Abhinandan's 51 Squadron to get citation for downing Pakistan's F-16
The Chief of Indian Air Force, Rakesh Kumar Singh Bhadauria, will award a unit citation to 51 Squadron, to which Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman belonged. The unit will be duly awarded for thwarting Pakistan's attempt to breach Indian airspace in February when tensions between both South Asian neighbors reached new heights. Commanding Officer Group Captain Satish Pawar will receive the award on October 8.
On the intervening night of February 25 and 26, 12 IAF jets bombed Jaish-e-Mohammed's facility in Balakot, to avenge the Pulwama attack of February 14. A day after airstrikes, Pakistani jets tried entering Indian airspace but their attempts were thwarted by Abhinandan's squadron. After downing the superior F-16, piloting his MiG-21 Bison, he was captured by Pakistan, and released days later after global pressure.
Apart from Squadron 51, Squadron 9, whose pilots flew the French-origin Mirage 2000 jets, to demolish Jaish's camp will also be awarded. The discreet operation, which proved IAF's mettle to the world, was code-named "Operation Bandar". In fact, Squadron Leader Minty Agarwal's 601 Signal will also be honored, on Air Force Day, for its attempts in preventing the attack by Pakistan, reports said.
To recall, Abhinandan has already been awarded for the utmost bravery which he displayed in February. He was conferred with the third-highest wartime gallantry award, Vir Chakra, on 73rd Independence Day. After his release from Pakistan, he went through the standard protocol of de-briefing etc. He re-started flying in August after the Institute of Aerospace Medicine, Bengaluru, declared him fit to take the skies.
In fact, last month, Abhinandan flew with the former IAF Chief BS Dhanoa, for the latter's last sortie before retirement. The star pilots flew in the two-seated trainer version of MiG-21 type 69 fighter aircraft. While Dhanoa sat in the front, his junior took the rear seat. They took off from the Pathankot airbase. Interestingly, Dhanoa had also flown with Abhinandan's father earlier.
"We have got things in common - both of us ejected. Second, we both fought Pakistan. I fought during the Kargil war (he commanded IAF's 17 Squadron) and Abhinandan after the Balakot airstrike," Dhanoa said.