India’s oldest serving aircraft carrier INS Viraat will be retired from service on Monday. The carrier has served the Indian Navy over the course of nearly 3 decades and will be towed from Kochi to Mumbai where the decommissioning process will be concluded. The carrier arrived at Kochi docks in July last year for dry docking and essential repairs which were completed by 4, September. Here is all you want to know about the great INS Viraat:
1. INS Viraat (R-22) was commissioned by the British Royal Navy as HMS Hermes (R-12) on November 18, 1959. It is the last of the conventional Centaur class aircraft carriers. It was one of four strike carriers in the Royal Navy at the time and its area of operation was primarily the Indian Ocean. It also had a notable role to play in the falklands wars. It was decommissioned after serving 27 years in the Royal Navy in 1984.
2. It also served the purpose of anti-submarine support ship, a commando carrier and a jump jet carrier. HMS Hermes was fitted with ski jumps for the Harrier vertical/short takeoff and landing.
3. India chose to induct HMS Hermes into her fleet and submitted a request to purchase. The request was approved in 1986. The decision of the carrier’s purchase was announced in the Indian parliament on 24 April, 1986.
4. The ship was refitted at HMNB Devonport Dockyard, one of three operational naval bases for the Royal Navy in UK. It was then sold to India for $465 million and it was rechristened before being inducted in the Indian Navy as INS Viraat.
5. INS Viraat was inducted into the Indian Navy on 12 May, 1987 at the port town of Plymouth in UK and by then British High Commissioner to India P.C. Alexander. The operational birds on the carrier were Sea Harrier — (White Tigers-fighter aircraft), Speaking 42B (Harpoons- Anti-Submarine helicopters) & Speaking 42C (Commando Carrier helicopters) and Chetak (Angles- SAR helicopter).
6. INS Viraat was initially meant to be decommissioned in 2009. However, due to delays in refurbishing of the Soviet-built aircraft carrier INS Vikramaditya (R-33), INS Viraat had to be refitted for service till 2016 when it completed 57 years of service life. It has already passed the service life of the oldest serving aircraft carrier in the US Naval fleet USS Enterprise (CVN-65) which is 50 years old.
7. Viraat served as a lone carrier in the Indian Navy for several years and after its decommissioning, INS Vikramaditya will be the only serving aircraft carrier till the new carrier INS Vikrant is inducted.
8. Viraat’s first major operation was Operation Jupiter in 1989. It followed the breakdown of the Indian-Sri Lanka accord of 1986. The carrier was sent as part of India Peace Keeping Operations in Sri Lanka. Viraat’s last operational deployment was in 2016 when it took part in the International Fleet Review at Vishakhapatnam held between February 2 and February 16. A total 22,034 aircraft have taken off from the deck of Viraat since it was inducted in the Indian Navy. It has also taken part in international joint naval exercises like the Malabar exercise with the US Navy, Varuna with the French Navy and also Naseem-Al-Bahr with the Oman Navy. It was also a vital part of the yearly TROPEX exercise.
9. Many parts of the ship are pre-world war/world war 2 era built and according to officers who have served on the ship, the integral part of the vessel has remained unchanged. The temperatures inside the heart of the steam driven carrier reach up to 60 degrees Celsius during operations. In the decommissioning ceremony, 21 of its 22 previous commanders will be present.
10. The future of the ship is yet undecided. Admiral Sunil Lamba is reportedly considering scrapping the ship if the Nav doesn’t find a buyer. Other options include sinking the ship at one of the major tourist harbours in the country and turning it into a marine museum, making the ship a dive site. The Andhra Pradesh Tourism Development Corporation had reportedly received an in-principle nod from the Defence Ministry allowing it to convert Viraat into a museum and station it at the Kakinada port in the Bay of Bengal at India’s eastern shore. The plan is expected to cost around ?1,000 crore.