August 28, 2009: India's sole operational aircraft carrier, the INS Viraat recently returned to service, after 18 months in a shipyard for upgrades and refurbishment. But now it's primary aircraft, AV-8 Harriers have been grounded because of a recent crash that destroyed one of the aircraft. That leaves it with a dozen or so helicopters.
The AV-8 is a STOVL (vertical takeoff and landing) aircraft that first entered service in 1969. That early version was used mainly by the British Royal Navy and the U.S. Marine Corps. It was a 11 ton aircraft (7 tons when taking off vertically) that carried about two tons of weapons. In the 1980s, a more powerful 14 ton version was developed, which could carry three tons of weapons.
The Harrier has the highest accident rate of any jet fighter. This is largely because of its vertical flight capabilities, which give it an accident rate similar to that of helicopters. The U.S. Marine Corps has lost a third of its 397 Harriers to such accidents in 32 years. In the last twenty years, India has lost most of its 30 Harrier vertical takeoff fighters to accidents, and now only has eleven left.
The U.S. is replacing its AV-8s with the new F-35B. The Indians plan to buy eight retired AV-8s from Britain, and refurbish their current ones, to keep the Viraat armed with jet aircraft for the last ten years of its service life.