On February 27th amid heightening tensions between India and Pakistan in Kashmir, an Indian Air Force MiG-21 aircraft was shot down by Pakistan. In the ensuing war of words over the incidents, both sides made varying claims about the incident, with India saying they had downed a Pakistani aircraft, while Pakistan stated it had downed two Indian aircraft. India acknowledged the loss of one, while Pakistan denied any losses of aircraft.
Against this backdrop, when images of apparent aircraft wreckage started popping up on social media, different interpretations were offered on what the images actually show. This post focuses on claims that pictures released by Pakistan actually showed parts of an F-16, purportedly downed by India.
The two tweets below are examples of claims made regarding the aircraft pieces.
File picture of cross section of F16 engine and wreckage of downed Pakistani F16 jet pic.twitter.com/Mq78QkLTz9
— ANI (@ANI) February 28, 2019
step to confirm that its a F16 debris
1. check box no. in 1st img.
2. search it in F16 database, link below.https://t.co/gDFvtzHOmj
3. It's Jordan F16. How it's reached Pak, link below.https://t.co/MoPrm8bfWX
— Tuku (@tukupanti) February 28, 2019
The tweets above claimed to show F-16 parts, so we’re focusing on these for the verification. First, comparing two of the images released by Pakistan, we can determine they are two different perspectives of the same aircraft part. The colored arrows point out details that can be used for matching, such as a service hatch and a bent metal pipe.
A YouTube video from the scene also presents a walkaround view of the same part, establishing the same. (1:56 onwards)
If we rotate the image 180 degrees and put it side-by-side with a MiG-21’s tail, we have a good match.
For completeness, we can also match the section with the box which was claimed to contain an F-16 serial to this same piece.
According to a MiG-21 service manual available through CIA’s archive, we can determine that this is the thermocouple service hatch. Another manual for the aircraft states that the thermocouple junction box is located in this part of the aircraft, so it’s possible that is the function of the numbered box.
In fact, if we take a closer look at the service hatch, we can see a “CU” format serial number on there, which is used on the upgrade Indian MiG-21bis aircraft.
So, taken together, this is all so say that the claim about the writing on the junction box proving this is be an F-16 part is not correct. This is in fact very much part of an Indian MiG-21.
But what about the other fragment that was matched to an F-16, suggesting it was part of the engine? We don’t have a good match to an F-16 there, either. On the left below, we see an F-16 GE F110 engine being removed from the aircraft. (U.S. Air Force photo) On the right, a close up of the fragment from Pakistan. Note the uniform rectangular distribution on the F-16 engine cover, while the piece in Pakistan in showing different patterns and thicknesses of supports on the piece, while also curving inward.
Here, YouTube gives us another interesting point of comparison. Reportedly, a MiG-21bis was shot down in Croatia in 1991, and the wreckage of the aircraft is on display at the “museum collection of the homeland war in Turanj“. The YouTube walkaround of this wreckage shows features which match better to a MiG-21 than an F-16.
In summary, there’s no compelling evidence offered as of yet that an F-16 would have been shot down, and all signs point to MiG-21 wreckage having been on display thus far.