UNITED24 - Make a charitable donation in support of Ukraine!


R 22 Viraat Class
HMS Centaur Class (UK)
Aircraft Carrier

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.

INS Viraat had a standard displacement of 23,900 tons and a full load displacement of 28,700 tons. The total length of the warship was 226.5 meters and the breadth was 48.78 meters. The ship was manned by 150 officers and 1500 sailors. With such a complement, the ship was like a mini-city complete with attendant logistics infrastructure libraries, gymnasiums, onboard ATM counter, a TV and video studio. A full-fledged hospital and dental centre function onboard to cater to any emergencies. Unlike other ships, the British-built warships are equipped for comfort and convenience for all onboard even in a non-combat mode. INS Viraat was the last ship built by the British serving the Indian Navy.

In 1975, Prince Charles, who was then a newly qualified helicopter pilot, joined 845 Naval Air Squadron on flying duties from HMS Hermes in Caribbean and Eastern Canadian Waters. INS Viraat has a room inside her named after Prince Charles, where the Prince himself resided at. A number of photographs showing the glorious history of the warship are proudly exhibited in a place namely ‘Heritage Route’ inside the ship. Unlike all other Indian Navy Ships, INS Viraat has a chapel and graveyard inside the ship, which was a reminiscence of her British military era. Even if the places for worship inside a ship are not common in Indian Navy ships, Navy protected the chapel in a fine way to honour the history.

The ship was all set to meet future challenges in the Indian Ocean zone with her operational prowess matching her name. Viraat was 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 was 28,500 tons and she was propelled by steam turbines with 76,000 shaft horsepower.

INS Viraat was originally commissioned by the British Royal Navy as HMS Hermes on 18th November 1959. She was for a time 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 had a ski-jump at the bow.

The Indian carrier Viraat had a somewhat convoluted design and service history, originally 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. Between 1959 and 1970 Hermes served as one of the Royal Navy’s four Strike Carriers, mainly operating in the Indian Ocean.

In 1970, Hermes switched to her second existence as a Commando Carrier or a Landing Platform Helicopter (LPH) and her third avatar, between 1976 and 1980 was of an Anti-Submarine Warfare (ASW) interim V/STOL carrier with the option to revert to the LPH role at short notice. In 1982, Hermes saw action in the Falklands under the command of Captain Middleton where she distinguished herself as the Flagship of the Royal Navy in the campaign to regain Falklands and South Georgia from Argentina. The 100-day war in hostile weather saw the Sea Harriers undertake 2376 sorties and shoot down 23 enemy aircraft with the loss of only one aircraft to enemy fire. The 108 continuous days at sea, without a single major defect, under difficult combat and sea conditions, were her finest hour. 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 need for a second aircraft carrier for the Indian Navy was felt in the early 1980’s to ensure force level stability since INS Vikrant was nearing the end of her service life. On 24th April 1986 it was announced in Parliament that India would acquire HMS Hermes at a cost of £63 million. Hermes commenced a year long refit and refurbishment schedule in April 1986 before commissioning as INS Viraat. The motto of INS Viraat “Jalamev Yasya, Balamev Tasya” (One Who Controls the Sea is All Powerful) is truly reflective of the role that she is expected to discharge in furtherance of the nation’s maritime goals. The crest of INS Viraat depicts an eagle with five arrows. The eagle symbolizes air power and the five arrows held in the talon represent the ship’s versatile weapon capability. The ship was affiliated to Garhwal Rifles and Scouts, an elite infantry regiment of the Indian Army, since their joint participation in Operation Jupiter.

INS Viraat was commissioned into Indian Navy on 12th May 1987 at Plymouth, United Kingdom by Dr. P. C. Alexander, High Commissioner of India to UK. The ship operated Sea Harrier (White Tigers- fighter aircraft), Seaking 42B (Harpoons- Anti Submarine helicopters) & Seaking 42C (Commando Carrier helicopters) and Chetak (Angles- SAR helicopter) as her main air elements. The air group included 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. The INS Viraat carried a complement of Sea Harrier aircraft which were 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 was fitted by the "Barak" missile point defense system made by Israel.

