New Delhi: Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman, who was captured by Pakistan after an aerial dogfight, on Tuesday led a formation of the MiG-21 Bison as the Indian Air Force put up a spectacular show on its 87th birthday.
Addressing the event, which was attended by IAF personnel and their families, Air Chief Marshal RKS Bhadauria said the Indian Air Force always needs to be alert amid the "present security environment in the neighbourhood".
The Air Chief Marshal said: "The IAF achieved a whole lot in the last year and showed its capabilities to carry out special operations. We carried out the Balakot airstrike successfully this year. We aim to further raise our operational preparedness. Apart from combat skills, the IAF has been at the forefront of providing humanitarian aid and in search and rescue operations."
"Present security environment in the neighbourhood is a serious cause of concern. The Pulwama attack is a stark reminder of the persistent threat to defence installations," he said.
"Forty indigenous projects have already been incorporated by the IAF and another 122 projects are under development. The advanced fifth generation aircraft to be made indigenously in India has already been launched," the Air Chief Marshal said.
One of the highlights of the ceremony was the citations awarded to 51 Squadron and 9 Squadron, which played a crucial role in the air strike in Pakistan's Balakot in February.
The air display began with sky divers of the Akash Ganga team dropping out of an AN-32 aircraft in their colourful canopies. This was followed by the debut of the Chinook and Apache helicopters that were acquired from the US and recently inducted into the IAF.
The crowd, however, was most enthusiastic during the flypast by Varthaman, who led the MiG-21 Bison formation amid a standing ovation. The day also assumes significance for the IAF as Defence Minister Rajnath Singh is in France to receive the first Rafale fighter jet.