President Ram Nath Kovind on Monday awarded the Vir Chakra to Group Captain Abhinandan Varthaman who, in 2019, shot down a Pakistani F-16 fighter jet during a dogfight over the Line of Control (LOC) in the aftermath of the Balakot airstrike. Abhinandan received the third-highest wartime gallantry award at the Rashtrapati Bhavan in New Delhi for showing “conspicuous courage” and demonstrating “gallantry in the face of the enemy while disregarding personal safety” with an “exceptional sense of duty”.
What happened on February 27, 2019?
A day before, India had conducted an airstrike on Jaish-e-Mohammed’s (JeM) camp in Pakistan’s Balakot after crossing the Line of Control (LoC) in a major “non-military pre-emptive action”. On February 27, a large force of Pakistan Air Force fighter aircraft consisting of advanced fourth-generation F-16 and JF-17 was detected heading towards the LoC at around 9.55am. Within minutes, Abhinandan, then a Wing Commander, scrambled to intercept the jets and scanned the low altitude airspace with the airborne intercept (AI) radar of his MiG-21 Bison.
“Displaying exceptional air combat acumen and knowledge of the enemy’s tactics, Abhinandan scanned the low altitude airspace with his airborne intercept (AI) radar and picked up an enemy aircraft that was flying low to ambush the Indian fighter interceptor aircraft,” Abhinandan’s citation reads.
He alerted the other formation pilots about this surprise threat and gathered his wingman in an offensive formation against the hostile Pakistani jet which, according to the citation, had started dropping weapons on Indian Army positions. The “audacious and aggressive manoeuvre” by Wing Commander Abinandan “forced the enemy aircraft into tactical chaos”. The enemy aircraft, including the ones that were yet to launch their air to ground weapons, were forced to turn back.
Abhinandan pursued the retreating F-16 fighter jet and shot it down with his onboard missile.
“However, in the melee, one of the enemy aircraft fired multiple advanced BVR missiles, one of which hit his aircraft forcing him to eject in enemy territory,” the citation further states.
He was captured by the enemy in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (PoK) and was repatriated on March 1, 2019. Despite being captured by Pakistan, the citation says, Abhinandan continued to display exceptional resolve in dealing with the adversary in a stoic, brave and dignified manner.