Of INS Viraat's last journey....

India’s oldest warhorse may now be creaking at all her numerous joints but she is still game for a show of strength, a wee bit of power projection on the high seas for the last time. The 56-year-old aircraft carrier INS Viraat has now set sail for what will be her last operational deployment.
The 28,000-tonne INS Viraat, which embarked six Sea Harrier jump-jets as well as six Sea King and four Chetak helicopters from Goa on Wednesday, is headed for Visakhapatnam to take part in the International Fleet Review (IFR) from February 5 to 8.
“This will be INS Viraat’s last journey, a cross-coast deployment signalling the end of her yeoman service for India before she is retired later this year. On her way back to Mumbai, she will call on all major Indian ports as a final salute,” said a senior officer on Wednesday.
Originally commissioned in the British Royal Navy as HMS Hermes in November 1959, the 13-storey high carrier was inducted into the Indian Navy as INS Viraat on May 12, 1987.
“Mother”, as she is still affectionately called, packed quite a punch in her days of glory. She represented two acres of sovereign Indian territory cruising on the high seas, ready to unleash her fighters and other weapons against enemies in a jiffy.
With age and high maintenance costs, the world’s oldest operational aircraft carrier has lost most of its teeth. But the Navy has managed to cannibalise together six Sea Harrier jump-jets, which are always a sight to watch since they land vertically on the warship deck after taking off from its angled ski-jump.
Commanded by Captain Puneet Chadha, INS Viraat will be joined by the country’s other carrier, the 44,570-tonne INS Vikramaditya with her integral MiG-29K fighters, for the IFR. But INS Vikramaditya, or the refurbished Admiral Gorshkov acquired from Russia in late 2013 after a $2.33 billion refit, will have to soldier alone as the country’s solitary carrier after that.
The 40,000-tonne indigenous aircraft carrier or INS Vikrant being built at Cochin Shipyard will be ready for induction only by 2018-2019 at the earliest. India will then achieve its longstanding aim to have two fully-operational “carrier battle or strike groups'' (CBGs), with their accompanying fighters, patrol aircraft, destroyers, submarines frigates and tankers.
CBGs project raw combat power like nothing else.
The US has 11 Nimitz-class nuclear-powered “supercarriers”, each over 94,000 tonne and capable of carrying 80-90 fighters, deployed around the globe. China, too, is fast building new carriers after inducting the 65,000-tonne Liaoning in September 201, even as it is develops “long legs” with naval deployments spreading to the Indian Ocean and beyond.
The defence ministry has sought a response from all nine maritime states if any one of them has “a workable proposal” to convert INS Viraat into a docked museum. The Navy is even willing to handover a few old aircraft for display on its deck to make it a first-class museum.
The Navy does not want INS Viraat to go the way of INS Vikrant, the country’s first aircraft carrier that was acquired from the UK in 1961 and later decommissioned in 1997.

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