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Geneva Convention applies to captured IAF pilots, so Pakistan must treat them humanely and with respect

There is nothing to crow about in the shooting down of each other's jets. Actually, the wonderment and surprise would come if a fighter was able to deflect a missile homing in on it. Chaff (tiny pieces of foil) was once considered to be a decoy, but those days are pretty much gone as is climbing into the sun to create a second heat source and confuse the missile sensors. Releasing high-intensity heat flares to generate more heat than the exhaust might still work but avoiding radar sites, jamming radars or employing electronic countermeasures (ECMs) to block the memory of the missile locking in on the pilot are some of other measures available.

Amazingly, in the 1980s, stealth aircraft simply outflew the missile, so it could not catch up. Another possible option is to come down to ground-level, so that the back-scatter on the terrain gives the missile multiple signals and messes with its circuitry. So it is most likely India did lose two jets and that Pakistan does have two pilots in custody. It is just as likely as our having shot down an F-16 Fighting Falcon and sighting any other intruder and putting it down.

 Geneva Convention applies to captured IAF pilots, so Pakistan must treat them humanely and with respect

Representational Image. AFP

One of the names released by Pakistan is Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman and in case this is true, he and the second pilot (presumably in hospital) have to be treated and protected as Prisoners of War under the Geneva Convention of 1929 (first promulgated in 1864 and updated by the additional protocol of 1977 that demands that soldiers, sailors and airmen be treated with respect at all times). If Pakistan parades them around or tries to make an exhibition, it will be against all tenets of civilised conduct.

The convention clearly states PoWs cannot be prosecuted for taking a direct part in hostilities. Their detention is not a form of punishment, but only aims to prevent further participation in the conflict. They must be released and repatriated without delay after the end of hostilities.

They must be treated humanely in all circumstances. The absence of an official declaration of war does not deactivate the scope of the convention or its intent. It clearly states: The Geneva Conventions are rules that apply only in times of armed conflict and seek to protect people who are not or are no longer taking part in hostilities. It is hostile, the wing commander is no longer taking part in the hostilities and so is covered by the Geneva Convention.

Ask a fighter pilot, including those shot down on Wednesday, and he will agree that prayer is probably a better bet than all these other tactics put together when out-thinking a fourth generation missile. Although modern fighters are largely fitted with radar homing and warning systems that alert them to a lock and even in advanced versions, give a visual of the missile closing in, it isn't that easy to react in the very small window. While some manuals suggest multiple rolls to disengage the weapon from its trail, others have the capability to recognise the sort of firepower being aimed towards them. Their glare shield will specific aural warnings. US fighter pilot John Cheshire (not related to the famous Group Captain Cheshire who was on the Nagasaki mission) says it like this:

With dots, think like they are BBs. That means anti-aircraft guns.
With dashes, think like they are telephone poles. That means SAMs.
With a straight line strobe, that means a fighter aircraft is going to shoot you right now.

Ace pilots even train in complex aerial manoeuvres in an attempt to outwit the missile coming at them. This is not an easy option fighting G-forces and requires patience, fortitude, guts and gumption to stay cool when you can see the missile coming straight for you. One also has to remember that it is not just the well-trained top gun who is integral to the escape. He has to respect the performance envelope of his plane and ensure he does not cross that line and break up in the sky. This is why maintenance is so vital for an air force and why older planes become vulnerable. If the aircraft shot down are of older vintage and have hours on them, they will always be less efficient in their capability.

The essence lies in the attacked creating maximum distancing from the missile or what is technically known as terminal 'miss' distance. The Mitsubishi Corporation made a report in which it said of evasive tactics: The aircraft may take a maximum G-turn, produce linear acceleration with maximum thrust or engage in an optimal evasive manoeuvre.

All this is theoretical and even if the maths of angle, descent, speed, attitude, attitude, geometry, create an equation of success the human factor and response time and the plane's own limitations will not ensure success. So it is not the enemy showing prowess, it is pure technology that brings aircraft down.

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Updated Date: Feb 28, 2019 17:19:26 IST

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