Government decides to scrap decommissioned aircraft carrier Viraat, veterans outraged

No takers for preserving an important part of India's military heritage; disposal decision in consultation with Navy

July 3, 2019 By Ayushee Chaudhary Photo(s): By Indian Navy
INS Viraat during its decommissioning ceremony at Mumbai in 2017

The Central Government has decided to sale the Indian Navy's aircraft carrier Viraat as scrap. The decision has been attributed to the absence of 'any self-sustaining and financially complete proposal' for the Indian Navy's 'Grand Old Lady'. The statement was submitted by ShripadNaik, Minister of State for Defense, on Monday (July 1, 2019) in a written response to a question in the Rajya Sabha. "Indian Navy has been incurring expenditure on the upkeep of INS Viraat on the provision of services like electricity and water and repairs till date," he stated.

Viraat had found its way back into headlines during 2019 Lok Sabha election campaign when Prime Minister Narendra Modi talked about the former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi having used the carrier for a family holiday in 1987.

Viraat had found its way back into headlines during 2019 Lok Sabha election campaign when Prime Minister Narendra Modi talked about the former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi having used the carrier for a family holiday in 1987.

After being into service for nearly 30 years, the aircraft carrier was decommissioned in 2017. For almost six decades, the aircraft carrier graced two navies with its service- the British Royal Navy as HMS Hermes for about 27 years followed by the Indian Navy as INS Viraat. When Viraat was decommissioned, the then Navy Chief Sunil Lanba had spoken about the various proposals in hand to sink and convert the ship into a major tourist attraction for divers, etc.

However, Naik's statement added, "INS Viraat could not be handed over to any State Government because of non-receipt of a self-sustaining financially complete proposal. Thus, in view of considerations of safety, security etc., a decision to scrap INS Viraat has been taken in due consultation with Indian Navy."

Naik's statement added, "INS Viraat could not be handed over to any State Government because of non-receipt of a self-sustaining financially complete proposal. Thus, in view of considerations of safety, security, etc., a decision to scrap INS Viraat has been taken in due consultation with Indian Navy."

But the decision has attracted criticism from several former servicemen from beyond the naval fraternity who took to social media to express their regret over this idea. From suggestions to use it as a tourist destination to bringing it in use for target practice, from some even offering a part of their salary to raise a contribution to many mourning the loss of a significant rich legacy, there were several bemoaning the decision.

Defence Analyst and Indian Army veteran, Major Gaurav Arya (Retired) called it a 'crying shame'. He tweeted, "It will be a crying shame if INS Viraat is scrapped. 1000 crore is not such a big amount. Politicians give away ten times as much in election freebies. Ministry of Defence should simply factor it in the budget, give money to Indian Navy & ask them to create a museum.

Former Naval person Arun Prakash also expressed his grief stating, "Sending Vikrant, maritime icon of 1971 war, to scrap-yard, was shame enough. We failed yet again to muster national will & few hundred crores 2 preserve another proud warship, Viraat. Hope IN gives her a warrior's burial at sea & let's see how many missile & torpedo hits it takes."

"Nation does not have the will, inclination or tradition to preserve such historical artifacts,-which would motivate future generations and keep maritime history alive. No Wilkinson Swords to be made either," tweeted Vice Admiral JaggiBedi (Retired).

Viraat's predecessor, INS Vikrant, which was India's first carrier had seen the same fate. After being decommissioned in 1997, Vikrant which played a significant role in the 1971 India-Pakistan war, was scrapped in 2014. There had been demands as well as hope that Viraat will be saved from going down the same path and shall be preserved as a legacy and source of heritage to be witnessed by the generations to come. But the government seems to be on a different tangent.

"Nation does not have the will, inclination or tradition to preserve such historical artifacts,-which would motivate future generations and keep maritime history alive. No Wilkinson Swords to be made either," tweeted Vice Admiral JaggiBedi (Retired).

While strategic affairs expert and Commodore C UdayBhaskar (retired) said the decision reflects India's strategic culture and maritime myopia.

Some highlights from the glorious era of Indian Navy's grand old lady:

  • INS Viraat holds the world record as mentioned in the Guinness Book of records for being the longest serving warship of the world.
  • Viraat operated Sea Harriers (White Tigers fighter aircraft), Seaking 42B (Harpoons anti-submarine helicopters), Seaking 42C (commando carrier helicopters) and Chetak (search-and-rescue helicopters).
  • Under the Indian Flag, the ship has clocked more than 22,622 flying hours by various aircraft in the three decades of service
  • Viraat has spent seven years at sea, circumnavigating the globe 27 times. Since her inception, she has had a total of 80,715 hours of boilers running.
  • Viraat played a major role in Operation Jupiter in 1989 during the Sri Lankan Peacekeeping operation. The ship has participated in various international joint exercises.
  • She also saw action during OperationParakram in 2001-2002, post the terrorist attack on Parliament.

  • (SOURCE: Indian Navy)