Before INS Vikramaditya was commissioned in 2013, INS Viraat R22 was once the flagship of the Indian Navy. The ship has been in service with the Royal Navy since 1959, after decommissioning it was sold to the Indian Navy in 1987.
With one large carrier in operation and another under construction, India has become one of Asia’s leading naval forces. Despite facing significant economic challenges, India took aviation industry very seriously after gaining independence. Unlike some other countries, India focuses on aircraft carriers instead of submarines.
INS Vikrant R11, a Majestic-class light carrier, serving in the Indian Navy from 1961 to 1997, effectively fought in the 1971 war. Meanwhile, INS Viraat, formerly the HMS Hermes carrier of British Royal Navy Centaur-class, joined the Indian Navy in 1987 and served until 2016. These carriers have provided the South Asian nation a considerable experience in carrier-engaged military operations, as well as becoming a compelling reason for New Delhi to decide to maintain the presence of aircraft carriers in the navy.
Before INS Vikramaditya was commissioned in 2013, INS Viraat was once the flagship of the Indian Navy. The ship has been in service with the Royal Navy since 1959, after decommissioning it was sold to the Indian Navy in 1987. On July 23, 2016, INS Viraat made her final journey from Mumbai to Kochi before retiring. She was the longest serving aircraft carrier in the world. After 57 years of service in both the Royal Navy and the Indian Navy, the INS Viraat aircraft carrier was officially offered farewell to the ocean. The ship was then towed to the dry dock to remove weapons and equipment. During her service years, this aircraft carrier had spent a total of 2,250 days at sea and had made the equivalent of 27 rounds around the Earth.
INS Viraat has a standard displacement of nearly 24,000 tons and a full displacement of 28,700 tons. The ship has a length of 226.5m, beam of light 48.78m and draft of 8.8m.
INS Viraat was designed with a 14 degree ski jump to operate the Sea Harrier, reinforced flight deck along with 3cm armor on magazines and machine spaces. The magazine capacity included at least 80 lightweight torpedoes.
The island’s superstructure was set on the starboard side, leaving the deck area of the port side flight unobstructed for recovery aircrafts. The superstructure was where the bridge and air traffic control tower were located, which can easily be identified by two masts. Alternating between the two masts was a smoke funnel to exhaust the turbine engine configuration. At the rear of the superstructure, a heavy duty multi-function crane was installed to load or unload cargo from supply vessels or for recovering activities, if necessary. Along the flight deck there were points for helicopter recovery. The flight deck and hangar deck were connected by elevators at the rear area.
The vessel retained commando transport capability for up to 750 troops and carried four LCVP landing craft in the aft section. In a wartime scenario, the ship could carry up to 26 combat aircraft and was suited for supporting amphibious operations and conducting Anti-submarine warfare operations.
Primary strike aircraft have been the Sea Harriers operating several modern missiles such as the British anti-ship Sea Eagle missile, and the French Matra Magic missile for air-to-air combat. In addition, these aircraft were also equipped with other ordnance included 68 mm rockets, runway-denial bombs, cluster bombs, and podded 30 mm cannon. In 2006, the Indian Navy started the ‘Limited Upgrade Sea Harrier’ program by upgrading up to 15 Sea Harriers in collaboration with Israel by installing the Elta EL/M-2032 radar and the Rafael ‘Derby’ medium-range air-to-air BVR missile.
The fleet also consisted of Kamov Ka-31 Helix-B airborne early warning aircraft and Kamov Ka-28 Helix-A helicopters. There were also domestic helicopters, Hal Chetak and HAL Dhruv.
For self-defense, the ship was equipped with two 40 mm Bofors anti-aircraft guns, 16 Barak anti-aircraft missile vertical launch cells and 2 twin AK-230 close-in weapon system.
The INS Viraat’s propulsion system was two Parsons geared steam turbines with four boilers, providing 76,000 shaft horsepower. The ship could reach a maximum speed of 28 knots, a range of 6,500 nautical miles.
Electronic warfare and decoys was BEL Ajanta electronic support measures and 2 Knebworth Corvus chaff launchers.
During her service in the Royal Navy from 1959 to 1985, she served as the flagship of the Royal Navy task force during the 1982 Falklands War.
After being acquired by the Indian Navy in 1986, during the next three decades of operations she underwent many overhauls and modernizations, allowing to extend her life. The last refit was in November 2012, allowing her to operate for another five years before being replaced by a more suitable substitute, the INS Vikramaditya, formerly the Admiral Gorshkov of Kiev-class heavy aircraft cruiser.
Despite the cost and serviceability issues, INS Viraat has provided the Indian Navy with valuable experience, and now India is ambitious to further develop its naval aviation power.
Not stopping at a single aircraft carrier, India continues to build a new 40,000-ton aircraft carrier, the INS Vikrant. The ship has been built at India’s Cochin Shipyard since 2009 and is likely to be commission by early 2021 with a squadron of modern MiG-29K fighter similar to INS Vikramaditya. The South Asian nation also plans to build a third aircraft carrier, the INS Vishal, with a 65,000-ton displacement, equipped with CATOBAR system.Although there are now comments that aircraft carriers are expensive, bulky weapons, easy to become targets for attack and have become outdated, no longer suitable in the era of long-range precision guided weapons. But the attractiveness of the “sea queen” has not diminished. India still shows its ambition to become a naval power.