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NEW DELHI: Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman on Thursday complimented the Indian Air Force for its "flawless execution" of the February 26 Balakot operation and subsequent thwarting of the Pakistani response as she addressed top IAF commanders here.

Sitharaman, in her inaugural speech at the two-day IAF conference, also commended Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman, who had become the face of the conflict between the two nations.

Chief of Air Staff Air Marshal BS Dhanoa emphasised on further enhancing the IAF's capability in the field of space, cyber, artificial intelligence and drone technology to further boost its overall combat capability.

The IAF said the commanders will deliberate on a range of issues including the "successful strike over Balakot" and the subsequent Pakistani air action on February 27, besides exploring ways to enhance India's air power capability in the short and long term.

"The defence minister complimented the IAF and its air warriors for achieving and maintaining the highest standards of professionalism in the service of the nation. She praised the IAF for its flawless execution of the Balakot strikes and subsequent thwarting of the Pakistani response," the IAF said.

On February 26, India carried out an aerial strike on a terrorist training camp of the Jaish-e Mohammad terror group in Pakistan's Balakot, in response to Pulwama terror attack in which 40 CRPF personnel were killed.

Pakistan Air Force retaliated the next day by trying to target military installations but it was repulsed. The PAF downed a MiG-21 Bison in an aerial combat besides capturing IAF pilot Varthaman, who was handed over to India on March 1. Varthaman had shot down an F-16 of Pakistan before his MiG-21 Bison was hit.

Sitharaman said the IAF has proved its mettle during last year's exercise 'Gagan Shakti' and 'Vayu Shakti' drills in February and the same was reflected in the successfully conducted of the Balakot strike and the air action on February 27, IAF said in a statement.

"She expressed great appreciation for the training imparted to all personnel in the IAF as reflected in the actions and conduct of Wing Commander Abhinandan," it added.

Sitharaman stressed on a proactive role of the IAF in the Indian Ocean Region and called for enhancing defence cooperation with countries of the region.

She also asked the force to look at bringing latest technologies available across the world and those that can be developed within India, in order to meet its needs.

"She added that she is aware of the critical requirements projected by the IAF and assured that as a nation we need to build those capabilities," the IAF said.

Sitharaman said the IAF will play a vital role in enhancing the defence manufacturing capabilities of India through its acquisitions under the strategic partnership model.

The government unveiled the strategic partnership model in May 2017 under which select private firms were to be roped in to build key military platforms like submarines and fighter jets in India in partnership with global defence majors.

"During the two-day conference, discussions and deliberations will take place in line with the theme of the conference of 'enhancing our operational capability in the short and long term'," the IAF said.