Can an old MiG-21 aircraft destroy a more modern F-16? Yes, in fact an Indian pilot flying a version of the MiG-21 called Bison allegedly shot down a Pakistani F-16 using a Russian R-73 Vympel air to air missile, known as a high off bore-sight air-to-air weapon. 

For the record, Pakistan continues to deny one of its F-16s was shot down. But denials notwithstanding, the evidence seems increasingly compelling against Pakistan’s denial.

The R-73, a short-range missile, can be controlled by a helmet-mounted sight, allowing the pilot to look to his right or left and launch a missile that will turn in the direction the pilot’s head is pointing. Later Russian aircraft including the MiG-29 had a helmet-mounted site (HMS) called the Shchel-3UM.   This system was integrated into India’s MiG-21 Bison’s by Russian industry starting in 2006. In fact, the Indian MiG 21s received a number of upgrades – new cockpit displays and electronics, improved engines and even a coating on the aircraft to reduce radar signature.

The upgraded Bison model is much more capable than its older antecedent, the classic MiG-21, which entered service as far back as 1964. It is even better than the last of the MiGs produced by Russia, the “bis” model – bis means major improvement. But even far older MiG models were effective under certain conditions.

Fighter pilot ‘aces’

For example, a number of fighter pilot “aces” from then North Vietnam shot down American front line aircraft during the Vietnam War, including some F-104 Starfighters and the advanced third-plus generation F-4 Phantom. The Phantom, especially, was a big, powerful twin-engined aircraft that could carry a large bombing load. In US service it was also nuclear capable.

A total of 37 Phantoms – F-4B, F-4C, F-4D, F-4E and F-4J – were knocked out by Vietnamese MiG-21 pilots, mainly using Russian-supplied AA-2 Atoll missiles, a copy of the old US Sidewinder Aim-9B which the Russians got from China in 1958, or by using their 23 mm canons (Gryazev-Shipunov GSh-23L) mounted internally in the MiG.

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