New Delhi: Group Captain Abhinandan Varthaman, who downed an enemy jet during an aerial combat with Pakistan on February 27, 2019, was on Monday conferred with the Vir Chakra award by President Ram Nath Kovind for displaying an "exceptional sense of duty" during the dogfight.
The award ceremony, held at the Rashtrapati Bhavan, was attended by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Defence Minister Rajnath Singh and several other dignitaries.
The President also conferred the Kirti Chakra award posthumously to sapper Prakask Jadhav of Rashtriya Rifles and Shaurya Chakra to Major Vibhuti Shankar Dhoundiyal of the 55 battalion of Rashtriya Rifles and Naib Subedar Sombir of the 34th battalion of Rashtriya Rifles (both posthumous).
The Shaurya Chakra awardees included Sepoy Karmdeo Oraon of the eighth battalion of the Bihar Regiment, Rifleman Ajveer Singh Chauhan of the sixth battalion of the Garhwal Rifles, Constable Zaker Hussain of the CRPF, Jammu and Kashmir Police head constable Subash Chander and Sable Dnyaneshwar Shriram, a CRPF constable.
Lance Naik Sandeep Singh of the fourth battalion of the Parachute regiment, Brajesh Kumar of the Punjab Regiment and Sepoy Hari Singh of the Grenadiers have all been posthumously conferred with the Shaurya Chakra award.
Ashiq Husain Malik and Aman Kumar, both from the J&K Police have also been posthumously conferred with the Shaurya Chakra award.
President Kovind, who is the Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces, conferred two Kirti Chakras, one Vir Chakra and 23 Shaurya Chakras to the personnel of armed forces and paramilitary forces in the first defence investiture ceremony on Monday.
"President Kovind presents Vir Chakra to Wing Commander (now Group Captain) Varthaman Abhinandan. He showed conspicuous courage, demonstrated gallantry in the face of the enemy while disregarding personal safety and displayed an exceptional sense of duty," the Rashtrapati Bhavan tweeted.
Wing Commander Varthaman (now Group Captain) downed the Pakistani jet on February 27, 2019, before his MiG 21 Bison jet was hit. Pakistan launched retaliation against India for the Balakot airstrikes a day before.
The citation read out at the ceremony said a large force of Pakistan Air Force fighter aircraft, consisting of advanced fourth-generation F-16 and JF-17, was detected heading toward the Line of Control (LoC) around 9:55 am that day.
It said Wing Commander Varthaman, displaying exceptional air combat acumen and knowledge of the enemy's tactics, 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.
It said he alerted the other formation pilots about the "surprise threat", and then consolidated the riposte against the hostile Pakistani aircraft that were attempting to drop weapons on Indian Army positions.
"This audacious and aggressive manoeuvre forced the enemy aircraft into tactical chaos. All the enemy aircraft thereafter turned back including the rear echelon aircraft that were yet to launch their air to ground weapons," the citation said.
Wing Commander Varthaman then pursued a retreating enemy fighter bomber aircraft, and in the ensuing aerial combat, shot down an F-16 aircraft with his onboard missile, it said.
"However, in the melee, one of the enemy aircraft fired multiple advanced BVR (beyond visual range) missiles, one of which hit his aircraft forcing him to eject in enemy territory," it said.
The citation said despite being captured by the enemy, he continued to display exceptional resolve in dealing with the adversary in a brave and dignified manner till he was repatriated on March 1, 2019.
"His actions raised the morale of the armed forces in general and the IAF in particular," it said.
The strike by India's warplanes on a Jaish-e-Mohammed terrorist training camp in Balakot and the Pakistani Air Force's subsequent retaliation the next day triggered fears of a war between the two nuclear-armed neighbours.
The government had announced its decision to confer the Vir Chakra on Varthaman in 2019.