Tag Archives: INS Viraat

45,000 tons of Courageous

The Indian Navy, which officially dates back to the 1947 split with the British Empire and carries a curious mix of traditions from the Royal Navy and doctrine from the Soviets/Russians, saw an important milestone last week when INS Vikrant (R11), whose name roughly translates to “Courageous” took to the sea for builder’s trials, celebrating 60 continuous years of carrier operations.

The country’s first indigenous aircraft carrier and the largest warship to be built in the country, Vikrant is roughly the size of an American LHA but importantly uses a STOBAR aircraft launching system with a ski-jump and angled flight deck and can operate a mix of 40 MiG-29Ks and ASW helicopters.

Nice to see the old Sea King still around

She also has a serious self-defense armament (another ode to Russian carrier ops) including 64 Barak 8 missiles, four OTO 76mm guns, and four Russian AK-630 CIWS mounts. Powered by a quartet of GE LM2500 turbines, which are standard on just about every American destroyer and cruiser, she has an eclectic mix of Italian and Israeli electronics.

60 Years of Indian Carriers

India has been in the carrier game since 1961, when the original INS Vikrant, formerly the British light carrier HMS Hercules, was commissioned. Vikrant was later augmented in 1987 by the Centaur-class carrier INS Viraat (ex-HMS Hermes), which served for 30 years.

Vikrant in 1984 after many years of hard service. You can note the Sea Harriers, Sea King helicopters, Sea Hawks, and Alize aircraft on deck

Doing the math, India was a single-carrier operator for 26 years, then operated two flattops side-by-side for a decade before downsizing between 1997 and 2012. With the commissioning of the completely rebuilt INS Vikramaditya (ex- Russian carrier Baku/Admiral Gorshkov), the country then again operated a two-carrier fleet for five years. 

INS Viraat and INS Vikramaditya in 2013. At the time, India had arguably the second-highest amount of operational naval tonnage in the world behind the U.S.

Since 2017, when Hermes/Viraat was finally retired, they have been back down to a single carrier but that will change once Vikrant officially joins the fleet next year.

Also, the “big deck” Vikramaditya enabled the Indians to retire their ancient early model Sea Harriers and go with MiG-29 carrier variants, of which they have some 45 in operation. Sure, they are not as capable of a carrier-based fighter as the F-18E or F-35B, but they are still a step up from Harriers.

Plus, keep in mind that the very professional Indians have probably the best track record in using MiGs in combat in the world. Just ask Pakistan. 

The Indian Navy has 45 MiG-29KUB carrier-based multirole fighters and is looking to acquire 57 more, with the possibility of building them locally. There is also talk of fielding variants of the F/A18E or the French Rafale instead.

Hermes, Clamagore, and Newcastle to be no more

Lots of changes among the world’s floating museum ships and those otherwise long in the tooth this week.

Hermes/Viraat

Centaur-class aircraft carrier HMS Hermes (R12) bouncing around the North Atlantic with her bow mostly out of the water, 1977.

Laid down at Vickers-Armstrong on 21 June 1944, two weeks after the Allies stormed ashore at D-Day, as HMS Elephant, the RN carrier HMS Hermes only joined the fleet on 18 November 1959 (after 15 years at the builders) with a much-altered plan that included an angled flight deck to allow the operation of jet-powered aircraft at sea. After legendary Cold War service and a pivotal part in the Falklands War in 1982, she was sold to India in 1987 and took the name INS Viraat (R22) and, homeported in Mumbai, served the Indian Navy for three more decades, undergoing a further five refits while in Indian service.

The last British-built ship serving the Indian Navy, Viraat was the star attraction at the International Fleet Review held in Visakhapatnam in February 2016. Her last Sea Harrier, (White Tigers in Indian service), flew from her deck on May 6, of that year and was given a formal farewell at INS Hansa, in Goa two days later. She was to be preserved as a floating museum, commemorating an amazing career.

Fast forward three years and this is not to be. Deli announced this week that she will soon be scrapped.

Clamagore

In formation on 18 April 1966. The boats seen are: USS BLENNY (SS-324), CLAMAGORE (SS-343), COBBLER (SS-344), and CORPORAL (SS-346)

Subron-21’s GUPPY IIIs in formation on 18 April 1966. The boats seen are: USS BLENNY (SS-324), CLAMAGORE (SS-343), COBBLER (SS-344), and CORPORAL (SS-346)

The submarine USS Clamagore (SS-343), a Balao-class 311-foot “fleet boat” of the type that crushed the Japanese merchant fleet during WWII, commissioned on 28 June 1945– just narrowly too late for the war. However, her Naval service was rich, being converted to a GUPPY II snorkel boat in 1947 and later GUPPY III in 1962– one of only a handful to get the latter upgrade.

Decommissioned in 1973, the boat was still in pretty good shape when she was donated at age 36 to become a museum ship at Patriot’s Point, South Carolina where she has been since 1981, near the WWII carrier USS Yorktown.

