The world has been watching the unfolding conflagration with Pakistan and Iran with bated breath. Morsels of information have been difficult to come by. The tone of Pakistan’s statement after the “pre-emptive strikes” indicated no further escalation. But then came a post on social media – an American-supplied F-16 and Chinese-supplied JF-17 fighter jets have been shot down by Iran.
The development is eerily similar to what transpired between India and Pakistan some five years ago. After some time, the news got a life of its own before being debunked as a false one.
It is difficult to pinpoint where the information originated, but it was widely promoted by prominent Indian accounts and received a lot of attention before dying out.
A social media handle that goes by “The Frontal Force” with over 100,000 followers, including some very prominent names from the Indian media, claimed: “Pakistan Airforce sent JF-17 to the area where Iran fired missiles, but one of the JF-17 is now missing as it was close to the Iranian border, likely shot down by Iranian air defenses.” The post bears a time stamp of 10.41 am on January 17, 2024. The post was seen 1,92,000 times.
Pakistan Airforce sent JF-17 to the area where Iran fired missiles but one of the JF-17 is now missing as it was close to Iranian border, likely shot down by Iranian air defenses.
— Frontalforce 🇮🇳 (@FrontalForce) January 17, 2024
However, Pakistan Air Force’s (PAF) retaliatory strikes in the Iranian territory were reported to have taken place in the wee hours of January 18.
On January 18, the account posted again: “There are reports that at least 2 PAF jets which were attacking Iran have been shot by Iranian Air defenses which were on alert mode since yesterday.” The post had nearly one million impressions.
There are reports that atleast 2 PAF jets which were attacking Iran have been shot by Iranian Air defenses which were on alert mode since yesterday.
— Frontalforce 🇮🇳 (@FrontalForce) January 18, 2024
Chinese-built fighter jets JF-17 ‘Thunder’ and J-10C’ Vigorous Dragon’ were used by Pakistan Air Force in its military operations against Iran. PAF also deployed Chinese Unmanned Aerial Vehicle Wing Loong II in its operation named ‘Marg Bar Sarmachar’, which loosely translates to “death to the guerrilla fighters”.
The strikes in Sistan and Baluchistan were preceded by Iran’s attack Tuesday on Pakistani soil using ballistic missiles. The two countries share a 900 km long porous border.
Another account that goes by the name “Voice Unchained” wrote: “Iran has just shot down one F-16 and JF-17 of Pakistan air force. Love how they are battling themselves.” The post shared on January 20 also shared footage, which the account shared with a disclaimer that it did not belong to the actual incident.
The tweet has got 16,400 views, and the video was reshared by other accounts.
Iran has just shot down one F-16 and JF-17 of Pakistan air force.
Love how they are battling themselves 🤣
(Disclaimer: Footage not of actual incident) pic.twitter.com/Zd9UnhwY3E
— Voice Unchained (@VocUnchained) January 20, 2024
This video was earlier shared by a small account that goes by the name of “Shaligram Prasad Singh” with the caption, “Iran has just shot down one F-16 and JF-17 of Pakistan air force.”
The post was reshared by several hundred accounts and was seen 1,76,500 times.
Another account named Akshit Singh (35,000 followers) widely popped up on Google search when digging for the latest information on the alleged shootdown, reshared the video along with a post: “Iran has just shot down one F-16 and JF-17 of Pakistan air force. Both jets were trying to intrude on Iran’s territory. Another major embarrassment for the USA and China. This war is escalating.”
Thirteen thousand people liked the post, and it was seen 5,42,000 times.
Iran has just shot down one F-16 and JF-17 of Pakistan air force.
Both the jets were trying to intrude Iran territory.
Another major embarrassment for the USA and China.
This war is escalating.
— Akshit Singh 🇮🇳 (@IndianSinghh) January 18, 2024
EurAsian Times identified at least 12 different accounts from where the fake news was being spread. Such was the impact of the disinformation that a serving Indian ambassador called the Eurasian Times to share the ‘breaking news’ and enquire about the latest developments.
The Interest In JF-17 ‘Thunder’
The news would have been wishful thinking on the part of a lot of Indians, who would have wanted to see JF-17 shot down. After all, the aircraft is built by one arch nemesis of India (China) and flown by the other (Pakistan).
Also, the Joint Fighter-17 was used by Pakistan in Operation Swift Retort in response to India’s Balakot strikes in February 2019. The ensuing dogfight saw an Indian MiG-21 being shot at, and an Indian pilot was held captive by Pakistan.
JF-17 Thunder is a single-engine, lightweight, multi-role combat aircraft jointly developed by China and Pakistan. PAC Kamra has delivered nearly 120 JF-17 Block I and II fighter jets to the PAF since 2009.
Since its induction in PAF in 2007, it has seen a slew of crashes. There have been reports of the aircraft being grounded several times due to issues like cracks in guide vanes, exhaust nozzles, and flame stabilizers.
Myanmar, another country to acquire Chinese JF-17 fighters, was forced to ground its fleet owing to technical malfunctions.
Reports suggest the reason behind the grounding in Myanmar was that the airframe of JF-17 reported “vibration issues.’ The Irrawaddy Times notes: “The airframe is vulnerable to damage, especially in its wingtips and hardpoints, when the aircraft encounters strong gravitational forces, according to a former pilot of the Myanmar Air Force.”
The JF-17 fighter jet, known as the “pearl” of PAF, is reportedly facing maintenance woes as US sanctions disrupted spare parts supplies in the global market.
One of the primary issues affecting the JF-17 fleet is the unavailability of spare parts and maintenance capabilities. Pakistan relies heavily on China for these components, and delays or disruptions in the supply chain can lead to grounded aircraft.
The exact number of inoperable JF-17s has not been publicly disclosed by the Pakistani authorities, but reports suggest that a portion of the fleet is currently grounded due to the challenges mentioned above.
China has emerged as a major defense supplier to the debt-ridden country that faces an exponential spike in terrorism.
The PAF is also in dire need of acquiring new assets as it looks forward to retiring its aging fleet of aircraft in the next decade. The PAF will phase out its 250 aircraft. Amongst the aircraft being retired are its oldest fighter jets, the French-built Mirage III. Another fleet of Mirage 5 is also under the retirement plan.
- Ritu Sharma has been a journalist for over a decade, writing on defense, foreign affairs, and nuclear technology.
- She can be reached at ritu.sharma (at) mail.com
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