Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman, who downed an enemy jet in aerial combat with Pakistan in February and was held captive for three days, has been conferred the Vir Chakra, India’s third-highest wartime gallantry medal.
At least five IAF pilots who were part of the mission to strike a Jaish-e-Mohammad camp inside Pakistan, and Minty Agarwal, a lady officer who played a key role as flight controller during the Pakistani retaliation, were also among the military awardees.
The defence ministry announced the military awards on the eve of Independence Day celebrations.
From the Army, Sapper Prakash Jadhav of the Rashtriya Rifles will be posthumously awarded Kirti Chakra, the second-highest peacetime gallantry award.
Agarwal, who played a key role as a ground staff during the dogfight between India and Pakistan on February 27, has been awarded Yudh Seva medal.
The IAF received a total of 13 awards including five Yudh Seva Medals and seven Vayu Sena Medal.
The Vayu Sena medal award winners are Group Captain Saumitra Tamaskar, Wing Commander Pranav Raj, Wing Commander Amit Ranjan, Sq Ldr Rahul Basoya, Sq Ldr Pankaj Arvind Bhujade, Sq Ldr B Karthik Narayan Reddy, Sq Ldr Shashank Singh.
Besides Agarwal, the Yudh Sena medal winners are Air Commodore Sunil Kashinath Vidhate, Group Captain Yeshpal Singh Negi, Group Captain Hemant Kumar, Group Captain Hansel Joseph Seqeira.
The Army also got eight Shaurya Chakra awards and 98 Sena medals. The Navy got one Shaurya Chakra award.
“We are very happy that Wing Comm Varthaman has been conferred with Vir Chakra,” said an IAF official.
Varthaman, 36, was captured by the Pakistani Army on February 27 after his MiG-21 Bison jet was shot down in a dogfight with Pakistani jets during aerial combat.
Before his jet was hit, he downed an F-16 fighter of Pakistan. Varthaman was released on the night of March 1 by Pakistan.
Varthaman had suffered injuries while ejecting from his MiG-21 Bison during the aerial combat.
A high-level medical board of the Indian Air Force has already cleared Varthaman to return to the fighter cockpit.
Days after he returned from Pakistan, Varthaman conveyed to the IAF brass his wish to resume flying at the earliest.
IAF fighter jets bombed a Jaish-e-Mohammed terrorist training camp in Balakot on February 26, nearly two weeks after the Pulwama terror attack.
Pakistan retaliated on February 27 by attempting to target Indian military installations.