The United States says it is questioning the government of Pakistan to find out if they used U.S.-built F-16 jets to shoot down an Indian warplane.
The sale agreement Pakistan signed with the U.S. when they bought the F-16s prohibits their use in certain circumstances. Such an agreement is common with foreign sales of U.S. technology and hardware, although the specifics are unknown.
The U.S. Embassy in Islamabad said on Sunday it was looking into reports that Pakistan used F-16 jets to shoot down the Indian pilot, a potential violation of Washington’s military sale agreements that limit how Pakistan can use the planes.
“We are aware of these reports and are seeking more information,” a U.S. Embassy spokesperson said. “We take all allegations of misuse of defense articles very seriously.”
While Pakistan has denied using F-16 jets during a dogfight that downed an Indian Mig-21 warplane over Kashmir on Wednesday, it has not specified which planes it used, though it assembles Chinese-designed JF-17 fighter jets on its soil.
Pakistan has a long history of buying U.S. military hardware, especially in the years after 2001 when Islamabad was seen as a key partner in the U.S.-led War on Terror.
Pakistan bought several batches of F-16 planes, built by Lockheed Martin Corp, from Washington before relations soured and the United States cut off subsidized sales in 2016.
It is not clear what exactly these so-called “end-user agreements” restrict Pakistan from doing. “The U.S. Government does not comment on or confirm pending investigations of this nature,” the U.S. Embassy added.
On Thursday Indian officials displayed to reporters parts of what they called an air-to-air missile that can only be fired from F-16 jets, alleging they were used to bomb its side of the disputed Kashmir border on Wednesday.
The JF-17 is a capable aircraft, but could it have shot down a MiG-21? A retired Pakistani air force officer tweeted that it was, indeed, the Pakistani-Chinese jet that shot down the MiG.
The MiG-21 is considered ancient by military aviation standards, but India claims the pilot who was shot down managed to bring down an F-16 first. If true, it would be the first recorded kill of an F-16 in history.
U.S. restrictions on the use of F-16 by Pakistan may or may not have been violated in this instance. The fighting took place over the disputed Kashmir province, and Pakistan may have its own ideas about where its sovereignty over the region begins and ends.
Tensions between the two nuclear powers appear to be easing somewhat, but it wouldn’t take much to reignite the conflict.