R 22 Viraat Class
HMS Centaur Class (UK)
In 1985, the second hand, 1953 vintage, British aircraft carrier HMS HERMES, became available for acquisition. It had already been operating Sea Harriers. After Government approved its acquisition and refit, it was commissioned as INS VIRAAT on 12 May 1987. After Vikrant, the second aircraft carrier INS Viraat was commissioned in the Indian Navy with great hopes.
The ship is all set to meet future challenges in the Indian Ocean zone with her operational prowess matching her name. Viraat is fitted with a ‘ski jump’ enabling the Sea Harrier VSTOL jump jets to take off from the flight deck with greater payload. The carrier would also have Sea King helicopters embarked for providing anti-submarine cover. The standard displacement of INS Viraat is 28, 500 tons and she is propelled by steam turbines with 76,000 shaft horsepower.
This ship was originally as a Royal Navy light fleet carrier named the HMS Hermes. It is currently India's only aircraft carrier. While in the Royal Navy the ship served in a variety of functions including service as a light fleet carrier, an ASW carrier and as a commando carrier. The ship was converted to a VSTOL carrier in 1980 and still has a ski-jump at the bow.
The Indian carrier Viraat has a somewhat convoluted design and service history. Originally HMS Hermes, she was laid down in 1944 as one of the Royal Navy's 'Centaur' class of light fleet carriers. Incomplete at the end of World War II, the vessel remained on the stocks for a decade. New developments in carrier design meant that the vessel which entered service in the late 1950s was equipped with an angled flight deck. In 1971 the Hermes was recommissioned as a commando carrier, and then in the late 1970s as an interim V/STOL carrier. After serving as the flagship of the Royal Navy's task force during the Falklands war, the Hermes was sold to India in May 1986.
The ship was purchased by India in 1986, the carrier, now renamed Viraat, was commissioned-into the Indian Navy in 1987. The current air group includes 12 or 18 Sea Harrier V/STOL fighters and seven or a eight Sea King or Kamov 'Hormone' ASW helicopters. In emergencies, the Viraat can operate up to 30 Harriers. At present, the INS Viraat carries a complement of Sea Harrier aircraft, which are wired for Sea Eagle Anti-Ship Missiles (ASMs) and Matra 550 Magic missiles and various choppers like the Sea King for Anti-Submarine Warfare (ASW), Search-And-Rescue (SAR) and transport. It is fitted by the "Barak" missile point defense system made by Israel.
The Viraat would need to be replaced by 2010 due to the vessel's extreme age. It completed a major refit at Cochin Shipyards from 1999 through April 2001. This refit extended the ship's service life until 2010 and included upgrades to the ship's propulsion systems, its radar suite, communications systems, elevator upgrades, and new weapon systems.
Flagship of the Indian Navy, INS Viraat (R-22) put into major refit in late 2003 and took more than a year to become fighting fit again. The 45-year-old carrier was in dry-dock at Kochi for most of the year. Elaborate repairs and refitting had to be carried out on India's lone aircraft carrier in dry dock to keep it going. The consolation is that the Barak missile defence system was installed and validated on Viraat as it now returns to service. The 23,900-ton vessel had to be tugged back to dry dock for a rehab barely two years after an extensive life-extension, which was intended to give it a 10-year lease of life. The Viraat was unavailable to the Navy for two years during this period. In November 2004 INS Viraat returned to operational service after a year-long repairs. Although sea-trials and flying operations had been carried out between the end of 2004 and early 2005, the carriers first full scale naval exercise was however only conducted on March 27, 2005, off the coast of Mumbai.
As of 2005 it was reported that the INS Viraat would be retired in the next four years, before 2010. In November 2007, with indications of delay in the delivery of aircraft carrier Admiral Gorshkov from Russia, a top official said the Indian Navy will carry out a "normal" refurbishment of INS Viraat to extend its life. "There is a slippage of around one to one-and-half years in the delivery of Gorshkov due to various reasons. Virat has life in it and we will be carrying out a year-long refit starting early next year so that the ship is healthy till Gorshkov comes," Flag Officer, Commanding-in-chief Western Naval command J S Bedi said. On 05 January 2007, Navy chief Admiral Sureesh Mehta was reported to have said that INS Viraat would steam on for another seven years, until 2013.
Viraat moved into Cochin Shipyard's dry dock late in 2008 to undergo the mandatory maintenance refit and repair and it was planned to stay there until the end of June 2009. On 12 May 2009, INS Viraat would complete 23 years of its service with the Indian Navy. Taking into account its British Royal Navy service in its earlier avatar as HMS Hermes, the warship will complete 50 years on 18 November 2009.
In 2009 there were reports that, after the current round of repairs was concluded, India might keep the aircraft carrier in service until 2015. By then, thewarship would have completed 55 years of service, over twice its initially estimated sailing life of 25 years. At that time the Indigenous Aircraft Carrier (IAC) seemed likely to be fully operational sometime in 2015, which was reason to keep INS Viraat operational untill then, according to un-named Navy officers.