The commissioning signal from the Naval Headquarters said: “Your commissioning today marks an important milestone in the development of our Navy’s blue water capability. May your operational prowess match your gigantic name and good fortune attend on you wherever you may sail. I wish all officers and men a happy, challenging and rewarding commission.”
The message from the crew of the Hermes read: “Bringing forward HMS Hermes for hand over to the Indian Navy and commissioning as INS VIraat… It is with a mixture of sadness, pride and confidence that we today handover this magnificent ship to the Indian Navy; sadness in that we with our happy memories witness her passing from the Royal Navy, pride in the capabilities noting that she will be in good hands and confident that she will prove equal and worthy of all the aspirations the Indian Navy have for her as Viraat. The Captain, officers and ships company of HMS Hermes congratulate the Captain, officers and ships company on the majesty of INS Viraat and may good fortune attend all who sail in her quest to control the sea and be all powerful."
The words proved prophetic as INS Viraat has been maintained and run successfully by the professional men of the Indian Navy for a full 25 years, making Hermes-Viraat one of the longest serving aircraft carrier in the history of naval operations anywhere in the world. This speaks volumes of the Indian Navy’s capability in maintaining and operating ships so as to extract the utmost from them.
On the occasion of Hermes-Viraat completing 50 years in service in 2009, The Chief of Naval Staff Admiral Nirmal Verma, who commanded Viraat from 08 Nov 1996 to 13 Dec 1997 said: “The fact that a warship designed in 1940s and built in the 1950s could evolve and adjust to the technological and strategic imperatives of the post war years, the Cold War and continues to have utility in the 21st century is testimony to the men and women who built her and also those who have contributed to transforming her over the years."
The ship has over the years truly stood up to its slogan “Any Mission, Any Time Anywhere”. When commissioned in 1987, her envisaged life was 10 years. INS Viraat’s last major modernisation and life enhancement refit was undertaken in 2008-09 enabling a life extension of a few more years ie till the arrival of Vikramaditya ie definitely till 2013. INS Viraat was the flag ship of the western fleet during Op Parakram. With its full strength of Sea Harriers embarked, Viraat was central to the Western Fleet deployment for over six months. She was at sea with Capt (now VAdm) DK Joshi as the Commanding Officer and RAdm (later VAdm) JS Bedi as the Fleet Commander. Currently commanded by Capt Ajendra Bahadur Singh, the 19th CO of the ship. The ship has seen 18 Commanding Officers of which three went onto become Chief of Naval Staff viz Adm Madhvendra Singh, Adm Arun Prakash and Adm Nirmal Verma.
The ship has done over 40,000 hours of steaming and traversed over 5,00,000 nautical miles across the proverbial seven seas. The ship has undertaken over 20,000 hrs of flying from its deck.