The India Air Force has recommended Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman for the Vir Chakra medal for shooting down an F-16 in an aerial engagement with the Pakistan Air Force on February 27.
In the past, during wars, pilots who shot down enemy fighters were all given Vir Chakra medals.
The Vir Chakra is the third highest gallantry award in the military during times of war after the Param Vir Chakra and the Mahavir Chakra.
This comes even as the IAF fighter pilot was issued transfer orders out of Srinagar to another base in the western sector along the Pakistan border.
“Security considerations prompted the transfer,” a defence ministry officer said and added that Wing Commander Abhinandan’s home base will “be another front-line fighter base.”
The transfer orders came after security agencies indicated that the officer could be a target of the Pakistan-based Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM) - the group that claimed responsibility for the February 14 Pulwama suicide attack which killed 40 jawans of the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF).
Wing Commander Abhinandan’s new base is also a fighter base. If he is cleared for flying, he would be able to continue his flying duties.
The Indian Air Force, however, said that the transfer orders to another base were “routine.”
Wing Commander Abhinandan, flying a vintage Russian-made Mig-21 fighter, was part of the Indian Air Force package that took on the Pakistan Air Force war planes on February 27. A day earlier, IAF fighters had hit a JeM training camp in Balakot in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.
During the aerial engagement, Wing Commander Varthaman’s Mig-21 was shot down across the Line of Control (LoC). However, he managed to eject safely, but landed in Pakistani territory where he was taken prisoner.
Under pressure from India, Wing Commander Abhinandan was released by Pakistan on March 1. The fighter pilot is currently awaiting medical clearance to resume flying a combat aircraft, reports HT.