The Indian Air Force has recommended Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman for Vir Chakra, one of India’s top wartime gallantry awards
Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman is likely to be awarded Vir Chakra for shooting down an F-16 along the Line of Control in an aerial engagement with the Pakistan Air Force on February 27.
The Vir Chakra is the third highest gallantry award in the military after the Param Vir Chakra and the Mahavir Chakra. In the past, pilots who shot down enemy fighter jets during wars were all awarded Vir Chakra.
The five Mirage-2000 fighter pilots involved in the operation to bomb a terror base in Pakistan’s Balakot will also be awarded the Vayu Sena Medal for gallantry.
“If the awards are being announced on Independence Day, it will be an acknowledgement of the professionalism and courage displayed by the fighter pilots in missions where stakes were very high,” Air Vice Marshal Manmohan Bahadur (retd), additional director general, Centre for Air Power Studies opined.
The news comes at a time when Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman has been transferred out of Srinagar to another airbase along the Pakistan border. A defence ministry official said that “security considerations prompted the transfer” and the new home base of Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman will “be another front-line fighter base.” The IAF, however, asserted that the transfer orders to another base are “routine”. During the aerial engagement on February 27, Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman, who was flying a vintage Russian-made Mig-21 fighter, shot down an F-16 that belonged to the Pakistan Air Force. Shortly after, Wing Commander Abhinandan’s Mig-21 was shot down in the Pakistani territory where he was taken, prisoner. Wing Commander Abhinandan was released by Pakistan on March 1 after pressure from India. The fighter pilot has not yet been given medical clearance to resume flying a combat aircraft.