INS Viraat was involved in her first major operation- ‘Operation Jupiter’ in July 1989 as a part of Indian Peace Keeping Operations in Sri Lanka in the wake of the breakdown of the Indo- Sri Lankan Accord of 1986. On 27th July 1989, the ship mounted 76 helo sorties off Kochi to embark over 350 army personnel and over 35 tons of stores of 7 Garhwal Rifles. Over the next few weeks, Viraat and her task group remained deployed at a measured distance from the war zone, utilizing the time to train soldiers, which adequately demonstrated the ship’s operational versatility.

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 was that the Barak missile defence system was installed and validated on Viraat as it returned 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 until then, according to un-named Navy officers.

The INS Viraat, which had more than 50 years in total service, was pressed to be stretched beyond 2014. Its fleet of STOVL Sea Harriers down to just nine aircraft by mid-2012. INS Viraat refit extended life by three years, could refit again in 2016 to operate until first Indigenous Aircraft Carrier (IAC-1) entered service around 2018.

She played a pivotal role in Operation Parakram followed after the terrorist attack on Indian Parliament in 2013. The Ship also played a key role in Operation Vijay by creating blockade against Pakistan during Kargil War in 1999. The ship has also participated in various international joint exercises like Malabar (with US Navy), Varuna (with French Navy), Naseem-Al-Bahr (with Oman Navy) and has been an integral element of annual Theater Level Operational Exercise (TROPEX).

The Sea Harrier fleet was decommissioned at Goa in May 2016. Not more than seven Sea Harriers were available — some of them cannibalised (used as ‘Christmas Tree’ for spares) to keep the relatively agile ones airworthy. The last operational deployment of the ship was the participation in International Fleet Review (IFR-2016) at Vishakhapatanam on February, 2016.

‘Mother’, as she was fondly referred to in the Navy, had been commanded by 22 Captains since 1987. She was the Flagship of the Navy since her inception. Around 40 Flag officers including five Chiefs of Naval Staff were raised and groomed in her lap. Her legacy under the Royal flag was no less. As HMS Hermes, she was commanded by 13 Captains of the Royal Navy. Her role in Operation Mercy in 1974 and the Falklands War in 1982 are now textbook references for future navies.

Mounting maintenance costs and rapid depletion of its integral fleet of Sea Harrier jump jets catalysed the decision to decommission Viraat.INS Viraat, the aircraft carrier that has had a service life of 56 years as on date — first as HMS Hermes in the Royal British Navy and in its present avatar since 1987. Viraat — which saw action in the Falklands War and remained for well over a decade the sole aircraft carrier in the Indian Ocean region following the decommissioning of the first Indian carrier INS Vikrant in 1997 — slated a grand farewell at the International Fleet Review at Visakhapatnam in February 2016.

In mid-2015 it appered the ship as likely to be converted into a docked museum when the ship decommissioned. Defence Secretary wrote to all the maritime states in the country eliciting a response to the proposal to convert the ship, which had completed over 50 years of service, into a museum. By 2016 it was plannd that HMS Hermes would become a 600-room, five-star hotel moored in India’s Bay of Bengal.

Andhra Pradesh chief minister N Chandrababu Naidu said there was a proposal by the defence ministry to develop the aircraft carrier as a tourist centre once it was decommissioned. Naidu said a joint venture would be set up by Andhra Pradesh government, Indian Navy and a private organization to take up tourism-related activities on the warship. These activities would include yachting, sea sports, sailing, gliding and cruising, and the aircraft carrier's 1,500 rooms could be used to house tourists.

INS Viraat, the oldest aircraft carrier in the world, completed the decommissioning refit in Cochin Shipyard on 04 September 2016. The ship will be towed back to Mumbai from Kochi for the decommissioning ceremony later this year. The ship arrived Kochi in last July for Essential Repairs and Dry Docking (ERDD) prior to the decommissioning. The propeller, rudder and stern tube of INS Viraat had been removed during Essential Repairs and Dry Docking held at Cochin Shipyard which made the towing essential to move the ship back to Mumbai. The Cochin Shipyard Ltd. had been the mending hand of the ship since its Commission. All the dry docking of Viraat has been undertaken only at Kochi and ship has undergone seven SRs and six NRs and the recently concluded ERDD. The final refit of was an emotional experience for shipyard workers who had been working on her for nearly decades now.

