India’s solitary aircraft carrier INS Viraat will be fully-operational in another two months or so after undergoing an 18-month-long comprehensive refit to bolster its longevity as well as weapon and sensor packages. The ageing INS Viraat, with its complement of Sea Harrier jump-jets, helicopters and 1,500-crew, has been out of action since early-2008, first at the Mumbai harbour and then at the Cochin Shipyard. “INS Viraat has now come out of the dry dock at Kochi after most of the refit work has been completed. The rest of the work at Kochi should finish by August-end,” said an officer. “The warship will then undergo a work-up phase and trials off Mumbai before it becomes fully ready for operations. Though it is 50 years old now, we will be able to run it smoothly for another five years,” he added. Navy has been forced to go in for another refit of the 28,000-tonne old warhorse due to failure of successive governments to undertake long-term defence planning to build military capabilities in tune with the country’s geostrategic objectives. The Navy has time and again told the political leadership that India needs three aircraft carriers — one each for the eastern and western seaboards, while the third undergoes repairs — to protect its growing strategic interests stretching from Africa’s eastern coast right up to Malacca Strait. But to no avail. The long-delayed 40,000-tonne indigenous aircraft carrier (IAC) being built at the Cochin Shipyard, for instance, will be ready only by 2015 at the earliest. Then, of course, India will get the refurbished 44,570-tonne aircraft carrier Admiral Gorshkov, undergoing a refit at the Sevmash Shipyard in North Russia, only by 2013 now. Incidentally, India and Russia are still negotiating Gorshkov’s final refit cost, with Moscow demanding as much as $2.9 billion. India, on its part, wants to peg the refit cost closer to $2.2 billion. After years of negotiations, India and Russia had inked the $1.5-billion Gorshkov package deal in January 2004, with the carrier refit costing $974 million and the rest for 16 MiG-29Ks. Under it, Gorshkov was to be delivered by August 2008. But since then, Russia has hiked the refit cost to $2.9 billion, apart from pushing back its delivery to December 2012.