India's first indigenous jet was left to die young

India's first indigenous jet was left to die young

India’s first fighter plane Marut didn’t get the boost it deserved .

Today, 50 years later, the IAF has no indigenously built aircraft of any worth. The enthusiam that was associated particularly with Marut died a natural death because of a combination of two factors: import pressures in general and under-powered engines for the aircraft.

Retired IAF officers told Deccan Herald that neither Air Headquarters nor the Ministry of Defence pursued the indegenisation programme beginning with Marut manufactured by the then Hindustan Aircraft Ltd, later christened as Hindustan Aeronatics Ltd (HAL), with gusto. According to Wg Cdr (retd) Praful Bakshi, Marut’s “Ac­hilles heel” was its engine.

“After the GNAT started flying, Kurt Tank (a German who had earlier designed the Focke-Wolf) designed the HF-24” which was a “remarkable aircraft but fell short because of the lack of a proper engine”.

After the aircraft was commissioned, three squadrons were formed and some of them saw action during the 1971 Indo-Pak  war in which it took a lot of hits, as one retired IAF officer said.

At the manufact­uring stage, Rolls Royce agreed to make an engine for the Marut at a cost of Rs 7 lakh per engine. But after the company’s factory in Egypt was bombed by the Israelis in an air attack the IAF re-designed the aircraft, fitting two GNAT engines on it.

“This did not help because the frame was designed for Mach 2-3 speed and the engines were grossly under-powered,” another retired IAF officer said, adding that with no significant help from western countries in developing the Marut’s engine, the plan to manufacture more of the HF-24 was dropped.

According to Wg Cdr Baks­hi, “the Marut was the only aircraft which flew supersonic without an afterburner, an aspect which “our planners never gave importance to.
Besi­­d­es, the defence esta­­blishment “never thought that this was a great tactical advantage. Senior personnel did not want to fly this aircraft because the worksmanship of HAL was not up to the mark,” he notes.

The IAF was “happy because nobody wanted an indigenous programme” even though the Marut could do 640 knots, fly low level with four tanks” (comparable to the American F-22).

Most retired IAF officers Deccan Herald spoke to faulted the Marut’s engine whose under-performance was the main reason why production of the aircraft was grounded.

“Imagine what a Rs 4-cr­o­re investment could have do­ne to the aircraft”, Air Ma­rs­hal (retd) S K S Ramdas sa­id, adding: “Some of the aircraft had not even clocked 10-12 hours on the log and there was one which had logged only three hours. Only a very rich country like ours could afford such a colossal waste,” he said.

Another retired Air Marshal said that several test pilots lost their lives because of a combination of mehcanical faults, including a below par engine. The fighter plane’s reputation was marred by technical glitches, including fuel leakages and a problem with the canopy, which eventually took the life of Group Capt Suranjan Das.

After the Indo-Pak war, the government virtually stalled the IAF’s programme tilting to the seductive appeal of imports which included the procurement and operationalisation of the Russian MiG-21s which subsequently suffered because of the availability of spare parts.

Now, the aircraft lies all across India in various airfields and the authorities at Air Headquarters and HAL here look the other way because it was a source of embarrassment.

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