Chief of Naval Staff of Indian Navy Admiral Sunil Lamba served as an Executive Officer of INS Viraat. Former heads of Indian Navy Admiral (Rtd) Madhavendra Singh, Admiral (Rtd) Arun Prakash, Admiral (Rtd) Nirmal Kumar Verma and Admiral (Rtd) Devendra Kumar Joshi also served as the Commanding Officer of INS Viraat, which confirms the dominant role of INS Viraat in the history of Indian Navy. Captain Puneet Chadha was the current Commanding Officer of INS Viraat and he was 22nd Commanding Officer of the historic warship. Captain Chadha expressed his sadness over the decommissioning of the grand old ship but also revealed his pride over the esteemed history of INS Viraat. Naval staffs of INS Viraat also were in grief over the decommissioning of the warship. INS Viraat was commonly referred as the ‘Grand Old Lady’ among naval community.

At sunset on 06 March 2017, the glorious era of INS Viraat being the flag ship of the Indian Navy came to an end. INS Viraat, the second Centaur-Class aircraft carrier in service which has spent 30 years in the Indian Navy and 27 years in the Royal Navy, was decommissioned on the day, in a solemn yet grand ceremony at Naval Dockyard, Mumbai. The decommissioning ceremony was attended by more than 1300 personnel who have served on board INS Viraat. As part of the decommissioning ceremonies, a Barakhana for retired and serving sailors and their families was held on 04 March 2017 and a ceremonial dinner were held on 05 March 2017. During these functions, nineteen personnel comprising officers, sailors as well as civilians, and personnel from Garhwal Rifles and Hermes Association were felicitated for notable services onboard.

In November 2018, the Maharashtra government cleared a proposal to convert retired Indian Naval Ship (INS) Viraat into a commercial business complex. According to the proposal submitted by the state government to the Union Defence Ministry, the planned Viraat museum would be constructed by laying a concrete foundation in the sea and the location was around seven nautical miles from the shore at Nivti rocks in Sindhudurg district. The project was supposed to be developed along with a private partner but there were no takers, hence the proposal was scrapped.

The Grand Old Lady, as the longest-serving aircraft carrier remained unsold at the e-auction. The e-auction followed the Navy’s decision to sell the oldest aircraft carrier as scrap as plans to convert the iconic ship into maritime museum-cum-marine adventure centre didn’t find any takers. Since the ship remained unsold as the bids were not on the expected rates, fresh e-auction will be conducted again.

Indian Navy’s decommissioned aircraft carrier Viraat on 19 September 2020 set sail for the last time, on way to Alang in Gujarat, where it will be broken down and sold as scrap. For Navy veterans who watched the huge vessel being towed away by a tug boat, it was an emotional moment as they stood near the Gateway of India, waving at the once ‘floating town’, aboard which they spent the best years of their career. As Viraat began its final journey from the Naval dockyard, a Navy helicopter circling overhead provided a majestic backdrop to the vessel’s last voyage. A Defence spokesperson said Virrat was to leave for Alang on Friday, but its departure was delayed by a day. The aircraft carrier served the Indian Navy for 29 years before being decommissioned in March 2017. It had served in the UK’s Royal Navy as HMS Hermes and was named INS Viraat after being inducted in the Indian Navy in 1987. There were attempts to convert ‘Viraat’ into a museum or a restaurant, but none of the plans fructified.

Alang-based Shree Ram group bought it for Rs 38.54 crore at an auction. Viraat will be dismantled at the Alang ship breaking yard, said company chairman Mukesh Patel. “The vessel will likely reach Alang by September 21 if weather conditions remainfavourable,” he added. Once the ship arrives, it will require clearances from the Gujarat Pollution Control Board and Customs before being brought ashore. Permissions will also be needed for recycling as per the Supreme Court’s 2013 guidelines, Patel said. The ship will be scrapped in 9 to 12 months, he said.

