New Delhi: A year after Indian Air Force (IAF) Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman catapulted to national fame, when the country prayed for his safe return from captivity in Pakistan, the officer is back to full-time flying in the Western sector, training young officers for another “situation like Balakot”.
The IAF officer who became a ‘hero’ in India after the dogfight between Indian and Pakistani pilots on 27 February, is now living the life of a regular officer at an IAF base in the Western sector. He was moved out of the Srinagar air base, where he was posted at the time of the conflict, due to security concerns.
Fully recovered from his back injury sustained during ejection and subsequent beatings in Pakistani custody, the officer was awarded the Vir Chakra — the third highest gallantry award in the military — last year.
‘Training’ next generation of fighter pilots
Speaking to ThePrint about Abhinandan Varthaman’s presence in the IAF, a senior officer said, “He is a hero and a pride of the IAF. Those who know him will know that he does not bother about his exalted status within the military. He is back to doing what he loves the most — flying.”
A second officer said Varthaman is flying with young officers, which is a huge motivation for them.
“He is literally training the next generation of fighter pilots. During peacetime, the entire flying if for training so that whenever a situation like Balakot or what happened on 27 February 2019 happens, one is always prepared. He is a senior pilot now and youngsters learn from him by flying together,” said the officer, who didn’t wish to be named.
Due for promotion next year
According to sources, Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman is due for promotion as a Group Captain next year. He will also be due for his Command, or his own unit, next year.
During last year’s skirmish with Pakistan, Varthaman was third in hierarchy in the Srinagar-based 51 Squadron, where he was the deputy flight commander.
What Varthaman did last year
In the early morning hours of 27 February 2019, about 25 Pakistani fighter jets including F-16s, backed by the SAAB airborne warning and control systems (AWACS), headed to target Indian military installations.
Left to defend the Indian airspace were two Su-30 MKI in south of Pir Panjal, and two upgraded Mirages in the north of the mountains. They were outnumbered and outgunned.
At this moment, IAF’s Barnala-based Integrated Air Command and Control System ordered the scrambling of six MiG-21s.
As the MiGs climbed in the shadow of the Pir Panjal range, Pakistan’s AWACS failed to detect them. The Pakistani fighters were taken aback by the sudden appearance of the MiGs.
There was complete panic on the Pakistani side as more Indian aircraft came to the scene. Pakistani pilots, who suddenly broke into Punjabi rather than sticking to the military codes, fired about 11 H-4 glide-bombs, weighing 1,000 kg each, at Indian military installations, none of which hit the target. The controllers on board the AWACS also broke out in Punjabi.
“The Pakistani strike package had panicked completely. It was the emergence of Abhinandan and his team that surprised the Pakistani and forced them to release their bombs in panic,” said an officer quoted above.