They had told us that if we can sail on her for seven years,we would achieve distinction,and we sailed on her for 25 years,says Vice-Admiral Vinod Pasricha,former Flag-Officer Commanding in-Chief,Western Naval Command and the Commissioning Commanding Officer (CO) of India’s second and still serving aircraft carrier INS Viraat. As Viraat celebrates the silver jubilee of serving in the Indian Navy on May 12,the officer who witnessed the minute-by-minute transition of Royal Navy ship HMS Hermes into an Indian Naval Ship (INS) Viraat gets euphoric talking about the journey.
“On August 21,1987,we were to be received by late PM Rajiv Gandhi. Three days prior,as we were just short of reaching Mumbai,I took a stand that having just three Sea King helicopters on board an ‘aircraft carrier’ when the PM is flagging her does not make a good show. So in order to get Sea Harrier aircraft on-board,we sailed to Goa. It was only after getting the aircraft on-board that the flagging- in by the PM took place,” recalls Pasricha,then a captain who commanded her for two-and-a-half years.
HMS Hermes was in reserve category under preservation at Portsmouth,UK,for three years prior to the acquisition by IN. “Some 200 of us 9 officers and 180 sailors went to the UK in May 1986. The ship was to be ready in nine months- till February 1987. From cleaning to painting to installation of Computer Aided Action Information system (CAAIS),besides other systems were to be carried out,” said
Pasricha feels that the Navy got a great deal in INS Viraat – purchased at 63 million pounds. There is an interesting story that goes behind the name- INS Viraat,which according to a coffee table book- Hermes to Viraat goes like this- “The prerequisites were that the name should start with a V for the sake of conformity,should be easily pronounceable,must be abstract. Names under consideration were Vikramaditya,Samudragupta,Chandragupta and Viraat. Vikramaditya was the favorite name but the Shipping Corporation of India had a tanker by the same name. So Viraat was finalised.”
Commissioned on May 12,1987,the ship sailed on a 6,000-mile voyage to India on July 23,1987 from Devonport,reaching Mumbai on August 21. “Your commissioning today marks an important milestone in our navy’s blue water capability. May your operational prowess match your gigantic name and good fortune attend on you wherever you may sail,” says the commissioning note dated May 12,1987. Having carried the Sea Harrier aircraft and Sea King helicopters besides Chetak,Dhruv; and having been commanded by the likes of Admiral Nirmal Kumar Verma,CNS,the carrier; over 25 years has undergone three refits and a short recent refit in the Indian waters- the secret behind her long life. “We’ve kept it in excellent health. And I don’t see it retiring soon,” says Pasricha.