|Viraat at Sea|
HMS Centaur was the first to be completed, hence class was named for her, but she was commissioned in 1954. Centaur featured an axial flight deck (aircraft land and take off on the same axis, Figure 26) and was thus unsuitable for operating the jets which at that time were rapidly supplanting the traditional piston engine aircraft in the Fleet Air Arm. So upon commissioning Centaur was sent to Portsmouth Dockyard for six months, emerging, after a not insubstantial reconstruction with an angled (or co-axial/two direction) flight deck. Centaur’s service life was short though; she was decommissioned in 1964 and scrapped in 1965...principally because it was uneconomical to keep on modifying her in comparision to other available vessels.
Figure 26. HMS Centaur in her original axial design
The final vessel in the four Centaurs, was originally names HMS Elephant, but in an unusual volte-face the Admiralty changes its mind; and she was called Hermes (the name had originally been selected for the last of the class anyway). Hermes was/is special, not just because she had a longer service life than any of her sisters in British hands; she has in fact had the longest service history of any British Aircraft Carrier; she was completed in 1959 and this piece is written in 2009, thus it 50 years and this author knows at this moment still counting.
Overall though, the Centaur’s were unusual as a class of naval vessel, in that they proved most successful in roles that they were not originally designed for; for example Albion and Bulwark's helicopter assault capability which was world leading... and the loss of which in 1980 was just as important a factor in the Argentinian Junta's decision to launch the Falklands war as the retirement of the Ark Royal in 1978 and the announced retirement of the Falklands patrol ship, Endurance. It left a horrendous gap in the ability of British government to project power globally or even to conduct expeditionary operations - it was a gap which was only partially filled when HMS Ocean was commissioned in 1998. It's also true that the loss of the last ‘semi-proper’ carrier, HMS Hermes, has had truly damaging effect long term on the Royal Navy and the role it has played in recent history, something which the new Queen Elizabeth’s with their greater potential in comparision to the Invincibles, might go some way to correcting.
Outline of Design
Figure 31. Barak Missile VLS on the INS Viraat
|Barak Missile on Display|
When the Viraat was sold to the Indian government it was sold along with a quantity of sea harriers; aircraft which have already been described; the current air group includes 12 or 18 of the aforementioned Sea Harrier V/STOL fighters compliment by seven or a eight Sea King or Kamov 'Hormone' ASW helicopters or AEW. In emergencies, the Viraat can operate up to 30 Harriers as she did in the 1982 Falklands War.
History of Service
I found this on an old pen drive and decided to put it up... I did run a spell check, both in word and on this... anyway am thinking of restarting the series, in which case the next post will be on the Gerald R Ford class carrier.