There have been fierce debates on social media regarding the downing of a Pakistani F-16 by Indian Air Force’s MiG-21 Bison fighter, flown by Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman on February 27. Pakistan has always denied that its F-16 was a part of the intense aerial engagement, while India claimed to shoot down a F-16 warplane of Pakistan, the Indian Air Force (IAF) lost a MiG-21 Bison during the fierce engagement between the air forces of the two countries along the Line of Control (LoC). The Indian Air Force had stated that an R-73 missile — which is a short-range infra-red guided weapon supplied by Russia — had shot down the Pakistani F-16.
On Monday, several Pakistani users took to Twitter and Facebook to circulated an image showing the wreckage of two missiles. The wreckage was described as being two R-73 missiles carried by the MiG-21 flown by Varthaman, which crashed in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir. However, several Indian social media users and defence experts pointed out these discrepancies about the image being circulated.
2 R-73 missiles recovered from the wreckage of the MiG-21 unfired while Indians claim that Mig 21 downed F16 before being shot down. Classic liars IAF & Indian media trying to cover up the humiliation they faced at the hands of PAF by the Grace of Allah. Have little bit shame. pic.twitter.com/3NqE20PKRW— Amer Khan (@KhanAmerKhan) March 17, 2019
Several Pakistani social media handles claimed that as the Indian Air Force MiG-21s could carry only two missiles, the image proved Varthaman could not have shot down an F-16.
However, a closer inspection of the image revealed that the purported wreckage shows two different weapons, with distinct physical features. The weapon in the background resembles an R-73 missile, with its characteristic control fins near the seeker and above the exhaust. The missile in the foreground appears to have larger dimensions and has larger control fins in the mid-body section, which looks similar to the Russian-origin R-77 medium-range radar-guided missile. The R-73 missile, which has a length of about 2.9m, has a range of around 30km, while the R-77 is longer at 3.6 m and has a range of over 80 km, as per a report in The Week.