No plan to pay the ship off for now, says Capt. Biswajit Dasgupta

The Navy’s sole aircraft carrier INS Viraat, staging trials following a four-month refit at the Cochin Shipyard Limited (CSL) at present, will remain in service for a few more years, affirms Captain Biswajit Dasgupta, who took over command of the flagship of the Navy in December last.

“There’s no plan to pay the ship off at the moment. It will have life left for a few more years,” Capt. Dasgupta told the media aboard the vessel, docked outside the shipyard, on Saturday.

Hardly 100 metres away, in the yard’s building bay, construction was apace on the country’s first Indigenous Aircraft Carrier (IAC), which will be named INS Vikrant on commissioning.

Two-phase refit

Capt. Dasgupta said the ship’s current round of refit was undertaken in two phases. With the first nearly over, it would sail to Mumbai “maybe a couple of weeks from now for some essential repairs of its machinery and equipment at the Naval Dockyard, a specialised organisation,” before returning to active service by the middle of the year.

“Ever since its service with the Indian Navy, its dry-docking [11 in all] has been done here [at the CSL] essentially for hull and machinery work and minor jobs. [The] CSL is a capable shipyard. And, certain things are common to both merchant vessels and naval ships,” he said.

India acquired the British commando carrier HMS Hermes in 1987, renamed it INS Viraat and placed it under the Western Naval Command in Mumbai.

The steam-propelled ship, displacing 28,000 tonnes, would have its propulsion, sensors and armament done up at the Naval Dockyard, said Capt. Dasgupta.

Sea Harriers

On the vintage Sea Harrier jump jets forming the air complement of the carrier, he said the service of the aircraft, which had undergone limited upgrade a few years ago, was being utilised optimally. “Yes, it is true that the Harriers are ageing, but we’ve operated with foreign navies and the jets have done well.”

While the Viraat remained in refit, the Harriers continued to operate from naval air station INS Hansa in Goa. “We get them on board when we sail into the sea.”

On aircraft carrier INS Vikramaditya, which India is buying from Russia, he said there had been some delay in inducting the platform “which would hopefully join us in a year.”

The Navy’s original plan of retiring the Viraat and the old Sea Harrier fighters suffered a jolt as timelines slipped inordinately on the price negotiations and refurbishment of INS Vikramaditya. As the 44,500-tonne carrier looked ready for induction in June last, a boiler accident threw the induction schedule off-gear all over again.

The Navy is pinning its hopes on inducting the platform before the end of the year.

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