Last two days have witnessed a major escalation of tension between two nuclear-armed India, and Pakistan. In the wee hours of February 26, Indian Air Force (IAF) struck Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM) training camps in Balakot in Pakistan's Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa province. Pakistan retaliated with sending its US-made F-16s across LOC, targeting India's military establishment. MiG-21 aircraft of the Indian Air Force were sent to engage with comparatively advanced F-16s. MiG-21 of the IAF even managed to bring down one F-16 of Pakistani Air Force, before being shot down.
Many of the critics and experts have now questioned the decision of sending MiG-21 in Combat Air Patrol (CAP). But sources in the IAF have defended the decision. The Print has reported that MiG-21 was one of the fighters available in the inventory and all the aircraft are rotated based on operations, time and threat level.
MiG-21, which is a technically inferior aircraft as compared to F-16, is infamously called 'flying coffin' due to frequent crashes in the last decade. The aircraft was inducted into the IAF 56 years ago in 1963. However, IAF sources have clarified that after the alert level was raised post-Pulwama attack, various other fighter aircraft were also put on CAP duty including SU-30 MKI and MiG-29. In fact, a mix of Sukhoi-30 MKI and MiG-29 were airborne on the entire night of February 26.
But as an SoP, MiG-21s were put on the duty. One of the IAF officers said: "The MiG-21 is something that we have in our inventory and it would be used for operations. We have had a mixture of aircraft doing CAP, and at the time when the Pakistan Air Force jets came in, the MiG-21s were in the air, and hence, they challenged the F-16s."
On Wednesday, three Pakistani F-16s crossed over the Line of control and entered the Nowshera sector at around 1005 hours in the morning. As per the mission, four Indian military installations were targeted with bombs.
The IAF responded by sending at least two MiG-21 Bison which were on CAP duty. The Soviet era, MiG-21 chased down the F-16s and even managed to shoot down one of them. Pakistan claimed that the MiG-21 violated its airspace and was shot down, however, it's still uncertain that it was brought down either by an aircraft or an air defence systems.
Meanwhile, the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) confirmed that it lost one MiG-21 Bison and that the pilot is 'missing in action' against two claimed by Pakistan. The videos floating on social media confirmed that Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman was captured by Pakistan.