India’s Flying Ace, Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman is all set to receive the Vir Chakra, for shooting down the technologically superior F-16 Fighter Jet, following the events at Balakot, on the countries 73rd Independence Day. The gallant Air force officer will receive the Vir Chakra, the countries third highest gallantry award from the President of India, the Supreme Commander of Armed Forces!
The Making of the Air Warrior:
Hailing from Thirupanamoor, a village around nineteen kilometres from Kanchipuram. The air warrior was born to a distinguished Air Force family. Abhinanadan’s father was Air Marshall Simhakutty Varthaman, and grandfather were both highly decorated MiG-21 fighter pilots. His mother was a doctor with the organisation doctors without borders, who volunteered to serve in several conflict zones such as Nigeria, The Second Gulf War, Iran and Haiti. She had faced several close calls in her efforts to save lives.
With a family of Bravehearts, it was perhaps natural that he donned the uniform, and flew the Russian made fighter aircraft into the heart of the adversary! Wing Commander Abhinandan completed his schooling from the prestigious Sainik school. It was at this military school where he was groomed to join the National Defence Academy, the country’s premier Tri-Services college. Following three years of rigorous training at the NDA, the wing commander completed his last year of Pre-Commission training at the famed Airforce Academy in Dhundigal. Passing out from the airforce academy Abhinanadan was commissioned as a flying officer, on 19 June 2004. He went on to complete his post-commission training at Indian Air Force Facilities in Bathinda and Halwara.
Wing Commander Abhinandan was promoted to the rank of flight lieutenant precisely two years after passing out of the Dhundigal Air Force Academy and was promoted to Squadron Leader, on 8 July 2010. Abhinandan started his career as a flying ace on the Sukhoi 30 fighter aircraft before being assigned to the MiG-21 Bison.
Post Balakot Dogfight:
Following the Pulwama terror attack which claimed the lives of over 44 Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) personnel, the Indian government tasked the Air Force to launch ‘Operation Bandar.’ The Indian Airforce, on 26 February 2019 sent Mirage 2000 fighters across the Line of Control (LoC) to neutralise Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM) camps. The Pakistani Air Force responded to the Balakot Air Strikes by crossing into Indian territory to destroy military Targets, however anticipating a Pakistani misadventure IAF jet were on standby.
Wing Commander Abhinandan was flying a MiG-21 Bison which was deployed to counter the Pakistani intrusion into Indian territory, intercepting an enemy aircraft the gallant officer engaged the enemy F-16 fighter aircraft in a high octane dogfight. In hot pursuit of the enemy jet, Abhinandan crossed into hostile territory, neutralising the adversary in his own home.
The Indian Pilots own jet was locked on by the enemy pilot, with wing commander Abhinandam managing to eject in the nick of time before his aircraft was shot down by an Above Medium Range Air to Air Missile (AMRAAM) missile.
Prisoner of War:
Shot down beyond enemy lines, Abhinandan parachuted to relative safety into the Horram village in Pakistan occupied Kashmir (PoK) approximately seven kilometres from the Line of Control (LoC). He was identified as an Indian pilot by the locals due to the Indian flag on his parachute. Wing Commander Abhinanadan asked the Pakistani villagers whether he was in India to which a young Pakistani boy responded saying no. Abhinandan informed the locals that he had a back injury and asked if he could have some water. What followed was a series of nationalistic rhetoric which turned heated prompting Abhnandan to bail after firing some warning shots. He ran for about 500 metres towards a nearby pond to dispose of his official documents. The violent mob followed and had begun lynching him, when the Pakistani army arrived at the nick of time, taking him into their custody as a Prisoner of War (PoW).
Wing Commander Abhnandan spent over 60 hours with the Pakistan army as a prisoner of war, with videos of the captured Indian pilot being shared on social media by Pakistans Inter-Service Public Relation (ISPR) and regular soldiers, this was a direct violation of the Geneva Conventions. The Pakistani government decided, in what they said was a gesture of goodwill, to return the Indian pilot after mounting diplomatic tensions and being sidelined by most of the world’s powers.
A Hero Returns:
The whole country watched with anticipation, as the brave pilot returned to his homeland, crossing the Wagah border being received by his parents. The citizens of India were in awe of his refusal to give up anything, other than his name, rank and his branch of service. His countrymen admired his calm and composure despite being captured by a hostile nation, and of course his now-iconic moustache!
Wing Commander Abhnandan Varthamans has received all the clearances required to return to his fighter squadron, and his acts of gallantry have created history! The Indian pilot, shooting down a sophisticated American made F-16 in an outdated aircraft took the entire military aviation industry by surprise, showing the world that a machine is only as good as the man operating it! Wing Commander Abhinandan is an inspiration to a new generation of Flying officers and a symbol of national pride!