The Clamagore (SS-343) being brought to Patriots Point Naval and Maritime Museum, Charleston, SC. 1981. Courtesy Tommy Trapp via Navsource

The Clamagore (SS-343) being brought to Patriots Point Naval and Maritime Museum, Charleston, SC. 1981. Courtesy Tommy Trapp via Navsource

Now, she is suffering from extensive decay and, although a group of subvets is trying to save her (and taking the state to court) Palmetto State lawmakers have voted to spend $2.7 million in public dollars to sink the Cold War-era submarine off South Carolina’s shores.

Newcastle

To replace their aging Adams (Perth)-class DDGs, the Royal Australian Navy in the 1980s ordered a six-pack of Oliver Hazard Perry-class guided missile frigates. Known locally as the Adelaide (FFG01)-class in RAN service, the first four vessels were built in the U.S. at Todd in Seattle, while last two were constructed by AMECON of Williamstown, Victoria.

Besides the names of large Australian cities, the vessels carried the names of past RAN vessels including two HMS/HMAS Sydney’s that fought in WWI and WWII, and Oz’s two aircraft carriers.

Photo by ABPH Tracey Casteleijn/RAN/ #950365-10

Photo by ABPH Tracey Casteleijn/RAN/ #950365-10

Canberra and Adelaide were paid off in 2005 and 2008 respectively, then sunk as dive wrecks. Sydney struck in 2015 and began scrapping soon after, while Darwin was broken up in 2017. Melbourne and Newcastle were to stick it out until the new Hobart-class destroyers arrive to replace them by 2019.

With that, HMAS Newcastle (FFG06), was put to pasture this week after she traveled more than 900,000 nautical miles, visited over 30 countries, conducted six maritime security operations and earned battle honors in East Timor, the Persian Gulf, and the Middle East.

Lieutenant Commander Nick Graney salutes during the national anthem as part of HMAS Newcastle’s decommissioning ceremony at Fleet Base East, Sydney on Sunday 30th June 2019.

Lieutenant Commander Nick Graney, RAN, salutes during the national anthem as part of HMAS Newcastle’s decommissioning ceremony at Fleet Base East, Sydney on Sunday 30th June 2019.

The final Australian FFG, Melbourne (FFG05), is set to be decommissioned 26 Oct 2019 and, like Newcastle, will be sold to Chile to begin a second career on the other end of the Pacific. Should that somehow fall through, the Hellenic Navy has also expressed interest in acquiring these classic but hard-used Perries.

And the beat goes on…

Victory lap for longest serving flattop

HMS Hermes was laid down at Vickers-Armstrong on 21 June 1944, two weeks after the Allies stormed ashore at D-Day. She was the last of the quartet of Centaur-class carriers whose construction was started. Originally to be named HMS Elephant, she picked up the messenger of the gods moniker of the old carrier (Pennant #95) sunk by the Japanese in 1942.

Only finished on 18 November 1959 (after 15 years at the builders) with a much-altered plan that included an angled flight deck to allow the operation of jet-powered aircraft at sea, and carried the RN Ensign for a very solid three decades. She carried the 63 foot long, 30-ton Blackburn Buccaneer–which was the same size as the later F-14 Tomcat and could carry up to 6-tons of ordnance including the British Red Beard or WE.177 tactical nuclear bombs to a range of some 2,300 nautical miles, only she did so off a tiny deck compared with U.S. super carriers.

During the Falklands, Hermes did the bulk of the heavy lifting as the flagship of Rear Adm. Sandy Woodward’s Task Force 317.8 for the war and it was her Harriers, along with HMS Invincible‘s that prosecuted the airwar.

Refitted, she was sold to India in 1987 and took the name INS Viraat (R22) and, home ported in Mumbai, she has served the Indian Navy for 29 continuous years, undergoing a further five refits while in Indian service. While in Indian service, INS Viraat – the Grand Old Lady, as she was fondly referred to – spent 2,250 days at sea covering 1.09 million kms — or encircling the globe 27 times.

The last British-built ship serving the Indian Navy, INS Viraat was the star attraction at the International Fleet Review held in Visakhapatnam in February this year. Her last Sea Harrier, (White Tigers in Indian service), flew from her deck on May 6, and was given a formal farewell at INS Hansa, in Goa two days later.

She sailed under her own power for Kochi on Saturday, her last voyage as a warship.

INS Viraat hms hermes

There, her sensitive and usable equipment will be removed over the next two months. Afterwards, she will be towed back to her base in Mumbai, for formal decommissioning, the date of which has not been finalized.

The Indians are trying to keep her as a museum ship, and two cities, Goa and Visakhapatnam are vying for her, which is a good thing.

With a total of 57 years of active service in two fleets, she beats out the longest serving U.S. carriers: USS Lexington (CV/AVT-16) which put in 48 years; and USS Enterprise (CVN-65) which put in 50. Even USS Midway (CVB/CVA/CV-41), commissioned in 1945 and struck in 1997 though decommissioned five years before that, only served 52 years if you count her time on red lead row.

The next closest competition came from HMS Vengence/NAeL Minas Gerais which was completed 15 January 1945 in time to serve with the British Pacific Fleet in the last days of WWII, continue operations with the Australians and then, from 1960 to 16 October 2001, serve with the Brazilian Navy, for a combined total of 55 years, 9 months under three flags. Ironically, that vessel was scrapped in India in 2004.

Plus Hermes/Viraat‘s hull actually has another 15 years on it before she was even commissioned, so there is that.