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IAF Abhinandan Varthaman receives Vir Chakra today for shooting down Pakistan’s F-16 fighter plane

President Ram Nath Kovind awarded Group Captain Abhinandan Varthaman the Vir Chakra on Monday at an investiture ceremony at Rashtrapati Bhavan in New Delhi, for shooting down a Pakistani F-16 jet during a dogfight over the Line of Control (LoC) on February 27, 2019.

After the Param Vir Chakra and Maha Vir Chakra, the Vir Chakra is India’s third-highest wartime gallantry award.

The dogfight in which Abhinandan was involved occurred a day after the Mirage-2000s of the Indian Air Force (IAF) struck targets in Pakistan’s Balakot in retaliation for the Pulwama suicide attack in Kashmir, which killed 40 Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) men on February 14, 2019.

According to Abhinandan’s citation for the award, despite Pakistan’s “immense numerical and technological superiority,” he bravely engaged the Pakistani aircraft package, and his aggressive manoeuvres “forced the enemy aircraft into tactical chaos.”

“All enemy aircraft, including the rear echelon aircraft that had yet to fire their air-to-ground weapons, turned back after that.” “In the ensuing aerial combat, Wing Commander Varthaman Abhinandan pursued a retreating enemy fighter bomber aircraft and shot down an F-16 aircraft with his onboard missile,” the citation read.

After the 1999 Kargil war, when Squadron Leader Ajay Ahuja and Wing Commander AK Sinha were awarded the wartime gallantry medal, Abhinandan is the IAF’s first Vir Chakra recipient. The award was given to Ahuja after his death.

Officials said that an Indian president last awarded the wartime medal to Major Manoj Deshpande, Major Amitabh Roy, and Havildar Chuni Lal for special missions on the Line of Control with Pakistan in November 2002 at the Rashtrapati Bhavan’s Durbar Hall.

Two Kirti Chakras and ten Shaurya Chakras were among the awards presented by Kovind on Monday. For his bravery in a counter-insurgency operation in Jammu and Kashmir three years ago, Sapper Prakash Jadhav was posthumously awarded the Kirti Chakra. For operations in Jammu and Kashmir, Major Vibhuti Shankar Dhoundiyal and Naib Subedar Sombir were posthumously awarded the Shaurya Chakra. After the Ashok Chakra, the Kirti Chakra and Shaurya Chakra are the country’s second and third highest peacetime gallantry awards.

Harshpal Singh, a CRPF deputy commandant, received the Kirti Chakra from the president. Colonel Ajay Singh Kushwah, Lieutenant Colonel Jyoti Lama, Major Konjengbam Bijendra Singh, Major Maheshkumar Bhure, Naib Subedar Narender Singh, Havildar Alok Kumar Dubey, Naik Naresh Kumar, and Amit Singh Rana of the Indian Navy are among the Shaurya Chakra recipients.

“Displaying exceptional air combat acumen and knowledge of the enemy’s tactics,” Abhinandan’s citation read, “Abhinandan scanned the low altitude airspace with his airborne intercept (AI) radar and picked up an enemy aircraft flying low to ambush the Indian fighter-interceptor aircraft… The other formation pilots were alerted to this unexpected threat by Abhinandan.”

He was then promoted to the rank of group captain earlier this month after serving as a wing commander. An army colonel is the equivalent of an IAF group captain.

Abhinandan, then 35, made military aviation history when he shot down an F-16 fighter jet just seconds before his MiG-21 Bison was hit by a missile, forcing him to eject. Experts hailed it as the first-ever kill of an F-16 by a MiG-21 Bison, two different generations of fighter jets. He was apprehended after bailing out of his plane, but Pakistan handed him over to India on March 1, 2019, after nearly 60 hours of detention.

On Independence Day 2019, he was awarded the Vir Chakra. “Despite being captured by the enemy, he continued to show exceptional resolve in dealing with the adversary in a stoic, brave, and dignified manner until he was repatriated on March 1, 2019,” according to the citation.

When a large Pakistan Air Force fighter aircraft package was detected heading towards the Line of Control in February 2019, Abhinandan was assigned to a MiG-21 Bison squadron and was on “operational readiness platform” duty at air force station Srinagar. Advanced beyond visual range (BVR) air-to-air missiles and modern air-to-ground standoff weapons were carried by the hostile jets.

Abhinandan was dispatched five minutes after the package was discovered to intercept it.

“He then solidified the retaliation by forming an offensive formation with his wingmen against the hostile Pakistani aircraft dropping weapons on Indian Army positions.” The enemy aircraft were thrown into tactical chaos as a result of this audacious and aggressive manoeuvre,” it continued.

According to the citation, the wing commander then pursued a retreating enemy fighter plane and shot down an F-16 in the ensuing aerial battle. “However, during the melee, one of the enemy aircraft fired multiple advanced BVR missiles at his aircraft, one of which hit him and forced him to eject in enemy territory.”

The IAF’s Mirages hit three targets in Balakot on February 26 with five Israeli-made Spice 2000 bombs with penetrator warheads that allowed them to pierce through rooftops before exploding inside for maximum damage.

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