The HAL HF-24 Marut is a testament to India’s aviation prowess, marking its position as the first indigenous jet fighter. Designed and manufactured by Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) in the 1960s, the aircraft was a representation of India’s aspiration for self-reliance in defense technology. While its operational history was relatively short-lived, the Marut holds a unique position in the annals of military aviation history.
In the wake of its independence, India embarked on a path to self-sufficiency in various sectors. Aerospace and defense were no exception. The HAL HF-24 Marut, born out of this sentiment, showcased India’s commitment to domestically produced military equipment. This article delves into the development, design, performance, and military use of this iconic aircraft.
History of the Development
Epoch Context: By the late 1950s, India was acutely aware of the need to bolster its defense capabilities, especially in the backdrop of the emerging geopolitical tensions in Asia. Dependence on foreign suppliers was seen as a potential vulnerability.
Need and Objective: In line with its policy of non-alignment and self-reliance, India aimed to build its indigenous fighter aircraft. It was a daunting challenge for a young nation but represented the aspirations of an India that desired to carve its technological destiny.
In 1957, HAL took on this ambitious project. Dr. Kurt Tank, a renowned German aeronautical engineer, was roped in to provide design expertise. This collaboration aimed at producing a supersonic jet that would fulfill the Indian Air Force’s requirements and reduce dependency on imports.
Design of the HAL HF-24 Marut
The Marut boasted a twin-engine layout, a rarity for its time, which enhanced its thrust and overall performance.
Technical Specifications (and Metric Equivalents):
- Length: 51.8 ft (15.8 m)
- Wingspan: 29.5 ft (9 m)
- Max Takeoff Weight: 20,840 lbs (9,450 kg)
- Engine: Two Bristol Siddeley Orpheus BOr 12 turbojets
- Thrust: 4,850 lbs-force (21.6 kN) per engine
The aircraft’s dual-engine design made it more resilient to single-engine failures. The frame was built with a clear emphasis on robustness and was known to withstand considerable damage.
However, engine-related issues plagued the Marut. The engines, although reliable, did not provide the power necessary to make the Marut a truly supersonic aircraft.
Performance of the HAL HF-24 Marut
The Marut, though pioneering in many aspects, had its performance metrics that were both commendable and lackluster:
- Top Speed: 691 mph (1,112 km/h) at 36,000 ft (11,000 m)
- Service Ceiling: 45,000 ft (13,716 m)
- Range: 621 miles (1,000 km)
Compared to its contemporaries, such as the British Hawker Hunter or the Soviet MiG-21, the Marut lagged in outright performance, primarily due to its underpowered engines. However, in terms of resilience and structural design, it was highly regarded.
Military Use and Combat
The HF-24 Marut had a relatively brief but impactful operational history with the Indian Air Force:
- Guns: Four 30mm Aden cannons
- Hardpoints: Four under-wing for drop tanks or bombs
The Marut saw combat during the 1971 India-Pakistan War. It performed ground attack missions and even participated in the first-ever jet-to-jet battle for the Indian Air Force.
The Marut in the 1971 India-Pakistan War
The India-Pakistan War of 1971 was a defining moment in South Asian history, resulting in the creation of Bangladesh from what was formerly East Pakistan. The 13-day war saw extensive operations by both the Indian and Pakistani air forces. In this theater of conflict, the HAL HF-24 Marut made its combat debut.
Ground Attack Missions: From the outset, the Marut squadrons were tasked with the challenging role of close air support and interdiction. The aircraft’s robust build proved advantageous in these roles. It could withstand damage and still complete its missions, a feature that was highlighted in several operations where Maruts returned to base with battle damage.
The Marut’s armaments, including its four 30mm Aden cannons and bomb-carrying capability, made it an effective ground attack jet. The aircraft were instrumental in softening up Pakistani defenses, especially in the western theater of the war.
The Historic Jet-to-Jet Combat: On December 10, 1971, in what would be one of the most memorable chapters for the Marut, two of these aircraft encountered two Pakistani F-104 Starfighters near the border region in Rajasthan. The F-104 Starfighter was a Mach 2 aircraft, far superior in speed and altitude capabilities compared to the Marut.
In this aerial engagement, one of the Maruts, piloted by Flight Lieutenant M.M. Lowe, fired its guns at a Starfighter, causing it to retreat. The other Pakistani jet targeted the second Marut piloted by Squadron Leader B.K. Bishnoi. While Bishnoi’s Marut sustained damage from the Starfighter’s gunfire, he and his navigator managed to eject safely before the aircraft crashed. The significant highlight of this engagement was that the Marut, despite being outmatched on paper, held its own against a superior adversary.
This incident marked the first-ever jet-to-jet combat involving the Indian Air Force and showcased the Marut’s resilience and the skill of its pilots. The dogfight also underscored the importance of pilot training, tactics, and the unpredictable nature of aerial warfare where an underdog can effectively challenge a superior opponent.
In the annals of Indian military aviation, this combat became symbolic of the Marut’s fighting spirit, and it solidified its legacy as an aircraft that might not have had the best specifications but had the heart of a lion.
The primary competitors at the time were the Pakistani F-86 Sabres and F-104 Starfighters, aircrafts with their own strengths and limitations.
Exports and Current Use:
The Marut was not exported to any other nation. Its operational role in the Indian Air Force was eventually taken over by more modern aircraft in the 1980s, marking the end of its active service.
The HAL HF-24 Marut, despite its challenges, symbolized a nation’s intent and determination. It laid the groundwork for India’s future endeavors in aerospace, setting the stage for subsequent developments like the LCA Tejas. While the Marut might not have been the most powerful or the most technologically advanced jet of its era, it remains an iconic representation of India’s self-reliance aspirations and a landmark in its aerospace journey.
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