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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.

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 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.

Mounting maintenance costs and rapid depletion of its integral fleet of Sea Harrier jump jets catalysed the decision to decommission Viraat. 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. 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 Indias 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 is 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.

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 is 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.

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