Staff Writer (Updated: 8/29/2012):
The HMS Hermes served its intended role faithfully, operating the latest in Royal Navy jet fighters from her deck and serving as the British fleet flagship during the 1982 Falklands War with Argentina - her inventory now having upgraded to the BAe Sea Harrier VTOL (Vertical Take-Off and Landing) jump jet. In 1983, the HMS Hermes was offered for sale to Australia though this deal fell to naught. She was decommissioned for good in 1984 and her procurement cost finally paid off in 1985. A deal with the Indian government was then secured and, after refit and modernization, she was handed to Indian authorities in 1986. After sea trials, the vessel was formally commissioned for service in 1989 with Indian Navy and currently sees operational service (as of 2012). She is, however, expected to be decommissioned (for the last time) in 2020, making way for the new breed of indigenously-designed, developed and constructed Indian carriers (two currently under construction, the first expected operational after 2017). The INS Viraat has since seen major refits from 1993 to 2011 in an effort to keep the 50+ year old vessel viable for the modern battlefield. Nonetheless, she maintains a recognizable presence in Indian waters - keeping pace with Pakistani and Chinese developments in the Asia-Pacific region.
For the interim, the Indian government has purchased the ex-Kiev aircraft carrier Admiral Gorshkov along with a complement of Mikoyan MiG-29K "Fulcrum" navy fighters. The Admiral Gorshkov has been heavily modified at a Russian shipyard prior to the handover and should provide several decades of useful service for the Indian Navy until proper replacements come online. The INS Viraat currently (2012) serves as the flagship of the Indian Navy and fights under the motto of "He Who Rules Over the Seas is All Powerful" making her homeport out of Mumbai, Maharashta.
Compared to her final HMS Hermes configuration, the INS Viraat has been given an all-new fire control system (FCS) as well as modernized radar and communications facilities. The original 4 x boiler system was upgraded and these were tied to 2 x Parson geared steam turbines outputting at 76,000 shaft horsepower. Able to make headway at 28 knots, the vessel could power out to 6,500 miles before requiring refueling. Sensors and processing were handled by an air-search/air-surface search radar suite, navigational radars, and the EL/M-2221 STGR fire control radar system. The onboard sonar was hull-mounted and of the Graseby Type 184M type.
As with many other aircraft carrier designs emerging from Europe, the INS Viraat was completed with a 12-degree "ski jump" ramp which shortened aircraft take-off requirements. This proved highly useful in the launching of the fixed-wing BAe Sea Harriers but dramatically limited the types of fixed-wing aircraft the vessel could field (as opposed to the full-sized American carrier "flat-top" designs). The ski ramp was offset to the bow-port side of the vessel, leaving the bow-starboard deck area open for on-deck storage of aircraft. The island superstructure was offset to the starboard side which left the port side flight deck area free of obstructions for the recovery of incoming aircraft. The superstructure was home to the bridge and flight control and adorned with two identifiable masts, a smoke funnel fitted between to exhaust the turbine engine configuration. A multi-purpose heavy duty powered crane was set aft of the superstructure for loading/unloading from resupply ships or recovering boats as needed. There were several clearly marked locations along the flight deck for helicopter recovery. Deck elevators serviced the flight deck by bringing awaiting aircraft topside from the hangar deck below.
Defense for the INS Viraat remains a collection of individual systems intended to counter both incoming aerial- and sea-based threats at range. This includes 16 x Barak surface-to-air-missiles (added during refit 2003-2004) fired from vertical launch cells for medium-to-long ranged threats and 2 x 40mm Bofors anti-aircraft cannon used for medium-to-short ranged threats. Electronic warfare (EW) handling is made possible by the BEL Ajanta ESM suite. Her air wing consists of up to 30 aircraft to include the BAe Sea Harrier (FRS51 mark) fighter, the Westland Sea King Mk 42/ Kamov Ka-28 "Helix-A"/Kamov Ka-31 "Helix-B" helicopter series and - more recently - the indigenous HAL Chetak and HAL Dhruv helicopters.
The INS Viraat displaces at 24,000 tons on a standard load and this increased to nearly 29,000 tons under a full mission load. She measures a running length of 743 feet with a 160-foot beam and 29 foot draught. The standard operating crew consists of 12,000 personnel with approximately 140 further members making up the required air crew. Under wartime conditions, the INS Viraat can carry a maximum personnel load of up to 2,100 officers, sailors, mechanics, airmen and applicable crew.
As outfitted, the INS Viraat can respond to several war time scenarios. It can field its Sea Harrier VTOL fighters in the air defense role while unleashing its collection of helicopters to help detect incoming aerial- or sea-based threats while identifying, engaging and attacking enemy surface warships and submarines through its collection of anti-ship/anti-submarine helicopters. The INS Viraat is also equipped for the amphibious assault role as it can manage up to 750 awaiting infantry and associated personnel ready to board amphibious LCVP transports. These are launched from the stern in a conventional fashion and can be recovered as such. Up to four such vessels can be carried below deck. Her helicopters can then be utilized to resupply beach head units and those further inland as necessary. With these capabilities, the INS Viraat can also be called upon to take part in humanitarian relief missions.