March 31, 2015 2:38:13 am
Almost seven months after INS Vikrant was sold to a Mumbai-based ship breaking company, the Navy is now weighing a similar option for the country’s oldest serving aircraft carrier, INS Viraat.
INS Viraat, scheduled to be de-commissioned in mid-2016, is likely to go the INS Vikrant way with the Navy finding it difficult to convert it into a museum, sources said. Highly placed sources said the Navy had submitted a proposal to Defence Ministry to decide on its future use.
The Navy has mooted three options — either to sell it in an auction, convert it into a museum or use it for target practice. “Though we want to retain her and the Navy is trying very hard to convert it into a museum, the possibility looks bleak because of the cost of the project,” a source said.
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“Also, with the state government showing little interest in converting iconic ships into museums, we have to look for private players to sponsor the same. But with these players putting their interest ahead of everything else, selling it to them defies the purpose,” the source added. On the point of it being used for target practice, the source said: “The aircraft is too big and cannot be used for target practice as all weapons are well capable of engaging much smaller targets.”
In December, a technical board was constituted to ascertain how much longer the aircraft carrier could serve. Viraat was inducted into the Navy in May 1987. “It has been in service for more than 50 years now. The normal shelf life of an aircraft carrier is a little over 25 years. She has outlived her life,” a senior official said.
“The aircraft carrier was scheduled to be decommissioned in 2009, but with the INS Vikramaditya’s induction being delayed, Viraat underwent a series of refits. Even with the refits, she is nearing the limits of her mechanical life,” the official added.
“The keel of the warship was laid in 1944. When INS Viraat was inducted into Indian service, she had already served for 20 years in Royal Navy and was fit to be used for another 10 years,” added the source.
In April 1986 , the then Congress government entered into an agreement with Britain to acquired HMS Hermes for $63 million. This flagship was part of the action during the Falklands war in 1982. After refits and new equipment being fitted on Hermes, it was commissioned at Plymouth as INS Viraat in 1987.
When contacted, the Defence spokesperson said, “The aircraft would be decommissioned in mid-2016 and at this point we cannot comment further on her future use.”
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