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Falcon vs Bison: Verifying a MiG-21 Wreck

March 2, 2019

By Veli-Pekka Kivimäki

Translations: Русский

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.

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)

The imagery appears to show an exhaust consistent with an R-25 engine found on the MiG-21bis. Additional imagery from the scene helps us verify this is the tail section. For example, this image:

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.

Veli-Pekka Kivimäki

Veli-Pekka is a doctoral student at Finnish National Defence University, researching social media and open source intelligence. He has a long background in the technology industry, more recently focusing on defense research.

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  1. Rahul Khazanchi

    I understand guys. The manufacturing company of F-16 Lockheed Martin must be after you and presurrised you to best of their capability. Many countries have succembed to their pressure for buying their weapons. They have a very strong lobby in India also and their presence is in many media houses and senior government servants and politicians. You ‘bellingcat’ are just a small link in their propganda.

    If it is proved that if an old antique MIG 21 bison drowned a relatively modern F-16 it will be a huge media disaster for them and their reputation.

    God save them now.

    • Mair

      Rahul either that or you have lost the ability to objectively examine evidence. Why don’t you try and refute what this poster is saying as opposed to inventing conspiracy theories ?

      F-16s have been shot down multiple times in the past, wouldn’t be a big deal if they were again. The simple fact of the matter is that there has been no indisputable proof presented thus far to support said claim. We can only confirm that f16s were very likely used by Pakistan(as a result of the AM RAM missiles being displayed) but there’s no evidence that any objective, impartial observer would entertain proving that an f 16 was actually shot down.

      And this evidence can be readily obtained by a variety of means, none of which have been forthcoming thus far

      • Rahul Khazanchi

        The evidence ofcourse is with Pakistan Army, as the F-16 debris fell in Pakistan territory but obviously they are not fool enough to display them publically in media.

        Just asking were you physically present near the debris?

        • Grewal

          Words words and words….nothing to show as a proof even in this age when social media is faster than traditional media. I wonder how indians get so delusional….why havent ur pilot gave an interview to say that he actually did downed an f16 or his wingman did…or even to say that f16 were used by pak…accept it mate u people have asked for it for too long and now u got ur embarassement….pak doenst even use 2 seater f16 as attack aircraft…out of 70 f16s only 6 to 7 would be 2 seater….the 2 pilots r su 30 pilots which ur gov didnt claimed bcz of obivious embarassment…now stop making controversies out of plain truth.

  2. Bobby

    Veli your analysis is thorough. Unfortunately India is beating around the bushes, which is fair enough on their part since they lost two jets and a hellicopter. I have tried to dig it down myself but there is no evidence available whatsoever of shooting down of F16. IMO its Just a heresy.

  3. Peter

    Clearly, F-16 faced a strong adversary who happen to be using Mig-21 bison.
    The R-73 was too much for that F-16 pilot.

  4. Marcus

    Putting aside the politics of the issue, what we really have is two kinds of military aircraft, one old Soviet gear, and the other old American gear. And all we see are pictures of pieces of the old Soviet gear all over the ground.

    So, in conclusion….USA!USA!USA!

  5. Haider Bhuttor

    There were 3 pilots. A twin MKi 30 was used in the Balakot strikes. This was confirmed by the Indian side. Pakistan at best used a single jet F16 the A version. Okay, proven that Twin MKU 30 was used the night before. A wing commander is always accompanied with a wingman. MKi 30 twin was the wing man. Videos confirm that there were 3 pilots. Okay, a Sikh pilot from Pakistan is highly unlikely. I have met the man that caught the Sikh pilot. He even had blood on his shirt. The difference between ABhinandan and the Sikh pilot was that Sikh pilot shot straight on to the civilians. Abhinandan shot in the air. Sikh pilot may have died, or is in hospital. I can guarantee that MKi 30 went down that day. The third pilot drifted into the IOC. One of the pilots in panic locked IAF chopper in his radar. Lol IAF chief sacked. Modi, “It would have different had Rafaela plan was there”.

  6. Unbiased Indian

    Hi Velli,
    Good analysis and looks unbiased.

    The problem is that the other-side has lied blatantly everytime .. no F16 used! JeM not in Pakistan ! We were not involved in Kargil! no role in Mumbai attacks! etc etc. So tough to take their word at face value.

    But after going through your analysis, I think the onus this time is on the Indian Govt to show some conclusive proof.

    • Zafar

      Maybe now you’ll understand that the Indian side has also lied blatantly for years, only now they are so clearly caught in a lie for the whole world to see.

      • Unbiased Indian


        There is a difference between what media says and what government officially declares. Pakistani government lies blatantly.
        There is no one in the world community who believes what the pakistan govt says .. they flip flop all the time. They have no morals. What can be worse than not accepting the dead bodies of your own soldiers. Parvez Musharraf in his own book accepted 357 Pakistani soldiers were killed in Kargil war.

