India scripted history on Friday (September 2) when it commissioned its first Indigenous Aircraft Carrier (IAC), INS Vikrant named after India's first aircraft carrier, which played an important role in 1971.
As India joined a select group of small countries, that have the potential to indigenously design and build aircraft carriers, let's have a look at India's past and present aircraft carriers which have served the country effectively.
India's maritime history changed in 1957 when the first aircraft carrier -- Indian Naval Ship (INS) Vikrant -- was commissioned in Belfast, UK by the then Indian high ambassador to London, late Vijayalakshmi Pandit.
* INS Vikrant
Originally named as HMS Hercules, the ship was built at the Vickers-Armstrong Shipyard and was launched in 1945 as a part of the majestic class of ships of Great Britain. However, even before it was brought into active operational duty, World War II came to an end and the ship was withdrawn from use in active naval duty.
In the Bangladesh Liberation War of 1971, INS Vikrant played a pivotal role in spite of many doubts about its seaworthiness before the war. As Captain Hiranandani later recalled the Chief of the Navy, Admiral Sardarlal Mathradas Nanda, saying: "During the 1965 war, Vikrant sat in Bombay Harbor and did not go to sea. If the same thing happens in 1971, Vikrant will be called a white elephant and naval aviation will be written off. If we didn't fly the plane, Vikrant had to be seen operational."
As per reports, in just 10 days, more than 300 strike sorties were carried out from Vikrant. The warship exceeded expectations.
In subsequent years, the warship underwent major re-hauling. However, after years of wear and tear, INS Vikrant served as a museum after decommissioning in 1997 and was visited by thousands of curious people, especially youth and students, as it remain anchored off Mumbai Harbour.
The cost of maintenance and upkeep turned out to be huge and after several hiccups and legal battles, after a glorious history of 71 years, it was finally sold as scrap to IB Commercials Pvt Ltd in November 2014 for Rs 60 crore.
* INS Viraat
INS Viraat has the honour of being India's oldest aircraft carrier. It also has the honour of being the longest serving warship in the world. According to the Indian Navy, it created the Guinness Book of Records for this.
INS Viraat was first commissioned into the British Royal Navy as HMS Hermes on November 18, 1959. It served as the Chief of Task Force of the Royal Navy during the Falklands War in 1982. It was decommissioned in 1985. Hermes was then brought in from the Portsmouth Dockyard to Devonport Dockyard to be refitted and sold to India for $465 million.
The aircraft carrier was inducted into the Indian Navy on May 12, 1987. The traditional Centaur-class aircraft carrier, whose name means 'giant' in Sanskrit, had a staff of 1,500 members on board. Its motto was (in Sanskrit) - 'Jalameva Yasya Balameva Tasya' (The one who controls the ocean is all powerful).
INS Viraat has a long history of service of 33 years to the Indian Navy.
INS Viraat first saw action during the 1989 Indo-Sri Lanka conflict in Operation Jupiter, sending peacekeeping forces to Sri Lanka, after which it was associated with the Garhwal Rifles and Scouts of the Indian Army in 1990.
INS Viraat also played a key role in intercepting Pakistani ports, mainly Karachi Port, as part of Operation Vijay in 1999. Viraat then saw action in Operation Parakram in 2001-2002 after the terrorist attack on the Indian Parliament.
Nicknamed the Grand Old Lady, the ship has participated in various international joint exercises such as in Malabar with the US Navy, Varuna with the French Navy, Naseem-ul-Bahr with the Omani Navy, and was an important part of the annual Theater Level Operation Exercise in 2014 (TROPEX).
The illustrious era of the INS Viraat came to an end when it was decommissioned by the Indian Navy in March 2017. At the time of decommissioning in March 2017, the Navy had said, "Under the Indian flag, the ship has clocked over 22,622 flight hours by various aircraft and has spent approximately 2252 days sailing in 5,88,287 nautical miles or 10,94,215 km." It means that Virat has spent seven years at sea, circling the globe 27 times.
INS Viraat was commanded by 22 captains since 1987. In September 2020, it was moved to Alang in Gujarat where it was dismantled and sold as scrap.
* INS Vikramaditya
INS Vikramaditya, a modified Kyiv-class aircraft carrier, was commissioned in the Indian Navy on November 16, 2013.
Launched in the early 1980s, the carrier, originally designated as Baku, served the Soviet Navy from 1987 to 1991. After spending four years with the Russian Navy as a carrier named Admiral Gorshkov, the vessel was decommissioned in 1996. Since then, the Indian government has started talks with Russia to acquire Admiral Gorshkov.
And, in 2004, a very important naval agreement was signed between longtime military allies India and Russia to make the aircraft carrier a part of the Indian Navy.
With a displacement of 45,000 tonnes, the warship is capable of carrying over 30 aircraft and helicopters. Featuring a total of 22 decks, the carrier has the capacity to accommodate over 1,600 personnel, including officers and sailors.
Today, it is regarded as a force in the Indian Ocean region. INS Vikramaditya is also the first warship to have an ATM. The ship has an ATM, which is working through a satellite link of State Bank of India to save time and resources.
In June 2016, INS Vikramaditya reportedly suffered an accident during a scheduled major overhaul at the Karwar naval base. A seafarer and a civilian employee died due to a toxic gas leak during maintenance work in the Sewage Treatment Plant compartment of the warship.
Nevertheless, the arrival of INS Vikramaditya has added a unique pride to the history of the Indian Navy.