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 — is slated to have a grand farewell at the International Fleet Review at Visakhapatnam in February 2016.
It is in the process of obtaining Defence Ministry’s clearance to the retirement plan.
Mounting maintenance costs and rapid depletion of its integral fleet of Sea Harrier jump jets are said to have catalysed the decision to decommission Viraat. The Navy shelled out Rs. 70 crore for the last routine refit of the carrier.
The carrier was to have been dry-docked at the shipyard for the next round of periodic refit in December last year, but it was called off in view of the retirement proposal. Viraat is now expected to have its decommissioning refit sometime in the middle of 2015, say sources.
The retirement call was forced, in part, by the dwindling fleet of Sea Harrier fighters operating from the deck of Viraat. While the limited upgrade Sea Harrier (LUSH) programme bestowed the fighters with modern avionics and beyond visual range (BVR) strike capability, the ageing airframe has been a concern. Not more than seven Sea Harriers are available at the moment — some of them cannibalised (used as ‘Christmas Tree’ for spares) to keep the relatively agile ones airworthy.
“Thanks to the Navy’s stringent maintenance regimen, we have been able to operate Viraat without major glitches until now. But the Harrier fleet has dwindled so much that within the Navy, Viraat is often referred to as a ‘One Harrier carrier’. No point flogging it any further,” an official said.
India’s first carrier Vikrant, which was turned into a maritime museum post-retirement in 1997, has now been broken up after its upkeep became ostensibly unviable.
The INS Viraat (R-22) is a Centaur-class aircraft carrier in service with the Indian Navy. INS Viraat was the flagship of the Indian Navy before INS Vikramaditya was commissioned in 2013.