In a particularly successful example of adaptive reuse in independent India, Hindustan Aeronautics, Ltd. (HAL) refurbished forty-two B-24 Liberator bombers, which had been abandoned by the Allied forces when they left India after World War II. After their reintrodution to service in 1948, the bombers served in the Indian Air Force for twenty years.

HAL’s B-24 refurbishment program represents the Indian military’s extensive use of secondhand equipment in the early independence period. India also received decommissioned radar sets from the United States. These sets had been retired and replaced by newer models before being shipped to India. (This did not stop the Texas congressman whose district had supplied some of the decommissioned radar sets from declaring in the House: “This is a deplorable and almost unbelievable situation, indeed, when our Government is willing to close down our own military centers and ship our equipment to any country, much less a Socialist country such as India that has continually played footsie with the Communists.”1 )

The largest, and probably longest-serving example of secondhand military hardware used by India was INS Vikrant, the Indian Navy’s first aircraft carrier. Originally named Hercules and constructed by Vickers-Armstrong (Newcastle) for the Royal Navy, the ship was one of six Majestic-class carriers built during World War II. The ships were meant to last only three years or until the end of the war. None of the six Majestic-class carriers entered service with the Royal Navy; after VJ-Day, they were laid up until the navy could decide their fate. Ultimately, five of the carriers were modified and sold to Commonwealth nations: two to Australia and Canada each, and one to India. (The remaining carrier, Leviathan, was finally scrapped in 1968.)

After the Indian Navy purchased Hercules in 1957, the Belfast shipyard Harland and Wolff spent four years modifying the ship to accommodate modern carrier aircraft. Among changes made during the retrofit, the ship received an angled flight deck and full air-conditioning. The Indian Navy received the newly-commissioned INS Vikrant in March 1961. The ship was pressed into service in the Indian takeover of Goa later that year. In 1971, Vikrant operated in the Bay of Bengal during the Indo-Pakistani War. The Indian Navy retired Vikrant in 1997. With careful maintenance and periodic refittings and modernizations, the navy had kept the ship in service more than fifty years after her keel was originally laid-down—long past her expected service life of three years. By the time of her retirement, she had been replaced by INS Viraat—another secondhand British carrier, originally commissioned in 1959 as HMS Hermes.2

  1. Cong. Rec., 88th Cong., 1st sess., 1963, vol. 109: 15006. []
  2. Roger Chesneau, Aircraft Carriers of the World, 1914 to the Present: An Illustrated Encyclopedia (Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press, 1984), 134-151; Norma Friedman, British Carrier Aviation: The Evolution of the Ships and their Aircraft (Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press, 1988), 242; David Hobbs, Aircraft Carriers of the Royal and Commonwealth Navies: The Complete Illustrated Encyclopedia from World War I to the Present (London: Greenhill Books, 1996), 107, 200-201. []