A hotel, a museum or just scrap with the metal used in a motorbike? The fate of INS Viraat, India’s only operational aircraft carrier that “retires” later this year, is uncertain.
Navy chief Sunil Lanba on Monday talked about a proposal to convert India’s oldest warhorse into an aircraft carrier museum. Docked at the Cochin Shipyard for decommissioning refit, India’s oldest warhorse is steeped deep in history.
1 | Oldest aircraft carrier: The 57-year-old INS Viraat is the oldest in the world and has served two navies -- the British navy as HMS Hermes and the Indian Navy since February 1987.
Completed and commissioned in 1959, it served as the flagship of the Royal navy during the Falklands war in 1982 and was decommissioned three years later. Inducted into the Indian Navy in 1987 after extensive refits, Viraat was the country’s only aircraft carrier for over a decade
2 | The ‘Mother’ ship: The 13-storey high aircraft carrier, affectionately called Mother, was also mobilised during Operation Parakram, the months of military standoff between India and Pakistan following the attack on Parliament in December 13, 2001.
3 | The Giant: In its 29 years with the Indian Navy, Viraat, or the giant in Sanskrit, received 14 refits to prolong its operational life. It returned to the Cochin Shipyard on July 28 but this time to remove all valuable equipment such as engines, radars and guns. It will be towed back to Mumbai where it will be decommissioned.
4 | Sea Harrier era ends: There were plans to retire the 28,000-tonne ship before 2010 but the delay in induction of INS Vikramaditya forced the navy to keep the carrier going for a few more years. The last extension came in 2008 but its integral fleet of Sea Harrier jets was getting increasingly unserviceable. Viraat’s retirement also marks the end of Sea Harriers. Capable of vertical take-off and landing, these aircraft will now be used for training. However, its Sea King helicopters will continue in service.
5 | Defence worries: Viraat’s retirement leaves India without an operational carrier as INS Vikramaditya will only be available for action after eight months. Admiral Lanba has said the under-construction Vikrant, being built at the Cochin Shipyard, the first carrier to be made in India, is due to inducted by December 2018.
India desperately needs to strengthen its naval power with China looking to expand influence in the neighbourhood through ports and military presence.
6 | What lies ahead: It is still not clear what will happen to Viraat. Media reports have said the Andhra Pradesh government wants to turn it into a 500-room hotel or resort. There is also a proposal to develop it into an adventure tourism but no decision has been taken so far.
Military experts and enthusiasts hope that Viraat will not go the INS Vikrant way. The ship, which took part the 1971 war, was sold as scrap. Pune-based maker Bajaj Auto has launched V15 range of motorcycles, which, it says, uses metal from Vikrant in its fuel tank.