With its lone aircraft carrier INS Viraat out of the dry dock at the Kochi shipyard, India is likely to briefly deploy the warship to the pirate-infested Gulf of Aden and West Asia next month in a show of its naval might.
"INS Viraat is out of dry dock and is afloat at the Chochin Shipyard, where it went through a refit and upgrade programme for a year now. In another three weeks, all refit work on the ship will be completed. It is likely to sail for about a month-and-a-half in the Arabian Sea and may go up to the Gulf of Aden," Navy officers said here today.
"This Viraat deployment is only for power projection and not for anti-piracy operations," they said.
When Viraat returns to its homeport Mumbai after this brief trip, there are plans to celebrate the 50th year of its naval service in the Indian Navy and in the British Royal Navy in its previous avatar as HMS Hermes.
Viraat had moved into Cochin Shipyard's dry dock late last year to undergo the mandatory maintenance refit and repair.
The ship is in its final leg of the refit programme under which its radars, fire control system and fighter aircraft landing aids were upgraded, sources said.
"This warship, the largest at present in the Indian Navy with a 29,000-tonne displacement, can be dry docked only in the Cochin Shipyard, being the only such facility in the country," the shipyard's officials said.
On November 18 this year, INS Viraat will complete 50 years of cumulative service, considering its commissioning in both the British Royal Navy and the Indian Navy. On May 12 this year, INS Viraat will complete 23 years of its service with the Indian Navy.
India purchased the Centaur Class aircraft carrier in 1987 from the British after it had served the latter's Navy for nearly 28 years since its induction on November 18, 1959. New Delhi re-christened HMS Hermes as INS Viraat.
With the purchase of Admiral Gorshkov aircraft carrier from Russia in 2004 and its likely induction as INS Vikramaditya by 2012 along with 16 MiG-29K fighters, the Navy hopes to have two fully-operational "carrier battle groups" by 2012 to act as a stabilising influence in the entire Indian Ocean and beyond.
Though India has had problems with the Russians demanding USD 2.9 billion for Gorshkov, the ship's refit and repair at Sevmash shipyard is progressing so that it could be delivered by 2012, Navy officials said.
Moreover, the 40,000-tonne Indigenous Aircraft Carrier (IAC), being built at the Cochin Shipyard, is likely to be fully operational sometime in 2015, which was reason enough to keep INS Viraat operational till then, Navy officers said.