December 4, 2013 Shiv Aroor - indiatoday.intoday.in
New Delhi - The Indian Navy is used to irony -- it remains the smallest of India's armed forces, despite having in sheer quantity, the largest area of responsibility, including an enormous coastline. But the fact that the Maharashtra government has chosen the run up to Navy Week, that begins today, to announce its decision to abandon the INS Vikrant aircraft carrier museum ship, scores spectacularly on the irony sweepstakes: today, Navy Day, is a commemoration of the Indian Navy's blistering assault on the Karachi harbour as part of Operation Trident, and the 1971 war in general, one in which INS Vikrant brought to bear formidable firepower in East Pakistan with its floating fleet of strike aircraft.
But if the formidable sweep of history hasn't convinced the government to preserve the INS Vikrant in a nation that so easily forgets its military history, here's a list of 10 good reasons that should:
1. INS Vikrant was the Indian Navy's first aircraft carrier. Once HMS Hercules in the Royal Navy, she was sold to India and commissioned into the Indian Navy in 1961. In this day, with several aircraft carriers prowling the world's oceans, it is impossible to fully capture just how momentous it was for a young country like India to own such a capability.
2. In the 1965 and 1971 wars, the INS Vikrant became an obsession for the Pakistan Navy, which even suggested that it had sunk her in the 1965 operations even while the Vikrant was coolly in refit at the Mumbai naval dockyard.
3. In the 1971 war, after she successfully evaded Pak submarine PNS Ghazi in the Bay of Bengal, INS Vikrant unleashed furious air power on Chittagong, Khulna and Cox's Bazar, destroying masses of East Pakistani assets and vessels, completely decimating any defensive capability there. After six days of unrelenting attacks, the Vikrant's Sea Hawk's ensured East Pakistan was fully contained from the sea.
4. INS Vikrant's performance in the 1971 war cannot be understated. With severe mechanical problems, including a failed boiler that potentially crippled flight operations and cruising speed, she still managed to bring a formidable fight to the enemy, earning her crew 2 Maha Vir Chakra and 12 Vir Chakra gallantry decorations.
5. During the 1962 war with China, there was a brief possibility that INS Vikrant's deck aircraft would be sent on emergency detachment to shore airfields in the North-East for strike operations -- something that never happened, adding to the overall folly of deciding not to use aircraft in offensive operations against the Chinese. Vikrant sat out the war, as did all other airborne strike assets in the country.
6. INS Vikrant's vintage goes back to World War II. Her build, her construction is a throw-back to the inimitably brilliant construction philosophies of the age. She remains the only British-vintage World War II aircraft carrier currently still in visitable condition. To military historians, that alone is good reason to keep her in ship shape.
7. After INS Vikrant was decommissioned in 1997, she has been laid up at the Mumbai naval dockyard, open to the public for painfully brief intervals during the year, but mostly invisible to the Indian public, despite enormous interest in vintage warships across the world.
8. She was India's first and only aircraft carrier to use a steam catapult launch system for its aircraft. The Vikrant itself was modified with a ski-jump in the late 1970s to accommodate the country's new Sea Harrier jump jets. However, with the Indian Navy now mulling the possibility of returning to catapult launch dynamics for future aircraft carriers, a preserved Vikrant will be a living example of history coming full circle.
9. Several veteran navymen and aviators earned their wings training on the INS Vikrant. Former navy chief Admiral RH Tahiliani was among the first Indians to land an aircraft on the ship's deck.
10. Finally, it is hard to describe the emotions, ghosts, wisdom, laughter and spirit that would perish if the INS Vikrant were broken up and sold for scrap. For a country that has been resolutely sea blind for decades, preserving the Vikrant wouldn't just be a symbol of respect for all that the ship has done, but that history cannot simply be sunk.