INS Viraat retires, navy’s aircraft carrier future linked with America - Broadsword by Ajai Shukla - Strategy. Economics. Defence.

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Monday 6 March 2017

INS Viraat retires, navy’s aircraft carrier future linked with America

After operating British and Russian carriers for decades, navy looks to US design

Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 6th March 17

The navy on Monday 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 today in Mumbai.

Highlighting the nostalgia around the decommissioning, all but one of the carrier’s 22 Indian commanding officers attended the ceremony.

As a mark of respect, the Royal Navy’s First Sea Lord (navy chief), Admiral Sir Philip Jones, also attended the decommissioning.

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.

Symbolising a bygone era, 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 began decades of Russian affiliation, when 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.

Beyond the British and Russian strands interwoven into the navy’s equipment profile and the strong drive towards indigenisation evident today, its future in aircraft carriers appears increasingly linked with America.

The navy has decided that INS Vishal, the 65,000-tonne indigenous aircraft carrier that will follow INS Vikrant, must be a technologically cutting-edge warship with numerous American features. These include nuclear propulsion and the new US “electro-magnetic aircraft launch system” (EMALS) that makes it possible to quickly launch different types of combat aircraft that would provide a major combat edge.

Given the US Navy’s pre-eminent reputation as the premier operator of carrier borne air power, New Delhi is consulting closely with Washington on designing INS Vishal. A “joint working group” that discusses design aspects is amongst the most successful cooperative enterprises between the two militaries.

The navy wants at least 55 aircraft on board INS Vishal, including two squadrons of fighters, electronic warfare (EW) aircraft to mask them in combat, airborne early warning (AEW) aircraft to monitor and control airspace, and helicopters for special operations, anti-submarine warfare and communications duties.

After earlier supporting the indigenous Tejas fighter for its aircraft carriers, and also the Russian MiG-29K/KUB, the navy has now switched to backing the American F/A-18E/F Super Hornet, which Boeing has offered to build in India. Choosing US carrier-borne fighters would further tighten design and operational cooperation with America.

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.

Alternatively, NDTV quotes the navy chief, Admiral Sunil Lanba, as indicating that the warship may be sunk and converted into a divers’ destination. 


  1. It is very expensive to covert INS Virat into an interesting Naval Musium and then maintain it in impeccable manner. One ould not even earn it's upkeep as a tourist destination. So, this leaves us with two options. Either to scrap the vessel or to sink the ship in an interesting, well chosen spot and turn it into a super divers' destination. In this, I believe, Admiral Lanba's suggestion is absolutely ideal.

    As Goa is a great tourist destination, it will be ideal to sink the vessel in an easy to reach spot close to Goa to make it an excellent divers' destination. In doing so, one must consider if some islands can afford weather protection to the diving site.

  2. I personally believe tejas would be great plane and a winner because of its small size , composite airframe with Y ducts and with a strong electronic package particularly particularly AESA radar and that too has GaN elements and full sensor fusion and very modern electronic warfare package would kill the so called fifth generation fighters. My only concern is it's radius of action and range and somehow make some room to accommodate six thousand liters and keep a good T/W ratio with a powerful 414 EPE engine. The advantage is it can then carry six AAM on multitrack pyelons and decent bombload and meet the range criteria I suggested twin engined LCA mk3 . The problem with Russian planes is after the fall of Soviet Union Russia could not keep pace with latest engine technology and thus they have multiple unreliable planes with faulty engines and nor does Russia have carrier technology. By now Indian navy must have understood that buying groshkov was not a get deal and they are in trouble and Russia is struggling to keep carrier operations in Syria. Russians do have good technology in submarines but in carriers they are way behind. China is also struggling with carrier technology and it is important that the security umbrella has to be improved with range of protective missiles must be increased to more that 300 Kms. And a missile should drop the torpedo very nerdy the submarine so the tarpedo can kill the sub. There should be shorter range electro optic controlled accurate missile as a second line defense plus a powerful laser gun as a third line of defense.



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