New Delhi: The Indian Air Force on its 87th birthday today sprung a surprise on Pakistan in response to its claim of shooting down a Sukhoi-30MKI in February. In the clear skies above Hindon Air Force Station near Delhi, three nimble French-origin Mirage-2000s flanked by two larger Sukhoi-30MKI multirole fighter jets flew in what is known as the “Avenger” formation.
The surprise? One of the two Sukhoi-30MKIs, whose call sign is “Avenger 1”, that flew on the extreme right of the formation today was the same aircraft that Pakistan claimed it had shot down in the air battle in February 27, a day after Indian jets dropped Israeli-made bombs on a camp of the terror group Jaish-e-Mohammed in Balakot, deep inside Pakistan.
In more embarrassment for Pakistan, the IAF crew that piloted “Avenger-1” today was the same two-man crew that flew the Sukhoi-30MKI on the day the air battle happened.
“We acknowledge the contributions of all personnel of Commands, Stations and Units who silently and professionally contributed to the success of the air strikes on the terrorist camps at Balakot earlier this year,” Air Chief Marshal RKS Bhadauria said today at Hindon Air Force Station. Army chief General Bipin Rawat also attended the event.
The IAF has said Pakistan’s “false claim” of shooting down a Sukhoi-30MKI was an attempt to cover up for the loss of its own aircraft, an American-made F-16, which Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman had shot down before the Russian-origin MiG-21 Bison that he piloted fell to enemy fire. Wing Commander Varthaman was awarded the Vir Chakra for shooting down the Pakistani F-16.
In a comeback, the Wing Commander today also led a formation of MiG-21 Bison fighter jets at Hindon. The ‘Bison’ variant is a highly upgraded version of the legacy MiG-21 from the Cold War era.
Two squadrons of the IAF – 51 Squadron and 9 Squadron – which played a role in the air strike in Balakot, were decorated with citations.
The air display at Hindon started with flag-bearing sky divers of the Akash Ganga team dropping out of an AN-32 aircraft in their colourful canopies. Next came the Chinook heavy-lift twin-rotor transport helicopter and the Apache attack helicopters, being showcased for the first time. Both these helicopters were acquired from the US and inducted into the IAF in the last few months.
The flypast included a spectacular manoeuvre by a Sukhoi-30MKI. The Light Combat Aircraft (LCA) Tejas too made several manoeuvres in the air as the crowd below cheered for it.