Pakistan F-16 fighter jet
A Pakistani F-16 fighter jet.Representative image

The United States Department of Defence has said that it was "not aware" of any audit of Pakistan's F-16 jets. Earlier this week, a US journal, Foreign policy reported that U.S. personnel recently counted Islamabad's F-16s and found none missing. This report led to another round of arguments and counter-arguments. The Indian Air force rubbished the report and said that it has conclusive pieces of evidence including electronic signatures, radio transmission intercepts and sightings of two separate ejections several kilometers apart around the same time – one of the Indian MIG pilot, and the other, of the Pakistani F-16 pilot. Moreover, Pakistan also released the pictures of four missile seeker heads purportedly from India's downed MiG-21 claiming that no missiles were fired at Pakistani Air force's F-16s.

If the report published in Foreign Policy journal is to be believed that no F-16 was missing from the inventory, this opens up questions about whether Pakistan Air Force could have been flying F-16s borrowed or loaned from some its allies. National daily, The Times of India reported that given the persistence and evidence provided by the Indian Air force the possibility of Pakistan using F-16s from its allies including Jordan, Egypt and Turkey cannot be ruled out.

MiG-21 of Indian Airforce
MiG-21 of Indian AirforceAFP

As per defense experts, many close allies of Pakistan also use F-16s in their Air forces and during the war, they enjoy easy interoperability. A former pilot said, "It's a well-known fact that the Air Forces of Pak, Jordan, Egypt, and Turkey frequently exercise together and there are a few PAF pilots on deputation to those countries. It would serve US interests to rubbish India's claims that would otherwise blemish an enviable combat record for the F-16."

Experts have also argued that the F-16 has been one of the major sources of income for the US which would mean that it would not accept its fighter plane being downed by 2nd Gen Mig-21 Bison. "For America, war is a multitrillion-dollar business & the F-16 is a global brand. There is no way the US can ever admit that a MIG 21 shot down an F-16. It will bury the brand forever & will raise questions on other US weapon systems. Embarrassing for the US,'' wrote a retired Indian military official on Twitter.