Wg Crd Abhinandan Varthaman flies MiG 21 sortie with IAF chief BS Dhanoa

Pathankot: Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman, who was awarded the Vir Chakra for shooting down a Pakistan Air Force F-16 fighter jet during the aerial dogfight after the Balakot air strikes returned to the cockpit of the MiG-21 Bison fighter jet on Monday morning.

The sortie that took off from the Pathankot Air Base on Monday was special for more reasons than one. Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman wasn’t the only one returning to the MiG-21 cockpit after a long gap. So was his co-pilot for this sortie, Air Chief Marshal BS Dhanoa.

The air chief, who is also a MiG-21 pilot, was responsible for destroying Pakistan supply dumps along the Line of Control (LoC) during the 1999 Kargil war which helped turn the tide in India’s favour.

Wing Commander VArthaman had scripted history in February this year by downing an F-16, second before his MiG-21 was hit by a missile. He bailed out of his aircraft and was taken captive by Pakistan. He was returned to India after holding him captive for nearly 60 hours.

The face-off between the F-16 and MiG-21 of the two neighbours had, however, also put the spotlight on the IAF’s aging fleet and led to renewed stress on the air force upgrading its fighter jets. At a seminar on modernisation of the IAF last month,

The Indian Air Force has about 5 squadrons of the Russian-made MiG-21 fighters. All five are likely to be decommissioned soon. Of these, 4 squadrons comprise the upgraded MiG 21 Bison fighter jets. The 26 Squadron’s fighters have not been upgraded and will be decommissioned by the end of this year.

The IAF needs at least 42 squadrons of fighters to maintain a credible deterrence along the western and northern borders but has only 30 squadrons. To prevent the number of fighters from falling further, the IAF had earlier upgraded the MiG-21s.