INS Viraat, the Centaur-class aircraft carrier that was the flagship of the Indian Navy before INS Vikramaditya was commissioned in 2013, began its last voyage on Sunday, sailing under tow from Kochi to Mumbai.
The aircraft carrier will fly the Indian flag and the naval ensign till it is decommissioned. In the last three months, INS Viraat was stripped of its weapons, radars, propulsion systems, auxiliary machinery and communication equipment at the state-owned Cochin Shipyard. However, the date for its decommissioning is yet to be decided. It is still not clear whether the warship will be reborn as a museum, turned into a tourist attraction or preserved as a war memorial. The Indian Navy does not want the vessel to end up at a ship-breaking yard.
In 2014, Vikrant, India’s first aircraft carrier, was auctioned and sold to a ship-breaker for INR 600 million. The Navy operated Vikrant from 1961 to 1997 and the country’s first indigenous carrier, being built at Kochi, is named after it.
INS Viraat is India’s one of the oldest aircraft carriers. The 28,000-tonne warship was inducted into the Navy in May 1987. It was commissioned in the British Royal Navy in 1959 and the Britons operated the vessel for 27 years. In India, several refits and upgrades were carried out to keep the 57-year-old Viraat seaworthy.
Viraat’s embarked air units operated Sea Harrier fighters, Seaking 42B anti-submarine helicopters, Seaking 42C commando carrier choppers and Chetak helicopters for search and rescue operations. Also, Viraat has spent more than 2,250 days at sea, clocking 1.94 million km (or covered the globe 27 times). It was mobilised during ‘Operation Parakram’ when hostilities between India and Pakistan peaked following the terror attack on Indian Parliament on December 13, 2001. Viraat sailed on its own propulsion on July 23, 2016 for the last time.
The Indian Navy plans to deploy two carrier strike groups over the next four-five years. One is centred around INS Vikramaditya and the other around Vikrant, currently under construction at Kochi. Inducted in 2013, Vikramaditya has a displacement of 44,500 tonnes. The warship, brought from Russia for USD 2.33 billion, is under maintenance till November-end. According to Navy sources, Vikrant will cost USD 3 billion and operate MiG-29Ks, naval variant of the light combat aircraft and new multi-role helicopters. A senior Navy officer said that Viraat’s 1,500 trained crews would man Vikrant in future.