IAF’s woman fighter controller during aerial dogfight scripts history with medal
Squadron Leader Minty Aggarwal, the woman fighter controller who played a significant role in intercepting the Pakistan Air Force’s attempt to launch retaliatory air attacks after the Indian Air Force’s (IAF) Balakot air strikes, was awarded the Yudh Seva Medal on the eve of Independence Day.
She is the first woman in the India’s military history to be awarded the YSM, a medal that recognises distinguished service of a high order during war, conflict or hostilities. YSM is not a gallantry award.
Aggarwal was part of a team of seven fighter controllers on duty on the morning of February 27, and controlled IAF’s interception package launched to stop Pakistan’s fighter jets, two officials said on condition of anonymity. The fighter controllers, two of them women including Aggarwal, were operating from an underground bunker at the Ambala air base. She joined the air force nine years ago and is 30 years old.
Fighter controllers play a crucial role in the air force. “Fighter aircraft don’t fly in isolation. They need a supporting environment. Radars and fighter controllers play a crucial role not only in terms of controlling our aircraft but also detecting enemy intent,” a fighter pilot said.
“Minty is professionally very sound. Her biggest strength is that she takes initiative to get the job done. And that’s what she did on February 27. He achievement will inspire women in the military,” said an officer who knows Aggarwal.
Women officers in IAF hailed the award as a watershed. “I think women officers are on a roll in IAF. We have women flying fighter jets, and now one of us has been awarded a YSM for the first time. We have come a long way since the IAF opened its doors to women in early 1990s. All of us are absolutely delighted,” said a woman IAF officer who asked not to be named.
“Slowly but surely, women are making a mark. Yet another feather in the cap,” said Wing Commander Anupama Joshi (retd), from of the first batch of women officers commissioned in the force in 1990.
Apart from Aggarwal, four other officers were awarded YSM for the Balakot operation, the unprecedented cross-border strikes during peace time.
Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman, who was awarded a Vir Chakra on Wednesday, was one of the pilots who took off to engage the intruding Pakistani fighter jets and scripted military aviation history by downing a Pakistani F-16 fighter jet during the aerial dogfight that followed.
Aggarwal was the one who told Varthaman to “turn cold” or return as he had crossed the LoC. But the fighter pilot could not hear the instruction because the communication systems on the fighter had been jammed by Pakistan by then. His MiG 21 Bison wasn’t equipped with the anti-jamming technology that IAF has been asking for years. It could have prevented him from being shot down and taken captive by Pakistan.
But before the MiG 21 Bison was hit by a missile, the IAF officer shot down the F-16 jet that he had engaged.
Varthaman was caught by the Pakistani forces and held in detention for 60 hours before being freed.