INS Viraat retires
The navy decommissioned Indian Navy Ship (INS) Viraat, the world’s oldest aircraft carrier, 58 years after she entered operational service with the Royal Navy in 1959. During this period, she has sailed over a million kilometres, enough to circumnavigate the world 27 times.
- As per centuries-old naval practice, the decommissioning was formally completed when two flags --- the Viraat’s commissioning pennant, and the naval ensign --- were lowered at sunset in Mumbai.
- The 28,000-tonne aircraft carrier was first commissioned into the United Kingdom’s Royal Navy as HMS (Her Majesty’s Ship) Hermes in 1959. The highlight of her 26 years in British service was the Falklands War, when she served as the flagship of the Royal Navy task force in the Southern Atlantic.
- Three years after the Falklands War, she was decommissioned in 1985. After two years of refit in Devon Shipyard, she was commissioned as INS Viraat into the Indian Navy, eventually serving another 30 years.
- INS Viraat was the navy’s last British-built warship. The Royal Navy established and trained the modern Indian Navy, which British admirals commanded till April 21, 1958. Up to the 1970s, the UK supplied India’s first modern warships, including its first aircraft carrier, INS Vikrant, and six Leander class frigates.
- In the 1980s, India bought dozens of cheap Russian missile corvettes and its first destroyers, the Rajput class. As Indian designers began building the first indigenous warships, including the Godavari class frigates, Russian influence was evident in their design. Meanwhile, the navy continued buying Russian warships, such as the six Talwar-class frigates and the navy’s current flagship --- INS Vikramaditya (formerly Admiral Gorshkov).
- Currently, India is building its next carrier, also named INS Vikrant at Cochin Shipyard Ltd (CSL), Kochi. This 40,000 tonne vessel, which has been delayed by almost a decade, is likely to be commissioned in 2023.
- The future of the decommissioned Viraat remains uncertain. Unless a buyer emerges in the next four months, or the Andhra Pradesh government makes good on its offer to convert it into a floating naval museum, the Viraat will head to the ship-breakers and sold as scrap.