NEW DELHI: When the Pakistan Air Force used American-supplied Amraam (advanced medium-range air-to-air missile) in the Nowshera sector, it violated rules of engagement as the missiles were used for first strike, giving F16s a temporary advantage, forcing defending Indian Air Force fighters to take evasive action.
The subsequent shooting down of an F16 by Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman is being defined as a defensive action after his MiG21 was targeted and at least three more Amraams locked in Su30MKIs deployed to thwart the air intrusion.
As more details of the February 27 aerial battle emerges, it is clear that PAF fired at Indian jets first and one F16 of its strike package of three fighters that had intruded went down after a brief aerial duel within visual range.
The standing rules of engagement — and they applied on the morning of February 27 as India had declared that its air strikes at Balakot the previous day was a non-military action against terrorists — do not permit fighter jets to fire across LoC. The use of force is permitted only in case of an air intrusion or if fired upon.
PAF took advantage of Amraam, with a set of F16s firing at Indian targets from across LoC, at a distance of over 50 km. The other set, which intruded into Nowshera was thwarted by the MiG21s scrambled from Srinagar, with Varthaman managing to bring one down with a short-range R73 missile.
“Used in the first strike role from across the LoC, Amraam would have been a surprise factor, given the standoff range it has,” said veteran fighter pilot during Kargil, Sameer Joshi.
While Su30MKIs with their R77 missiles were capable of targeting the F16s — they are believed to have also locked their radars into the enemy — the surprise first strike took them temporarily off target as they took emergency countermeasures. In the subsequent minutes when the Indian jets moved back into position, the F16s retreated but not before one of them was shot down. “Whoever shoots first has the advantage. But it is commendable that the MiG21 still managed to target lock the technologically superior F16 while under attack,” a military source said.
If Rafale fighter jets were operational, it could have been a game changer, given the Meteor long-range air-to-air missile that it is armed with.
Considered as the most potent air-toair missile in the world, the Meteor has a range of over 100 km that would have outclassed the Amraams and possibly deterred the offending F16s from shooting first. The S400 air defence system, expected to be delivered by next year, would also have kept Pakistani fighter jets at bay. With a range of over 400 km, S400 would be capable of taking down Pakistani fighter jets deep within its territory, in case restrictions on the rules of engagement had been lifted.