Vir chakra citation hails Abhinandan Varthaman’s ‘exceptional resolve’
Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman courageously engaged the enemy’s aircraft package despite its “immense numerical and technological superiority” -- the citation, published in the Gazette of India in December 2019, for the Vir Chakra awarded to him for shooting down a Pakistani F-16 jet last year, said.
It said his aggressive manoeuvres forced the enemy aircraft into tactical chaos.
The February 27 dogfight in which Abhinandan was involved took place a day after the Indian Air Force’s Mirage-2000s struck targets in Balakot in response to the Pulwama suicide attack in Kashmir in which 40 Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) troopers were killed on February 14.
The citation for his Vir Chakra was not released by the government when the award was announced on Independence Day last year.
The Vir Chakra is India’s third-highest wartime gallantry award, after the Param Vir Chakra and the Maha Vir Chakra.
Abhinandan, then 35, had scripted the military’s aviation history by downing an F-16, seconds before his own MiG-21 Bison was hit by a missile forcing him to eject. He was captured after he bailed out of his aircraft, but Pakistan returned him to India on March 1 after holding him captive for almost 60 hours.
The citation said, “Despite being captured by the enemy, he continued to display exceptional resolve in dealing with the adversary in a stoic, brave and dignified manner till he was repatriated on March 1, 2019.”
Abhinandan was then posted with a MiG-21 Bison squadron and was on ‘operational readiness platform’ duty at air force station Srinagar when a large Pakistan Air Force fighter aircraft package was detected heading towards the Line of Control (LoC). The hostile jets were armed with advanced Beyond Visual Range (BVR) air-to-air missiles and modern air-to-ground stand-off weapons.
Abhinandan was scrambled to intercept this package five minutes after it was detected.
“Displaying exceptional air combat acumen and knowledge of the enemy’s tactics, Abhinandan scanned the low altitude airspace with his airborne intercept (AI) radar and picked up an enemy aircraft that was flying low to ambush the Indian fighter interceptor aircraft… Abhinandan alerted the other formation pilots towards this surprise threat,” the citation said.
“He then consolidated the riposte, by gathering his wingman in an offensive formation against the hostile Pakistani aircraft now dropping weapons on Indian Army positions. This audacious and aggressive maneuver forced the enemy aircraft into tactical chaos,” it further said.
The citation said the wing commander then pursued a retreating enemy fighter bomber aircraft and in the ensuing aerial combat, shot down an F-16. “However, in the melee, one of the enemy aircraft fired multiple advanced BVR missiles, one of which hit his aircraft forcing him to eject in enemy territory.”
“Abhinandan showed conspicuous courage, demonstrated gallantry in the face of the enemy while disregarding personal safety and displayed exceptional sense of duty,” the citation added.