ABOARD INS VIRAAT: The Indian Navy’s largest warship, INS Viraat, having served the nation for 25 years, has been given a new lease of life with its service being extended to 2018. The vessel is as tall as a 13-storey building and has several essential services and recreational features for its 1,200 strong crew. It has a huge library and even a daily newspaper-Viraat Times - is published aboard.
A typical day on the Viraat begins at 6.15 am with tea; soon after a bugle is followed by an announcement: “All personnel to be on deck for PT.” Routine duties and training programmes keep the men busy till 5.30 pm, when most sailors disembark. A complement of 60 men stays behind. At daybreak, the sailors get ready for work. But not before breakfast. This is where Master Chief Petty Officer Balram Debnath comes in. Debnath rises at 4 am and gets the galley going. It’s not just poori-sabzi or dal-roti here; the galley’s cooks can make finger-licking good Thai and Chinese food. “Breakfast has to be served at 6.30 am and lunch at 11.15 am whether the ship is sailing or not,” says Debnath. His men have hi-tech tools like the chapatti maker which can churn out around 8,000 chapattis in an hour. The ship’s in-house bakery makes fresh cakes. The ship sails with rations enough for two months at sea.
Mast Chief Officer Avatar Singh Rawat is an old Viraat hand, one of the crew that sailed the aircraft carrier from the UK to India. He served on it for six years, and has been transferred back after Viraat’s two major life-extending refits. Asked what has changed, he beams: “Now we even get television signals at sea.” Viraat is now a modern ship, with swanky cabins, more open spaces and easy-to-maintain floors. There’s even a rooster on board which came with the trophy when the Viraat won the Pulling Boat Regatta.
Viraat can handle nuclear, biological and chemical warfare. There’s a hi-tech headquarter on board to deal with such situations. “From 1987 to now Viraat has got the best of radars that can pick up the incoming missile at extended ranges. We also have an electronic warfare system. Our best weapons are the aircraft equipped with Derby air-to-air missiles and 1,000-pound bombs. The Viraat has also recently acquired a self defence capability with Israeli Barak missiles,” says Commander Manoj Jha, the Executive Officer. Isn’t she too old for this sort of thing? Says Jha: “She may be old in years but her lethality has only increased.”
With the Admiral Gorshkov coming to India as the INS Vikramaditya in a year or two, and the aircraft carrier INS Vikrant by 2015, India may have three such lethal carriers soon.