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January 19, 2000
Viraat to be armed with 'Baraak' anti-missile system
George Iype in Kochi
India's only aircraft carrier, INS Viraat will be fitted with the Israeli-made Barak anti-missile systems, one of the best and highly sophisticated self-defence missile systems in the world.
INS Viraat is now undergoing major refit works at the Cochin Shipyard Limited to extend its serviceability and seaworthiness to at least the year 2010. It has left the Indian Navy without a serviceable aircraft carrier.
But the first phase of the renovations on INS Viraat is almost complete at the Shipyard and the vessel will soon move to the Bombay Naval Dockyard for the installation of the Barak anti-missile system, Indian Navy officials disclosed.
Viraat was originally commissioned in the Royal Navy as the HMS Hermes in 1959. The Indian Navy purchased the vessel in 1986 and commissioned it into the Navy in 1987. Currently Viraat is defenceless against any missile attacks and thus has to solely rely on the air defence missiles of its escort ships. Therefore, Navy sources said, a decision has been taken to install in Viraat the Barak modular missile along with a new sensor package and early warning radar for long range surveillance.
The development of the Barak missile by the Israeli industry and the Navy began 12 years ago. It can destroy attacking missiles and can target and attack airborne targets such as aircraft, unmanned aircraft and various bombs. It can also damage enemy ships.
The vertically launched Barak is an anti-missile system that can lock on to and destroy incoming sea-skimming missiles up to a range of 15 km.
After the second phase of refitting in Bombay, Viraat will be seaworthy almost for the next ten years. But officials point out that the rapidly depleting submarine fleet and the absence of a major warship has made the Indian Navy "a vulnerable force."
The current power of India's naval aviation rests solely on the aged Viraat. In the last one decade, the Navy has not been able to place a single order for a major warship due to budgetary constraints and bureaucratic delays. The Navy at present possesses only 16 operational vessels and its destroyer and frigate fleet is just 13 ships strong.
The Navy has been actively pursuing a few options to replace Viraat. They included buying and refitting the Gorshkov from Russia, building of a new vessel similar to either the French Charles de Gaulle or the Italian Garibaldi.
Last year, negotiation between the defence ministry and Russia to buy Gorshkov, the 44,000-tonne Russian aircraft carrier succeeded as India agreed to pay an unspecified amount for its three-year refit and induction.
But Navy officials say buying Gorshkov for a little over its scrap value does not equip the Indian Navy the way it wants. Moreover, the Russian aircraft carrier will be ready for use only in three years.
While the Navy has been demanding that it needs at least 25 destroyer and frigate ships to guard the country's 7516-kilometre long coastline, successive governments have either kept quite or have prolonged crucial decisions.
But to offset its rapidly depleting fleet, last year the Atal Bihari Vajpayee government sanctioned an off-the-shelf purchase of ships and submarines. As per this plan, the defence ministry has already placed an order with a Russian shipyard for three Project 1135.6 modified Krivak III frigates.
India has also recently bought two 'Kilo' class submarines and three frigates from Russia. "But these purchases are too little to maintain adequate force levels in the sea," a senior Navy officer stationed in the Southern Naval Command told rediff.com.
He said the Navy is now facing new threats, referring to Pakistan's acquisition of three Harpoon missile armed P3C Orion maritime patrol cum strike aircraft last year. "We need to immediately purchase a long-range maritime strike aircraft," the officer pointed out.
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