India’s lone aircraft carrier still going strong


Mumbai : Ever seen a combination of a floating city and a floating airfield? The aircraft carrier INS Viraat is that and much more and still packs a mighty punch as she prepares for Saturday's 20th anniversary of her commissioning into the Indian Navy.

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Currently the Indian Navy's lone aircraft carrier, Viraat, meaning "giant" in Hindi, operates on the motto: "He who controls the sea is all powerful." This makes the carrier the fulcrum of the Mumbai-based Western Naval Command, one of the navy's two operational commands.

At 28,500 tonnes, Viraat (call sign R-22) is the largest vessel in the Indian Navy. Her primary role is to provide integral support for the air defence and anti-submarine operations for her battle group as well as for long-range strikes against enemy vessels.

Viraat performs this role through her complement of Sea Harrier jump jets, Sea King and Chetak helicopters used both in anti-submarine warfare and search and rescue roles and the Kamov surveillance helicopters. The vessel is also equipped with the Barak missile system for her self-defence.

With an overall length of 750 feet, Viraat is a steam propelled vessel and can cruise at speeds in excess of 28 knots.

Indian Defence Minister A.K. Antony got a chance to study firsthand the awesome power of the vessel when he spent a "Day at Sea" aboard Viraat in January. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had undergone a similar experience last year.

INS Viraat was also the star attraction when the Indian Navy hosted the International Fleet Review off Mumbai in 2001.

Earlier christened HMS Hermes, the vessel's keel was laid in 1944 and was launched at Barrow-in-Furness Feb 16, 1953. She was an integral part of the Royal Navy and was the flagship of the South Atlantic Task Force during the Falklands campaign in 1982.

Prince Charles, the heir to British throne, had in fact completed his midshipman's training on board HMS Hermes.

After a refit at the Naval Dockyard at Plymouth in Britain during which Viraat acquired her 12-degree ski jump that is her most distinguishing feature, she was re-commissioned May 12, 1987.

With her crew of 1,200 officers and sailors, Viraat is a floating city too.

Apart from her cavernous hangars and repair and maintenance facilities, Viraat boasts extensive living and dining areas, a closed circuit-TV network, a video library, a store, a library, and an ATM. It also publishes a daily newsletter to keep the crew informed of developments around the world.

Also on hand are tailors, hairdressers and cobblers to cater to the multifarious demands that arise during extensive periods at sea.

Viraat also offers state of the art medical facilities including a sickbay, a dental clinic and an operation theatre.