Naval Air: Where There Were None, Now There Is One


August 20, 2009: India's sole aircraft carrier, the 29,000 ton INS Viraat, has completed a 16 month visit to a shipyard, where it was refurbished and upgraded. The Viraat has been in service for half a century, beginning life in 1959 as the HMS Hermes. The ship served in the Royal Navy for 26 years. In 1986 the Hermes was purchased by India and recommissioned as INS Veraat. It underwent several upgrades until it got a major (21 month) refurbishment, that included electronics and engine improvements. The Veraat was to have been joined in 2010 by the refurbished Russian carrier, the 44,000 ton Gorshkov (as the INS Vikramaditya). Under this plan, the INS Viraat was to be retired in 2012, after 53 years service. But now the INS Viraat has had its engine and hull refurbished, and its electronics upgraded, so that it can serve for up to ten years more. That would mean sixty years in service.

Such long service is becoming more common for warships and combat aircraft (like the B-52, Tu-142 and P-3). This is all possible because of advances in engineering and equipment design over the past half century. There are now more reliable techniques and sensors for evaluating the condition of old ships and aircraft. There are new materials and equipment to replace the older stuff and keep the old warriors serving for decade after decade.

Meanwhile, India has agreed to pay more money, and wait longer, to complete the delayed refurbishment of the Russian aircraft carrier Gorshkov. The Russians not only demanded more money, but also admitted that a labor shortage would delay delivery until 2012. Once refurbished, the Gorshkov (INS Vikramaditya), should be good for about 30 years of service. That's because, after the refit, 70 percent of the ships equipment will be new, and the rest refurbished.

India has operated carriers for decades, having initially acquired INS Vikrant from Britain in 1961. Vikrant was decommissioned in 1997. India acquired a second carrier, also from Britain, the Viraat, in 1986. When it enters service in 2012, the Vikramaditya will operate sixteen navalized MiG-29 fighters, plus some helicopters.

India is also building a 42,000 ton carrier, or Air Defense Ship (ADS) and will begin construction of a second one once the first one is launched. The first ADS ship is expected to enter service in 2012, and the second one in 2017. Each ADS ship will have a similar aircraft complement to the Vikramaditya.


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