Indian Air Force (IAF) chief, Air Chief Marshal RKS Bhadauria, will on Wednesday visit a front-line base in Kashmir that launched fighter planes last February to engage Pakistan Air Force aircraft a day after Indian Mirage-2000s struck targets in Pakistan’s Balakot, commemorating the first anniversary of IAF’s unprecedented, peacetime cross-border strikes, two senior officials said on Tuesday on condition of anonymity.
Bhadauria will visit the air force’s Srinagar-based No 51 squadron, which is also known as “Sword Arms”, and interact with personnel who were involved in the February 27, 2019, air action against the neighbouring air force over the Line of Control (LoC), said one of the officials cited above.
“The air chief’s visit is aimed at commemorating the Balakot strikes and the air action the following day. A seminar will also be organised in Delhi to commemorate the air strikes,” said the second official cited above. The seminar will be themed on the IAF’s role in “No War, No Peace”.
He added that the air chief could also fly in a MiG-21 from the Srinagar base.
Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman, who was later awarded the Vir Chakra, took off from the Srinagar base in his MiG-21 Bison within minutes of the enemy aircraft being detected on February 27 last year. The dogfight took place a day after the IAF’s Mirage-2000s struck a Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM) terror base in Balakot in response to the Pulwama suicide attack in which 40 Central Reserve Police Force men were killed on February 14.
The IAF’s Mirages hit three targets in Balakot with five Israeli-origin Spice 2000 bombs with penetrator warheads that allowed them to pierce through the rooftops before exploding inside to cause maximum damage. Each bomb carried around 80kg of explosives in a 900kg steel casing, with the explosion caused by time-delay fuses sending lethal shrapnel that would have instantly killed the occupants of the buildings. The air force zeroed-in the terror base in Balakot as its target because it was an isolated facility with the least probability of collateral damage.
Pakistan reacted the next day by launching air strikes against Indian Army installations along the Line of Control. The hostile jets were armed with advanced beyond visual range (BVR) air-to-air missiles and modern air-to-ground stand-off weapons. Their attempts to strike targets, however, failed.
Both air forces lost one fighter plane each in the aerial engagement, according to IAF, with Varthaman ending up in Pakistani custody after his MiG-21 Bison crashed in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir.
The wing commander engaged the enemy’s aircraft despite their “immense numerical and technological superiority,” said Varthaman’s Vir Chakra citation, published in the Gazette of India in December 2019.
It said his aggressive manoeuvres forced the enemy aircraft into tactical chaos.
Varthaman scripted military aviation history by downing an F-16, seconds before his own MiG-21 Bison was hit by a missile forcing him to eject. Pakistan returned him to India on March 1 after holding him captive for almost 60 hours.