NEW DELHI: India scrambled fighters after radars detected a Pakistani drone near the international border in the Khemkaran sector of Punjab in the early hours of Monday. Though Pakistan also scrambled jets in response, there was no airspace violation from either side and tensions quietened down soon after.
With both sides maintaining high operational readiness all along their borders, even as they engaged in fierce firing duels across the 778-km long Line of Control in J&K, defence sources said the alarm bells in India’s air defence network sounded at about 3 am on Monday when “a large Pakistani unmanned aerial vehicle” was detected in the Khemkaran sector.
The IAF swung into action by scrambling two Sukhoi-30MKI fighters from the Halwara airbase, which led to Pakistan also dispatch two F-16s to the border region. “The Pak UAV was picked up by both Army units and IAF’s mobile observation flights. There was scrambling of fighters from both sides but things cooled down soon after,” said a source.
There have been regular intrusions by Pakistani UAVs, and at least four of them being shot down by Indian forces, ever since the IAF conducted the pre-dawn air strikes on the major Jaish-e-Mohammed facility at Balakot in the Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa province of Pakistan on February 26.
A day later, Pakistan had retaliated by sending a “strike package” of 24 fighters, including F-16s, JF-17s and Mirage-5 attack jets, to target Indian military installations across the LoC. Though the IAF foiled the attempt, it lost the MiG-21 being flown by Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman just after he shot down a F-16 in the dogfight.
Pakistan has repeatedly tried to deny the use of the US-origin F-16s during the attempted strike across the LoC on February 27. India, however, recovered parts of an AIM-120C advanced medium-range air-to-air missile (AMRAAM), which is only carried by F-16s in Pakistan’s combat fleet, from east of Rajouri in J&K on that day.
Interestingly, Pakistani military communication wing ISPR on Monday yet again reiterated that no F-16 was “hit by IAF”, while sticking to its stand that two Indian fighters were shot down in the aerial skirmish.
ISPR said it “was immaterial” whether F-16s or JF-17s shot down “the two Indian aircraft”, adding that the entire Pakistan Air Force was airborne at that point in time. “India can assume any type of their choice, even F-16s. Pakistan retains the right to use anything and everything in its legitimate self defence,” it said.