riposte that next day. A large force of PAF F-16s, JF-17s and Mirage III/V aircraft were picked up by IAF radars. IAF Su-30 MKI, Mirage-2000 and Mig-21 Bison fighters guided by ground radars and AWACS intercepted them. The IAF thwarted all attempts of the PAF to attack any target. During the engagement that followed, a Mig-21 Bison of the IAF shot down a F-16 in Nowshera sector.

An interception received on February 27 at 1205 hours said: "Ye enemy ka tabah hua hai. Jo parinde the enemy ka tha. Wo jo parinde wale hain un dono ko pakad liya (This is an enemy aircraft. Two pilots have been taken into custody)."

Another intercept at 1242 hours said: "Enemy ka jo tabah hua parinda wala hai humne pakad liya. Unko apni unit mein le aaye. Dusre ko bhi pakad liya (We have brought the pilot of the enemy aircraft to our unit. We have got hold of the other pilot also)."

The difference between the enemy pilot and the other one is noteworthy here. Another intercept at 1520 hours identified Wing Commander Varthaman as the MiG-21 pilot in Pakistani custody.

Doosra ek zakhmi hai woh military hospital mein hai (the other one is injured and is in the military hospital),” it said.

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The Indian forces have confirmed sighting ejection at two different places on that day. The two sightings were at locations separated by at least 8-10 km. One was an IAF Mig-21 Bison and the other a PAF aircraft. Electronic signatures that were gathered indicate that the PAF aircraft was an F-16.

AWACS images clearly showed that only F-16 aircraft were in the vicinity of the Mig-21 Bison piloted by Wing Commander Varthaman while JF17s were in the north. The aerial engagement took place west of Jhangar along the line of control (LoC) and Wing Commander Varthaman fired an R73 Archer missile. Images of the fired missile posted by Pakistan Army show that the warhead of a missile had been initiated by a proximity fuse, presumably after hitting the F-16.

According to IAF sources, the Army witnessed the first parachute — that of Wing Commander Varthaman as he ejected after his Mig-21 was shot down — coming down in General Area Sabzkot where he was captured by the 7 Northern Light Infantry (NLI) of he Pakistan Army. The second parachute was witnessed in General Area Tandar, which coincides with the last location of the missing F-16 aircraft.

IAF sources said the second parachute was of the F-16 pilot, who was taken to the Corps Military Hospital, as DGISPR Major General Asif Ghafoor had initially announced that two Indian pilots were in its captivity.

IAF sources said that various eyewitness accounts from Pakistan, posted on social media platforms, also confirmed that two parachutes were seen coming down and two pilots were captured on the Pakistani side of the LoC.

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The IAF will provide sufficient circumstantial evidence to prove that an F-16 aircraft of the PAF was shot down and it went down on the Pakistani side of the LoC where its pilot ejected from the fighter jet.

Contradicting the report by US publication that no F-16 was shot down by the IAF, the US defence department on Friday said it was “not aware” of any investigation that was conducted after India's Balakot air strikes to ascertain if Pakistan had lost an F-16 in the aerial dogfight.

The Foreign Policy in its report, quoting two unidentified US defence sources, said that US defence personnel recently conducted a physical count of Pakistan’s F-16s and found that none of them were missing.

In a statement to the Hindustan Times, US defence department reportedly said that the department, “weren’t aware of any investigation like that”. 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.”

As part of end-use agreements, the US routinely inspects defence equipment sold by its companies to foreign countries. Pakistan, for instance, is prohibited from flying F-16s out of the country without notifying the US in advance. After the February 27 dogfight, India had complained to the US that Pakistan misused the F-16 and also showed as evidence a piece of an AMRAAM (advanced medium-range air-to-air missile) that can be only fired from a US-made F-16 which are with PAF.