Prior to being commissioned in Indian Navy on May 12, 1987, the aircraft carrier had served with UKs Royal Navy for 27 years under the name HMS Hermes, taking it to a total of 56 years of operational service, and making it among the oldest serving warships. Under the Indian flag, Viraat played a crucial role in military operations such as Operation Jupiter, Operation Parakram and Operation Vijay.

Viraat was commissioned into Indian Navy on May 12, 1987 at Plymouth in the United Kingdom. For the Indian Navy, Operation Jupiter in July 1989 was Viraats first major operation, as part of the Indian Peace Keeping operations in Sri Lanka in the wake of the breakdown of the Indo-Sri Lankan accord of 1986. Viraat also saw action during Operation Parakram in 2001-2002, post the terror attack on Parliament. The last operational deployment of the ship was the participation in International Fleet Review at Visakhapatanam on February 2016. The ship also participated in various international joint exercises like Malabar (with US Navy), Varuna (with French Navy), Naseem-Al-Bahr (with Oman Navy) and was an integral element of annual Theater Level Operational Exercise (TROPEX).

Viraat is the second aircraft carrier to be broken down in India. In 2014, Vikrant was broken down in Mumbai. Four officers who served on board Viraat when it was operational, went on to become Indian Navy chiefs.

Nicknamed the Grand Old Lady, Viraat could carry a contingent of over 1,500 crew and officers. “She was like a floating city, a piece of our country wherever we went,” a former Navy officer said. The warship served the British Navy for 25 years between 1959 and 1984. It was then called HMS Hermes and had played a major role in the Falklands War of 1982.

When the Indian Navy acquired the warship in 1986, the British Navy predicted that it would not be in service for more than seven years. But she went on to serve the Indian Navy for nearly 30 years, over four times the predicted life span. Viraat was at sea for a whopping 2,258 days, covering 590000 nautical miles, and 22622 hours of flying operations, a Defence official said. It could carry 25 aircraft, including Sea Harrier fighters and Sea King 42 B/C, Chetak, Kamov 31 and ALH helicopters.

While operational, Viraat weighed about 27,800 tonnes. Its boilers had run for over 80,000 hours and it was probably the only warship, constructed during the World War II, to have served any country for so long, the official said. Many social media users lamented the failure of successive governments to preserve Viraat and another aircraft carrier Vikrant as maritime muesums to depict India’s rich naval heritage, instead of allowing them to be broken down and sold as scrap.

HMS Invincible

In mid-2002 the rumor going around London was that the UK would put up the aircraft carrier HMS Invincible for sale in 2006. Since the Indian Navy's plans include three aircraft carriers, it made great sense that the Indian Navy will bid for the Invincible, but nothing came of this talk.

HMS Invincible could become the new flagship of the Indian navy in a controversial multi- million-pound deal with the British Ministry of Defence (MoD). The aircraft carrier, along with naval Sea Harrier jets to fly from it, was at the top of Delhi's military shopping list. Britain has three aircraft carriers; the others are HMS Ark Royal and HMS Illustrious. Invincible was due to be taken out of service in 2006.

The Government of India proposed to buy 17 second-hand Sea Harriers from the Royal Navy of the UK. The Government had been collecting information whether there are surplus Fleet Air Arm Sea Harriers. Royal Navy Sea Harriers were said to cost $9 million each and they also suit Indian Navy's requirements. About 29 Sea Harriers are available for disposal. Indian Navy, as of 2002, had 17 units of FRS 51 model. Indian Navy might consider going for total fleet replacement. Sea Harriers can also be used for operational roles. This will suit INS Virat, as it can only carry Vertical/short take off and landing aircraft of size of the Sea Harriers. These can also be deployed across the border.

Join the GlobalSecurity.org mailing list

Page last modified: 13-09-2021 14:50:32 ZULU