As the record holding oldest aircraft carrier in service, INS Viraat- a floating city with a crew of 1500, is getting decommissioned by January 2017, here is my tribute to a ship that sailed with a task force that could send chills down the spine of any country. She earned the sobriquet of “Grand Old Lady” and holds the Guinness world record for being the oldest aircraft carrier in active service with 56 years of operational tenure.
Launched on 16 February 1953, it was a Centaur-Class aircraft carrier viz. HMS Hermes of the Royal Navy of
UK commissioned in 1959. It was later bought and commissioned by India as INS Viraat in 1987. Thus, she gave 27 years of its youth to the Royal Navy of UK and further 29 years of glorious service under the Indian Naval ensign.
Her motto was “Jalameva Yasya, Balameva Tasya”. The English translation of this Sanskrit phrase is ‘She who rules over the sea is all powerful”. Indeed she was the all-powerful in every battle she faced.
The crest of INS Viraat depicts an eagle with five arrows. The eagle is a symbolism for the power of unfathomable flight and the five arrows held in its talon is a representation of the ship’s versatile weapon capability that has distinguished her from her contemporaries.
She was feared in every war she faced and respected for her air elements and armament it featured. The ship operated Sea Harrier fighter aircrafts, Seaking 42B (Harpoons – Anti Submarine helicopters) & Seaking 42C (Commando Carrier helicopters) and Chetak. It had 2 Bofors, 16 Barak Surface to Air Missile and 2 twin AK 230 CIWS.
She served as the flagship of the Royal Navy’s task force during the Falkland wars in 1982 against Argentina.
The first major Indian operation which INS Viraat became a part of was Operation Jupiter in July 1989 for international peacekeeping in Sri Lanka where it carried men of infantry regiment of Garwhal Rifles and scouts of Indian army.
Apart from that, she has also played a major role in Operation Vijay and Operation Parakram in 1999 and 2001 respectively. The former is commonly referred to as Kargil War.
The ship has also participated in various international joint exercises like Malabar (with US Navy), Varuna (with French Navy), Naseem-Al-Bahar (with Oman Navy) and has been an integral element of all major naval exercises. Her last operational deployment was in International Fleet Review (IFR-2016) at Vishakhapatanam on February, 2016.
After all these years of relentless service and grandeur, the future of this Grand Old Lady is quite uncertain for the time being. The Andhra Pradesh Govt. has bought it and a report says that it intends to turn her into a 500 room hotel or resort. There is another proposal to turn it into a museum. No matter what tomorrow brings for her, we all expect it to suit her splendour.
Sham No Varuna. Jai Hind.