Having served 29 years under the Indian Navy, the world’s oldest aircraft carrier INS Viraat will be decommissioned later this year. The ship will be towed back to Mumbai from Kochi, for completion of the decommissioning ceremony, where it had arrived earlier in July for Essential Repairs and Dry Docking (ERDD) which was completed on September 4, 2016.
Prior to being commissioned in Indian Navy on May 12, 1987, the aircraft career had also served with UK’s Royal Navy for 27 years under the name HMS Hermes. That makes a total of 56 years of operational service, making it the oldest serving warship.
Under the Indian flag, INS Viraat played a crucial role in military operations such as Operation Jupiter, Operation Parakram and Operation Vijay.
Technological advances and the huge maintenance cost made the decommissioning essential for INS Viraat. The future of the warship after decommissioning is yet to be decided by the Indian Government.
On the eve of its decommissioning, here’s a look into the history of the iconic ship:
INS Viraat was commissioned into Indian Navy on May 12, 1987 at Plymouth, United Kingdom by PC Alexander, High Commissioner of India to UK. The ship operated Sea Harrier (White Tigers- fighter aircrafts), Seaking 42B (Harpoons- Anti Submarine helicopters) & Seaking 42C (Commando Carrier helicopters) and Chetak (Angles- SAR helicopter) as its main air elements.
Since its commissioning into the Indian Navy, Operation Jupiter was INS Viraat’s first major operation in July 1989, as part of Indian Peace Keeping Operations in Sri Lanka in the wake of the breakdown of the Indo- Sri Lankan Accord of 1986.
INS Viraat was originally commissioned by the British Royal Navy as HMS Hermes on November 18, 1959. Between 1959 and 1970 Hermes served as one of the Royal Navy’s four Strike Carriers, mainly operating in the Indian Ocean. It also served an important role for the Royal Navy in the Falkland wars. On April 24, 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 last operational deployment of the ship was the participation in International Fleet Review (IFR-2016) at Vishakhapatanam on February 2016. The Sea Harrier fleet was also decommissioned at Goa in May 2016. Under the Indian Flag, various aircrafts have flown more than 22,034 hours from the decks of INS Viraat.
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).
Many suggestions have come up regarding INS Viraat’s future, with eastern coastal states considered to be the ideal place to preserve INS Viraat after the decommissioning.