New Delhi, Sep 19: The Indian Air Force is set to retire its Srinagar-based MiG-21 squadron ‘Sword Arms’ that Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman was a part of when he had downed an F-16 combat aircraft of Pakistan a day after the Balakot strike in February 2019, sources said on Monday.
‘Sword Arms’ is one of its four remaining squadrons of ageing MiG-21 fighter jets.
The No. 51 Squadron is to be retired by the end of September, “as per the plan”, the defence sources said.
The remaining three squadrons of MiG-21 will be phased out by 2025, they said.
IAF fighter jets bombed a Jaish-e-Mohammed terrorist training camp in Balakot on February 26, 2019, nearly two weeks after the Pulwama terror attack. Pakistan had retaliated on February 27 by attempting to target Indian military installations.
Varthaman (now Group Captain) had taken to the skies to thwart an aerial attack launched by adversaries and engaged in a dogfight with Pakistani jets during aerial combat.
Before his MiG-21 Bison jet was shot down, Varthaman had downed the F-16 fighter of Pakistan. He was conferred the Vir Chakra, India’s third-highest wartime gallantry medal, on the Independence Day in 2019.
The MiG-21 jets were inducted into IAF over four decades ago and many of these planes were lost in crashes.
Though the Soviet-era Russian fighter jets have also been in news in the last several years for multiple crashes causing death of pilots, the sources said “when an IAF aircraft is air-borne, it means it is fully serviceable”.