Why did the Indian Mig21 Bisons of 1960 era challenge fourth generation Pakistani F16B (twin seater) advanced fighter jets? At the end one Mig21 Bison of Indian Air Force (IAF) and one F16 of Pakistan Air Force (PAF)were brought down. Ground and signal intelligence show Pakistan created a trap for the Indian Mig21s and then the Mig21 was brought down with a PAF command and control coordinated ground to air missile. F16 is a far superior fighter aircraft than Indian Mig21 but in the encounter between India and Pakistan Air Force on February 26 morning, it looked like Mig21 Bison is far better than F16. How could that happen?
In order to analyze this perplexing fact, we need to look back a few years. Indian Air Force (IAF)continuously prepares for encountering Pakistan Air Force (PAF). Because of the negligence of Congress led UPA Government and typical third world corruption, IAF has been starved of replacing Mig21s with modern jets. The fighter squadrons available for IAF has fallen sharply in the last twenty years. IAF had to live with this political inefficiency and still prepare to face and defeat PAK decisively. In the face of this some of the Mig 21s were upgraded to Mig 21 Bison and equipped with deadly Air-to-Air R73 close range missiles.
IAF and US Air Force (USAF) practices regularly in COPE joint exercises airborne assaults on ”enemy” territory using their C-130 aircraft as well as maneuvers involving the F-16/F-15s and the SU-30MKI, Mirage-2000 and Jaguar fighters from India. In the annual COPE exercises, Indian Air Force tries to find the combat vulnerabilities of F16 fighter jets because may of these F16s are used by Pakistan Air Force (PAF). They found out that F16 is an excellent aircraft, however, the vulnerability lies in old style dog fight with vintage air crafts like Mig21s in a short distance. While SU-30MKIs can engage at par or better with F16s, a defensive receding F16 in that situation can be vulnerable if at that moment it is challenged to dog fight in vintage style. F16 cannot handle fast maneuverability of Mig21 while maintaining the defensive tactical stance against SU-30MKI.
Indian trick was to employ SU-30MKI along with Mi21 Bisons. The plan was to force the F16s to go into defensive mode against SU-30MKI. Then IAF can force the F16s to vintage style dog fight with Mig21 Bisons at a very short distance. In that situation Mig21 Bisons can shoot down the F16s in a close range. Hence Indian Combat Air Patrol (CAP) missions consisted of Mig21s and SU-30MKI.
Pakistan laid a trap for Indian Air Force. They planned to use a small (three) number of F16s out of a large fleet enter Indian air space, and attempt to strike some Indian military installations (six targets). Most importantly they wanted to draw the Mig 21s into a trap near the line of control (LOC) into the hands of special operation ground to Air Missiles of Pakistan Air Defense. ISI (Spy agency) of Pakistan knew IAF used Mig21s in the CAP formation. They knew it will be impossible to target SU-30MKI from the ground or otherwise but those vintage Mig21s can be easily vulnerable to modern ground to air missiles.
Indian CAP formation recognized the three F16s locking the Indian military targets before entering the Line of Control(LOC). SU-30MKIs challenged them. They hurriedly dropped the bombs near the targets (locking was faulty). They receded fast thinking Mig21s will chase them into the trap. Migs did exactly that. It engaged the the F16s in a vintage style close proximity within visual range dog fight. F16s failed in maneuverability due to agile ability of Mig 21s and better IAF pilot training and skills. Mig 21 Bison flow by Wing Commander Abhinandan moved fast in 70 seconds getting behind one of the F16s. He fired the R73 in visual tange with a direct hit. One of the F16s got hit by the R73 missile from the IAF Mig 21 Bison. As the two Mig21s tried to recede and escape after hitting the F16 in close range and the other two F16s escape fast into Pakistani Air Space, Pakistani special forces were in the ground. They used advanced ground to air missiles to take one Mig21 out. The whole episode ended in 86 seconds
Two Pakistani F16 pilot and the Indian Mig21 pilot bailed out. Both planes fell into Pakistani territories. The Pakistani pilots were injured from the Indian Mig21 missile and were taken to hospital in Pakistan. The Indian pilot – Wing Commander Abhinandan was arrested by Pakistani forces and irregular forces disguised as mob. The IAF wing commander was beaten up inhumanely by the mob, blind folded, and then taken into formal Pakistani Army custody. He was video taped at the time of being beaten and bleeding in the head and mouth.
Sources tell us, PAF pilots on reaching ground disguised themselves as Indians thinking they fell in Indian side of the LOC. The mob lynched one of then and badly injured the other PAF pilot. Both the PAF pilots were taken to hospital. One PAF pilot died at the hospital and the other survived with grave injuries.