        Tell me a similar instance from Indian governments official claim. Don’t bother about the media. Pakistani media is no different. Even fox news in the US is all crap.

  7. Mandeep sodhi

    In detail analysis, taking into account all the minor details. Our PM Mr Modi and the confused media have not yet provided any conclusive evidence of Falco shoot down. They dont even bother how international press is looking at the whole episode. Mr Modi has shamed the whole nation.

  8. Curious Indian

    1.Which aircraft took down mig21?
    2.Which aam missile used?
    3.where is the video or picture from paf fighter plane taking down mig21?(can you prove the type of plane took down mig)
    Answer this first and analyze dg ispr pics. This is the country which is known for habitual lying.
    I am not saying you are wrong/lying,I’m saying that you are proving a case with little facts(one sided).
    Forget the twitterati,wait for sometime,let dust settle down.

    • Servus

      Amazing…so not even a captured Indian pilot is enough proof for you that a MIG21 was shot down?

      “’I’m saying that you are proving a case with little facts(one sided).”

      Difficult to imagine what would constitute a conclusive evidence for you that a MIG was downed. But I agree, that a wreckage of MIG21 is a “one sided fact” difficult also to imagine how a “not one sided” wreckage would look like.

      • Curious Indian

        I am not disputing the fact mig21 is down. Whether it is Failure or success, we own our effort.
        Again,I accept that mig21 is downed and its pilot is captured.
        I’m just asking which aircraft took it down,with what
        missile? Is it jf17 or f16. Where is the other half of the story.
        You are just showing the dead body(mig21)Where is the proverbial”murder weapon” and who is the “killer”.
        In the morning,DG ISPR(Pakistan)said they took down “two” fighters, total “three”chutes(pilot s) were seen. Two out of three pilots were captured(one is in custody and another one is in hospital,his claim) and one is missing.
        In the evening, same DG ISPR changed his version into only one in their custody. So,where is the second pilot who is supposed to be in the hospital?

        Again,Understand my question,mig21 is downed by Pakistan and pilot captured,which I fully accept. I simply asking which aircraft took it down? Release supporting evidence from the fighter plane(electronic and radar sigbatures)

        • Servus

          These are good questions but most likely a public forensic inquiry can not find the answers.
          Pakistani Air Force knows certainly the answers but military don’t like sharing such details as it discloses their capabilities.

          But who know, maybe some clues will surface in the public domain.

  9. AJSingh

    I will certainly concede that the Indian press(most tv commentators) are a mess when it comes to identifying any military stuff. It is embarrassing how poor their reporting can be. Yes, quite frustrating. Ignorance for sure at times…but NOT lies. There is a difference.
    However, the Paki press is even worse…blatantly making up a story to suit their audience. Lies galore.
    Even the ISI (military).
    Okay, we went from initial statement, of 3 pilots…
    One captured, one dead…one in hospital. All true.
    HOWEVER, one captured was IAF pilot, one dead and one in hospital later turned out to be Pakis.
    Interesting how the dead and injured pilots were never mentioned again by the Pakis once they discovered what had actually happened.

    • Shahzad Aslam

      Hahhaha do you think Pakistan airforce also don’t know their aircraft is down ? I mean men on controls were playing cards when all the action was going on. It’s Pakistan army that said 2 aircraft down. Most probably they are not emphasizing the second kill to not let Indians embarrassed more which can provoke them more to escalate the war situation on border.

    • Ali

      I’ve an answer of your question mr ajsing
      lemme tel you one thing that we’re not waiting for your words what will you say about us so plz use for energy for your army to make them at least perfect army if we’re wrong then why your government did not show any evidence publically
      well, let’s come to the main topic you ask about 3 pilots, we captured 2 IAF Pilot as per DG ISPR statement then after he changed his statement because Abhinand was indian but the other pilot was not indian & for your information he belongs from Devil Country that’s the only reason our high administration decide to keep this pilot away from media and public to investigate why they try to cross LOC & if you watch news you’ll hear that one country in this world they install anti-missile system in their own country for safety, anyway at the end now I demand you that
      just go to your government and ask them to show any evidence that they shot down our F16Jet.
      Note: we are a peaceful Country a peaceful nation but if anyone tries to destroy our peace then we’ve right show them our power because we’ve fear only of ALLAH & we will destroy you & we will change your any adventure to misadventure. Remember.

      • Unbiased Indian

        You are a peaceful nation!!! Really!!!! Hahaha.
        Name one country which agrees to that !!

        You cause trouble in Iran, Afghanistan, India. World would be a much safer place without you.


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