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World’s Oldest Active Aircraft Carrier INS Viraat Set to Be Museum Ship in India

INS Viraat in 2014 on its 50th anniversary. Indian Navy Photo

INS Viraat on its 50th anniversary in 2009. Indian Navy Photo

The oldest active aircraft carrier in the world will be converted into a docked museum when the ship, now in the Indian Navy, decommissions next year.

INS Viraat (R-22) was commissioned in 1959 into the Royal Navy as HMS Hermes (R-12), the last of the Centaur-class conventional aircraft carriers. It was transferred to India in 1987 after undergoing refits and equipment upgrades, according to The Tribune in India.

After 57 years of service life, the ship will decommission in 2016. The Tribune reported that Andhra Pradesh Tourism Development Corporation (APTDC) authorities received an in-principle approval from the Ministry of Defence to convert the ship into a museum at the Kakinada port in the Bay of Bengal, on the eastern shore of the country.

The state government in Andhra Pradesh will invest more than $3 million in converting the Centaur-class aircraft carrier. The ship’s main structure will stay in tact during the conversion process.

Viraat’s service life surpasses the longest-serving American carrier, USS Enterprise (CVN-65), by seven years. The Indian Navy intended to decommission Viraat in 2009, but the refurbishment of Soviet-built carrier INS Vikramaditya (R-33) was delayed so Viraat underwent additional refits and continued its work.

While in the British Navy, Hermes underwent several modifications to serve as an anti-submarine support ship, a commando carrier and a jump jet carrier. Hermes was outfitted with ski jumps for the Harrier vertical/short takeoff and landing jet just in time for participation in the Falklands War with Argentina.

fly in formation with two Indian Navy Sea Harriers, bottom, and two Indian Air Force Jaguars, right

Two US F/A-18E/F Navy Super Hornets fly in formation over Indian Navy aircraft carrier INS Viraat on Sept. 7, 2007. US Navy Photo

“Within 72 hours Hermes was prepared/stocked and her crew re-called from leave,” according to the HMS Hermes Association in Great Britain. Hermes left its homeport three days after war broke out, in early April 1982, and served as the flagship of the British naval presence in the Falkland Islands until the ships came home in July, according to the association.

India’s request to buy the carrier was approved in 1986, and the ship joined the Indian Navy in 1987. While in the Indian Navy, the ship was the sole aircraft carrier in the fleet for a period of time. Its decommissioning will leave Vikramaditya as the sole carrier until the new INS Vikrant enters the fleet.

The Indian Navy may not lose much air power by retiring the Viraat, however. According to a Feb. 12 article in The Hindu, the carrier’s retirement “was forced, in part, by the dwindling fleet of Sea Harrier fighters operating from the deck of Viraat. … Not more than seven Sea Harriers are available at the moment – some of them cannibalised (used as ‘Christmas Tree’ for spares) to keep the relatively agile ones airworthy.”

The ship is sometimes referred to a “one-Harrier carrier,” according to an unnamed source in the article.

  • UKExpat

    I saw this ship in Portland Harbour in the UK in the late 1980’s where she was working up the first Indian Navy crew. I remember thinking why would anyone want to purchase such an old ship, especially one that had recently been to war and clearly looked very used and dated. I suspected that some quick talking clever salesman in the UK Defence Ministry had clinched the sale with a shady deal that would soon end in tears. I could not have been more wrong. She has certainly earned her retirement as a museum ship.

    • Pradeep Kumar

      My friend don’t be ridiculous. Many generation of naval officers (including foreign) worked in this platform. They are very well truly emotional at this moment. For us it is a proud aircraft carrier. Being a blue water navy with aircraft carrier ships /with far flung strategic islands from the main land to protect is always neighbors or anybody’s envy.

    • Common Sense

      The original intention (when she was purchased) was that the Viraat wouldn’t serve more than 20 years as India was planning to build two mid-size (25-30K tonne) carriers with French design assistance by the late 90s. However, the country’s economic crisis around the time of the Gulf War put paid to it. The Russian goof-up on the Admiral Gorshkov ensured she would serve until now.

  • muzzleloader

    Perhaps the Chinese will buy her LOL

  • Hugh

    This ship is indeed old, but was designed and built for war, including armour around vital spaces. She was laid down in WW2 Britain on 21 June 1944. Work slowed after the war, launching her on 16 February 1953, after which she was fitted with more modern items such as a steam catapult, angled flightdeck and 3D radar, and was commissioned as HMS Hermes on 18 November 1959.

  • IAF101

    Going from the INS Viraat (ex-RN Hermes) with its 3-4 Harriers to the INS Vikramaditya (admiral gorshkov) with its 30 Mig-29K (nearly 2 squadrons) complement along with the Kamov Ka-31 AEW and Ka-28 ASW helicopters is a dramatic step up for the Indian Navy’s carrier aviation capabilities. With the induction of the Barak-8 SAM system on the carrier, the Indian Navy may soon have something that can actually be a deterrent in the region.

    On the other hand the INS Viraat with its Harriers was just a glorified helicopter ASW destroyer that was more a target than a threat especially with its dwindling air complement. Its retirement is LONG overdue.

  • Spent some time on her when she visited Mayport FL. Was stationed at the Fleet Training Center teaching shipboard fire fighting. The Brits used air packs vs.our old OBA’s. They also used a vary nozzle that allow you to dial in the type of spray required. We recommended that that type of nozzle be used in place of the 4ft. applicator. You could dial in a wide spray, water wall, that was extremely effective. Guess what…USN uses air packs and vary nozzles. Great hospitality on board Hermes. MMCS(SW)(SS) USN Ret.

  • CaptainParker

    The Centaur-class were good solid ships. The longevity of Hermes proves that. The Brits got rid of Centaur way too early – but that’s what happens when politicians call the shots. Shows the Brits can still build (and upgrade) good warships.

  • Ruckweiler

    Went aboard for a tour years ago when Hermes was at NS Mayport. The Seaman who gave us the tour was right proud of his ship as sailors will be. Amazing that Hermes/Viraat is still out there.

  • Raj Patel

    INS Viraat should be brought to UK waters for one final good bye. She was much loved here and the Indian Navy will do her proud too.

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  • NeilMarshall

    She would be worth bringing back to the UK for use by the Royal Navy. The Queen Elizabeth class carriers that will shortly enter service had their cats and traps removed by the half-witted Defence Secretary, Philip Hammond, and can only ever operate the utterly useless F-35B. Unlike the Hermes/Viraat, they will never be used in anger.

  • Secundius

    Just in case you havn’t heard yet, but Australia just dropped out of F/AV-35B’s. For their Canberra class Gator-Freighters…