Abhinandan Varthaman, who downed Pak F16, flies again, this time with IAF chief
Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman, who was awarded the Vir Chakra for shooting down a Pakistan Air Force F-16 fighter jet during the aerial dogfight after the Balakot air strikes finally returned to the cockpit of the MiG-21 fighter jet on Monday morning. The sortie that took off from the Pathankot Air Base on Monday was special for more reasons than one. Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman wasn’t the only one returning to the MiG-21 cockpit after a long gap. So was his co-pilot for this sortie, Air Chief Marshal BS Dhanoa.
The air chief, who is also a MiG-21 pilot, was responsible for destroying Pakistan supply dumps along the Line of Control (LoC) during the 1999 Kargil war which helped turn the tide in India’s favour. Air Chief Dhanoa later described the joint sortie as an honour. “Both of us have two things in common. First, both of have ejected and second, both of us have fought Pakistanis. I fought in Kargil, he fought after Balakot. Third, I’ve flown with his father,” he told reporters.
Wing Commander VArthaman had scripted history in February this year by downing an F-16, second before his MiG-21 was hit by a missile. He bailed out of his aircraft and was taken captive by Pakistan. He was returned to India after holding him captive for nearly 60 hours.
Watch: Abhinandan Varthaman, who downed Pak F-16, flies sortie with IAF chief
The IAF officer - who had become the face of the military confrontation between India and Pakistan in February - was recently cleared to fly after treatment for injuries sustained in action.
Monday’s flight, like the one six months earlier, took off from the Indian Air Force base in Pathankot, India’s front-line fighter base and home to the officer’s 26 Squadron of the IAF.
The face-off between the F-16 and MiG-21 of the two neighbours had, however, also put the spotlight on the IAF’s aging fleet and led to renewed stress on the air force upgrading its fighter jets. At a seminar on modernisation of the IAF last month, IAF chief Dhanoa remarked that the air force was still flying MiG-21 which is 44 years old. “Nobody drives cars of that vintage,” he said.
The Indian Air Force has about 5 squadrons of the Russian-made MiG-21 fighters. All five are likely to be decommissioned soon.
Of these, 4 squadrons comprise the upgraded MiG 21 Bison fighter jets. The 26 Squadron’s fighters have not been upgraded and will be decommissioned by the end of this year.
The IAF needs at least 42 squadrons of fighters to maintain a credible deterrence along the western and northern borders but has only 30 squadrons. To prevent the number of fighters from falling further, the IAF had earlier upgraded the MiG-21s.
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