The five IAF pilots who bombed a Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM) camp in Pakistan were on Wednesday named for Vayu Sena medals and Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman, who was taken prisoner, was picked for Vir Chakra on the eve of India's Independence Day.
Abhinandan, from the Indian Air Force, brought down the F-16 near the Line of Control (LoC) during a dogfight in February, resulting in his capture and later release by Islamabad.
Along with Abhinandan, pilots of the five Mirage-2000 fighter jets who bombed the JeM terror launch pad in Balakot in Pakistan's Khyber-Pakhtunhkwa province were named for Vayu Sena medals.
The pre-dawn covert operation of February 26 was to avenge a suicide bombing in Jammu and Kashmir's Pulwama on February 14 which killed 40 Central Reserve Police Force personnel and which was claimed by the Pakistan-based JeM.
Abhinandan, with his trademark handlebar moustache, acquired cult status in India ever since he was captured by Pakistani forces after his own MiG-21 Bison was shot down by a missile.
Abhinandan strayed into Pakistani territory on February 27 while scrambling Pakistani jets who had ventured into the Indian territory. He was released by Pakistan around 60 hours later at the Wagah border.
The Vir Chakra is the third highest wartime military award in India.
President Ram Nath Kovind approved a total of 132 gallantry awards and other decorations to personnel from the armed and paramilitary forces and 8 Tatrakshak medals to Coast Guard personnel.
The Kirti Chakra, the third highest military honour awarded during peacetime, will be conferred posthmously on Thursday to soldier Prakash Jadhav who died in a gunfight with terrorists in Kulgam district of Jammu and Kashmir in November 2018.