Defence Minister AK Antony, who took the helm of the Ministry of Defence shortly after the Barak deal came under the CBI scanner last October, was given a live demonstration of the Israeli anti-missile defence system's capabilities on Thursday night while sailing on aircraft carrier INS Viraat.
In a scintillating display of brute firepower along the western coast, two Barak missiles launched from INS Gomti intercepted and neutralised an incoming P-21 surface-to-surface missile fired from INS Ganga from a distance of around 15 nautical miles.
The interception, watched by Antony, navy chief Admiral Sureesh Mehta and a battery of senior navy officers, took place barely two nautical miles from INS Viraat, which had rolled out the red carpet for the defence minister to make his day at sea memorable event.
On his part, Antony was not frugal in his praise of the navy personnel and the show they had put up. He said, "It is the most thrilling experience I have ever had. I am not exaggerating. I will remember it all my life." During the 17 hours
he spent on Viraat, Antony witnessed a wide variety of naval maneouvres which were kicked off by a submarine demonstration with INS Shishumar diving into the sea and popping out her masts and periscopes to track her `target' before going for the kill.
A Veer class missile vessel tore through the water and carried out a high speed turn to bring the 'enemy' into the engagement range. As Antony animatedly watched from the ship's met deck, Sea Harriers, launched from the ski jump, strafed and bombed 'enemy targets' attempting to prove that the navy's air power was no less than its sea superiority, its might highlighting the navy's air power.
Sea King helicopters carried out "dunking" to detect enemy submarines, while Kamov-31 air early warning helicopters gave a demo of how they use their radar antennae to warn the fleet of any incoming enemy target. Antony said he was proud of the capabilities of the navy and felt privileged to witness the "spectacular and awe-inspiring exercises executed with precision."
The minister also witnessed multi-ship underway replenishment in which the fleet tanker, INS Shakti, refuelled the carrier and a destroyer simultaneously. Navy personnel also carried out close range anti-air firing exercise to engage incoming air 'targets'.
The units that were part of the fleet included destroyers, stealth frigates and offshore patrol vehicles. Admiral Mehta said Barak's effectiveness had been proved and of the 14 tests that were carried out, only the first two had failed due to a manufacturing defect. But that, he said, had been taken care of. He said Viraat, which was commissioned as HMS Hermes in the Royal Navy in 1959, would continue to serve the navy for another seven years.