One of the anti-ISIS air coalition's biggest fears have come true: A pilot being captured by ISIS militants. The Jordanian F-16AM was flying over the ISIS stronghold of Raqqa, Syria this morning when some say it was engaged by a shoulder-fired heat seeking missile. Later, images appeared on twitter of pieces of the jet and its pilot being plucked from a nearby waterway.
Update: This is said to be footage of the shoot-down although it is not yet confirmed. One militant is shown shouldering what looks like an SA-7:
The Jordanian pilot, who appeared to have ejected from the stricken F-16 Viper, was seen being led half naked by a group of smiling ISIS fighters. Later, the pilot's identification cards popped up on Twitter, as well as personal photos showing him in front of his F-16 mount. The Jordanian Air Force has since confirmed that they have indeed lost an F-16 over Raqqa.
ISIS is notoriously brutal to its prisoners, beheading even those who were executing neutral humanitarian aid missions, let alone a fighter pilot that has been actively striking ISIS targets for the past few months. Considering the pilot's location, basically captured in the worst location possible, a rescue mission is doubtful.
It is known that ISIS has man-portable air defense systems, but this would be the first time one was effectively used against coalition tactical aircraft. If a SAM did indeed take down the Jordanian Air Force F-16 Viper, then a major shift in tactics may occur to keep such an incident from happening again, although it seems odd that any coalition aircraft would be flying within the MANPADs envelope deep inside Syria. It is possible that a mechanical failure or pilot error brought the jet within the range of ISIS shoulder-fired missiles. If the jet was shot down by a larger and more advanced commandeered radar guided surface-to-air missile, than operational tactics changes may be even more severe.
Today's terrible news also reminds us just how risky the anti-ISIS air operation is. Every single day that the strikes continue, the risk of losing an aircrew increases as the enemy's tactics adapt to the aerial threat. So far, coalition strikes have only been able to stop the rapid spread of ISIS across Mesopotamia, and have done little to cripple the militant's quasi nation-state operation.
We will update you as this story unfolds.
Tyler Rogoway is a defense journalist and photographer who maintains the website Foxtrot Alpha for Jalopnik.com You can reach Tyler with story ideas or direct comments regarding this or any other defense topic via the email address Tyler@Jalopnik.com