With the exception of one engagement over Syria in 2017, the United States has not found any of its fighters in a good old-fashioned “dogfight” since the early 1990s. Throughout much of the world, the same can be said for most other national militaries. As a result (and bolstered by new fighter technologies), there’s a growing sentiment within the defense media and among some defense officials that the days of dogfights are gone forever.
However, with diplomatic tensions between India and Pakistan recently erupting into violence tens of thousands of feet above Kashmir, air-to-air combat may actually prove to be one of the most important theaters of modern warfare.
In the United States, America’s varied fleets of fighters with disparate specialties have largely been tasked with conducting air strikes on ground targets. This sort of air-to-ground strategy heavily informed the design and construction of America’s most advanced fighter platform, the F-35. Still, reports suggest the stealth fighter manages just fine in most dogfighting scenarios that it’s encountered in training. After nearly two straight decades of using America’s fighters in this manner, it’s easy to see how even many fighter pilots themselves tend to discount the importance of dogfighting in a modern pilot’s skill set. As one F-35 pilot recently told NEWSREP, dogfighting may be “less than 10%” of what a fighter pilot needs to be good at in today’s Air Force.
Details remain hazy regarding the air-to-air engagement between Pakistani and Indian fighters earlier this week, but according to Indian media outlets, the battle may have included as many as 32 fighters. The Pakistani contingent reportedly included eight F-16s, four Mirage III aircraft and four Chinese-made JF-17 “Thunder” fighters. The same report indicated that the Indian Air Force fielded four Sukhoi Su-30MKIs, two upgraded Mirage 2000s, and two MiG-21s. The remaining jets were not identified.