Indian Navy

The Magnificent Viraat – Longest Serving Warship In The World

“Old Ships never die, their spirit lives on forever”

INS Viraat began its final journey from the Naval Dockyard where it was berthed after being decommissioned in March 2017 towards Gujarat’s Alang where it will be dismantled. The private company will sell its high-grade quality steel to make profits. The decision to scrap INS Viraat was taken in 2019.

End of an era, a glorious chapter in the history of Indian Navy

About INS Viraat

INS Viraat, the second Centaur-Class aircraft carrier has spent 30 years in the Indian Navy and 27 years in the Royal Navy. She has served a combined 56 years for the navy in two countries.

Homeport:Mumbai, Maharashtra
Motto:Jalameva Yasya, Balameva Tasya (“He who rules over the seas is all powerful”)
Nickname(s):Grand Old Lady

Commissioned into the Royal Navy in November 1959, as HMS Hermes, she served the British for 27 years before being decommissioned in 1984. India then bought the vessel and rechristened it INS Viraat, to be commissioned into the Indian Navy on May 12, 1987.

Special Postal Cover to commemorate “30 years of Glorious Service to The Nation” by INS Viraat

The ship which was the centerpiece of the Indian Navy housed the fighters Sea Harriers of INAS 300, popularly called “White Tigers”, Anti Submarine aircraft Sea king Mk 42B – also known as “Harpoons”, Sea King Mk 42 C, and the SAR helicopter Chetak as an integral flight. The indigenous Advanced Light Helicopters ‘Dhruv’ and the Russian twin rotor Kamov-31 has also operated from the ship.

Indian Navy Sea Harrier being lowered into INS Viraat’s well deck

Under the Indian Flag, the ship has clocked more than 22,622 flying hour by various aircraft in the past three decades and has spent nearly 2252 days at sea sailing across 5,88,287 nautical miles (10,94,215 KM). This implies that Viraat has spent seven years at sea, circumnavigating the globe 27 times. Since her inception, she has had a total of 80,715 hours of boilers running.

INS Viraat, the oldest serving aircraft carrier, was decommissioned on 6th March 2017, marking the day as a feat of sorts in naval history.

History Of This Iconic Ship:

INS Viraat was originally commissioned by the British Royal Navy as HMS Hermes on November 18, 1959. Between 1959 and 1970 Hermes served as one of the Royal Navy’s four Strike Carriers, mainly operating in the Indian Ocean. It also served an important role for the Royal Navy in the Falkland wars. 

The Centaur class of aircraft carriers of the Royal Navy was the last of the light fleet carrier designs that started during the closing years of World War II (1939-45).

On April 24, 1986, it was announced in Parliament that India would acquire HMS Hermes at a cost of £63 million. Hermes commenced a year-long refit and refurbishment schedule in April 1986 before commissioning as INS Viraat.

Specifications Of INS Viraat

This Centaur-class aircraft carrier has a standard displacement of nearly 24,000 tonnes and a full load displacement of 28,700t. INS Viraat measures 208.8 meters lengthwise, 27.4 meters beam wise, and has a draught of 8.7 meters. Propelled by steam turbines with 76,000 shaft horsepower, INS Viraat was capable of cursing at a speed of 28 knots. Once India’s only aircraft carrier, INS Viraat had the capacity to house a crew of 1,350 people with a naval official team of 750 people and an aircraft team of 143 people on board.

Moreover, the carrier was equipped with Bofors AA guns and Barak surface-to-air missile (SAM) launchers, enabling the ship to protect herself from aerial and surface attacks. As part of the Indian Navy’s ‘Limited Upgrade Sea Harrier (LUSH)’ program’ in 2006, the warship saw the up-gradation of 15 Sea Harriers with installing the Elta EL/M-2032 radar and the Rafael ‘Derby’ medium-range air-to-air BVR missile.

Role of INS Viraat in Various Operation:

Soon after commissioning, it saw active operations when it became part of Operation Jupiter in July 1989 as part of the Indian Peace Keeping Force (IPKF) in Sri Lanka, after the Indo-Sri Lankan accord broke down. After which she was affiliated with the Garhwal Rifles and Scouts of the Indian Army in 1990.

From the deck of INS Viraat

But it was not the first time that she had seen active operations. While with the Royal Navy, she had played a major role in the Falkland wars. Her role in Operation Mercy in 1974 and the Falklands War in 1982 are now textbook references for future navies.

 She also saw action during Op Parakram in 2001-2002, post the terrorist attack on Parliament. The ship was instrumental in honing the art of flying operations from a carrier deck in the Navy, which also resulted in the seamless induction of INS Vikramaditya and its integration with the fleet.

The last of operational duties for the aging INS Viraat came when she was deployed in the International Fleet Review in Vishakapatnam in February 2016. But then, the Navy had to decide on its fate, primarily due to the ever-increasing operational costs involved to keep her battle-ready.

The ship has also participated in various international joint exercises like Malabar (with US Navy), Varuna (with French Navy), Naseem-Al-Bahr (with Oman Navy) and has been an integral element of annual Theater Level Operational Exercise (TROPEX).

Demand To Preserve The INS Viraat:

  • There had been demands from various quarters to not let Viraat go the way of Vikrant, India’s first carrier that was eventually scrapped. However, several attempts by the Navy to preserve the carrier, by converting it into a museum or by other means, failed.
  • The vessel could not be handed over to any state government because of a lack of a “self-sustaining financially complete” proposal to preserve it. The state governments of Maharashtra and Andhra Pradesh had planned to preserve the aircraft carrier (in the form of a museum).

“Mother’, as she was fondly referred to in the Navy, had been commanded by 22 Captains since 1987. Just like a mother she gave unconditional love, service, and protection to our country.

Adieu to the Grand Old Lady!

Akash Raj

Cracked IAS Prelims, AFCAT, CDS, NDA multiple times. 12th Time SSB Repeater. Youtuber at Military Mantra. Also, run a philanthropic venture called Super Dream Foundation to help kids at Orphanages in Bangalore.

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