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Downing of Jordan’s F-16: An anti-ISIS game changer

The downing of the Jordanian F-16 over Syria’s Raqqa last week could be a major turning point

Mohamed Chebarro

Published: Updated:

The downing of the Jordanian F-16 over Syria’s Raqqa last week could be a major turning point for the loosely built U.S.-led alliance fighting ISIS in Syria and Iraq.

It is still unclear whether the plane crashed, as the U.S. said, due to a mechanical failure or human error. Regardless, the incident led to ISIS’s capture of the plane’s 26-year-old Jordanian pilot.

A nightmare scenario for the coalition would be for ISIS’s claim that it downed the plane using a heat-seeking missile to be true.

The F-16 is renowned for being one of the most advanced fighter jets in the world and is rarely downed by enemy fire in various theatres of war.

Deflecting attack

Jordan’s 64 planes are from the refurbished second generation model of the F-16, but this should not undermine the avionics, electronics and counter-measure weaponry on hand in the cockpit to defend the plane, namely flares that could distract any heat-seeking missile targeting the plane.

The international alliance should return to the drawing board to assess the dangers and fault lines

Mohamed Chebarro

Experts in military aviation go further to hint at sophisticated scenarios that could have led to the downing of the Jordanian air force’s F16.

Some experts I have spoken to suggest that a radar tracking tool is key to lock on the fighter jet as it approaches its target area. Such a radar must be linked to a missile battery capable of connecting and directing a missile toward the plane through heat seeking or a tracking radar.

Turning point?

An F16 should be able to avoid such threats with its electronic counter measures. In the case of the Jordanian Air Force plane, further radar or ground electronics could have been deployed to jam the plane’s defensive radar which would make the plane vulnerable to enemy fire. The Royal Jordanian Air Force is maintaining that ISIS did not shoot down the plane, but it simply called on the terrorist organization to release the pilot.

However, if ISIS is found to be behind the downing of the plane, then it is a turning point and Coalition planners should be worried and must urgently review tactics.

I believe that all indications point to a possible state actor with the military and technical assets to shoot down the aircraft. Syrian air defense systems could be used - by ISIS or others – to shoot down coalition planes.

Hence the international alliance should return to the drawing board to assess the dangers and fault lines in a bid to ensure that ISIS or other actors cannot in the future disrupt the air campaign.

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Mohamed Chebarro is currently an Al Arabiya TV News program Editor. He is also an award winning journalist, roving war reporter and commentator. He covered most regional conflicts in the 90s for MBC news and later headed Al Arabiya’s bureau in Beirut and London.

Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not reflect Al Arabiya English's point-of-view.