On the sixth of March, a glorious era of Viraat being the flag ship of the Indian Navy is going to end. INS Viraat, the second Centaur-Class aircraft carrier in service which has spent 30 years in the Indian Navy and 27 years in the Royal Navy; will be decommissioned on the day, in a grand ceremony at Naval Dockyard, Mumbai. The decommissioning ceremony will be attended by personnel who have served on board INS Viraat in the past, and will also include some of the officers and men from United Kingdom. The ceremonies will be commemorated by the release of Special Cover by Army Postal Service, and a book on the history of Viraat.
The aircraft carrier was commissioned into the Indian Navy on 12 May 1987. The motto of INS Viraat (in Sanskrit) “JALAMEV YASYA, BALMEV TASYA” (One Who Controls the Sea is All Powerful) is truly reflective of the role that she discharged to furtherance of the nation’s maritime goals. The maxim was first adopted by Chatrapati Shivaji in the 17th century as one of the guiding principles of his military strategy. The crest of Viraat shows an eagle which symbolizes air power and the five arrows held in the talons of the eagle depict the ship’s versatile weapon capability.
Vice Admiral Girish Luthra
The ship holds the Guinness Books of record for being the longest serving warship of the world. The ship which has been the centre piece of the Navy, housed the fighters Sea Harriers of INAS 300 popularly called “White Tigers”, Anti Submarine aircraft Sea king Mk 42B, Sea King Mk 42 C known as “Harpoons” and the SAR helicopter Chetak as an integral flight. The ingenious Advanced Light Helicopters ‘Dhruv’ and the Russian twin rotor Kamov-31 have also operated onboard the ship. The Sea Harriers fleet was decommissioned at Goa on 11 May 2016.
Under the Indian Flag, the ship has clocked more than 22,622 flying hours by various aircraft in the past three decades and has spent nearly 2252 days at sea sailing and 5,88,287 NM (10,94,215 KM). This implies Viraat has spent seven years at sea, covering the entire globe 27 times. Since her inception she has a total of 80,715 hours of boiler running. She had played a major role in the Operation Jupiter in 1989 in Sri Lankan Peace Keeping operation, after which she was affiliated with Garhwal Riffles and Scouts of the Indian Army in 1990. Her major participation was seen during Op Parakram in 2001-2002 where India and Pakistan were engaged in a stand off post terrorist attack on the Parliament. The ship was instrumental in honing the art of flying operations from a carrier deck in the Navy, which also resulted in seamless induction of INS Vikramaditya and its integration with the fleet.
The ship has participated in various international joint exercises like Exercise Malabar (USA), exercise Varuna (French), Naseem-Al-Bahar (Oman Navy). She has also been an integral element of all the annual theater level exercise (TROPEX). The last operational deployment of Viraat was for participation in International Fleet Review (IFR 2016) off Vishakhapatnam in Feb 2016.
“The best of men and material enter Viraat”, “Chest up, chin up, be proud to be a Viraatee”, “Once a Viraatee always a Viraatee”, these are among the celebrated phrases in the Naval circle which are symbolic of the pride and spirit of personnel serving onboard the ship. Viraat’s presence in the Western Fleet has been marked by victories such as being awarded Best Ship of the Western Fleet for four times and winning the pulling regatta, between fleet ships, 13 times.
Viraat has also participated in social work, by sponsoring education, for nearly two and half decades, children from two NGOs (Raksh Society, Kerala and Indian Sponsorship Committee, Maharashtra).
‘Mother’, as she is referred to in the Western Navy, has been commanded by 22 Captains since 1987. She has been the Flag Ship of the Navy since her inception. Around 40 Flag officers including five Chiefs of Naval Staff were raised and groomed in her lap. Her legacy under the Royal flag was no less. As HMS Hermes, she was commanded by 13 Captains of the Royal Navy. Her role in operation Mercy in 1974 and Falklands in 1982 are now text book references for victory, for future navies.
As the sun sets on 06 March 2017 the Naval Ensign and Commissioning Pendent will be lowered for a last time on board INS Viraat, symbolic of the end of Viraat era in the history of Indian Navy.
Shailesh Kumar is an independent journalist with over 15 years of experience in crime, political and defence reporting for leading media brands including Star News, India TV and NewsX. He is the founder editor of defence and security news portal, National Defence.