INS Viraat, the 56-year-old Centaur class aircraft carrier that has been serving the Indian Navy for almost three decades, has set sail for her last voyage.
The 28,000-tonne carrier will be taking part in the International Fleet Review (IFR) from February 5 to 8 at Visakhapatnam and will be decommissioned after it.
Operated by the Western Naval Command, INS Viraat is the only aircraft carrier in service to be operating the Sea Harrier fighter aircraft. The Sea Harriers are one of those few fighter aircraft in the world that perform a vertical landing.
INS Viraat embarked with its full complement of six Sea Harrier jump-jets as well as six Sea King and four Chetak helicopters from Goa. More than 1, 200 officers and sailors are onboard. “This will be INS Viraat’s last journey, a cross-coast deployment signalling the end of her yeoman service for India before she is retired later this year. On her way back to Mumbai, she will call on all major Indian ports as a final salute,” said a senior officer on Wednesday.
The INS Viraat was bought by India from Britain after it had served there as HMS Hermes for more than 25 years from November 1959. It achieved distinction during the Falklands War in the early 1980s.
Increasing maintenance costs and lack of spares for the fleet of Sea Harrier jets drove INS Viraat to her decommissioning platform.
Sea Harrier aircrafts prepare to land onboard Indian Navy’s aircraft carrier INS Viraat. INDRANIL MUKHERJEE/AFP/Getty Images
Before the arrival of INS Vikramaditya, it was INS Viraat that served as India’s only aircraft carrier. And once she gets decommissioned after the IFR 2016, India will be again left with one carrier only.
But India has stepped on the accelerator to reach its target of having an indigenously-made aircraft carrier in operation by 2018 and is already planning out the specifics of its first supercarrier
Named INS Vikrant the new aircraft carrier will have the same ski-deck platform for aircraft take-off as is on the INS Viraat and INS Vikramaditya.
A schematic diagram of INS Vikrant. Wikipedia
The 262m long carrier will have a displacement of 40,000 tonnes and an armament far superior to that of even the INS Vikramaditya. INS Vikrant will be protected by surface-to-air missiles and close-in weapons system. She will be carrying 15 MiG29 fighter aircrafts and a similar number of the indigenously manufactured HAL Tejas besides helicopters.
But till the time India gets INS Vikrant, it will be left with INS Vikramaditya alone defending the Western sector of India.
Though aircraft carriers are the most expensive of all war machines made in the world, a single carrier can change the course of a war, let alone a battle.
The aircraft on these carriers can rain devastation upon the enemy forces during war. They are the best for reconnaissance operations over the seas and supporting both land and sea-based forward assets. More than 100 ships from 50 navies from around the world will be at anchorage at Vizag where they will be reviewed at sea by President Pranab Mukherjee and the Prime Minister. IFR 2016 is a key outreach programme of the Indian Navy meant to showcase India’s growing importance as a key maritime player in the Indian Ocean region.
MiG29s on the deck of INS Vikramaditya. JeffHead
But no navy in the world can call itself a global force if it does not has an aircraft carrier. So, the more the better. This is why China is on a speedway on making aircraft carriers.
It plans to have at least three by 2020 and five by 2025; and at the pace it is heading, Beijing will most likely have them by that time. India needs at least three aircraft carriers to man its three naval sectors. Concurrently, India needs to ensure that the departure of INS Viraat does not put pressure on the Western sector, where it focusses on anti-piracy operations along the Somali coast, humanitarian operations in Gulf countries and keeping a check on Pakistan. While INS Viraat has set sail into the sunset, India’s defence planners should be reminded of its motto: “Jalameva Yasya, Balameva Tasya”,
which in English means “He who rules over the seas is all powerful.”