Hunter becomes the hunted: When IAF Marut scored the 1st kill!
Indian beauty, HAL HF-24 “Marut”. It was India’s first indigenously researched & developed fighter jet. Although it was designed by a German Engineer, Proffessor Kurt Tank, it was manufactured by Indian engineers of HAL and also well within India.
Marut was an attack aircraft developed to commence air-to-ground attack as a base role. However, it was capable for self defence. It also participated in 1971 Indo-Pak War that made it a battle proven machine. It was not a part of so many dogfights like Gnat. It participated in few dogfights and an impressive fact is that not even a single Marut was shot down by hostile fighter. However, in December 1971, Sqd. Ldr. K K Bakshi scored a kill when he shot down a PAF F-86 “Sabre” with his HF-24.
On December 6, a formation of 2 Indian Air Force Maruts were heading for a strike mission. The formation was being lead by Sqn. Ldr. KK Bakshi. While crossing Naya Chor, (situated in Sindh, Pakistan) his wingman spotted a formation of 4 Pakistan Air Force F-86E “Sabre” approaching them fast.
Even in a situation where IAF jets were outnumbered, Sqn. Ldr. Bakshi ordered to break formation and engage the incoming bandits. His aircraft was equipped with 4× 30 mm cannon for aerial engagement while the Sabres were carrying AIM-9 AAMs for the operation.
The 2nd Marut pilot performed some evasive manuevers to dodge sights of Sabre. Meanwhile Sqn. Ldr.Bakshi was trying to get on the tail of one of the Sabre in order to gain a perfect firing position. Finally when he found himself on the tail of Sabre, he switched to his guns and engaged the bandit.
1st attempt was not succesful, however after few more attempts, the bullets hit the Engine of Sabre and tore the airframe (probably the tail section) apart. The Sabre pilot, Flag Officer Hamid Khwaja ejected and landed on the home soil. This marked the first ever kill made by Marut proving its combat capability.
Instead of continuing the dogfight, he aborted the strike mission and ordered to retreat because he didn’t want to risk his wingman’s life. With some sharp tactics, they somehow managed to confuse the last 3 Sabres and flied back to India while maintaining a tree top height.
It was such an embarrassment for PAF because one of their Ace fighter jet of that era was shot down in their own territory. They were so proud and over exaggerated the jet during the war. But, the real life example of: The hunter became the hunted!
Unfortunately, By 1982, Indian Air Force was proposing that the HF-24 Marut fleet should be retired due to underpowered capabilites. It was requested that it should be replaced with a dedicated Deep Penetration Strike Aircraft (DPSA) having better performance, strike precision/accuracy and modern avionics.
Well, the fact is that HAL was ready to upgrade HF-24 “Marut” to higher standards in late 70s and convert it into the category of Deep Penetration Strike Aircraft (DPSA) and pit it for IAF future requirement.
However, IAF wasn’t in mood to acquire more indigenous HF-24 due to trust issues. HF 24 was carrying a weak engine that couldn’t let it to break sound barrier. It also killed pilots due to some ejection malfuntions. After the Chief Test Pilot of HAL was killed in the HF-24 Mk1R prototype in January 1970, it became clear that the HF-24 would not meet the requirements of a DPSA. The project to power the aircraft with Orpheous-701 engine (previous variant was equipped Orpheous-12) with re-heat was abandoned. Nevertheless, the HF-24 performed creditably in the 1971 War with Pakistan. But the problem was the HF-24 had other drawbacks apart from lack of power. It had no avionics worth the name. It ceased to be a viable competitor to the Jaguar, which became the first on IAF’s wanted list after being held back by the HF-24 for almost seven years.
Many foreign companies offered their jets for IAF’s DPSA tender. French Dassault offered Mirage F-1, a single engine fighter aircraft with some ground attack capabilities. UK offered a its SEPECAT Jaguar, twin engine fighter-bomber. Sweden came up its SAAB 37 Viggen, a single engine aircraft powered by American Pratt & Whitney JT8D by-pass engine with a Swedish afterburner and thrust reversal.
SAAB 37 Viggen
IAF first approached SAAB for procuring Viggen. Unfortunately, due to “not-so friendly” relations since 1970, US blocked the sale by restricting JT8D engine production for IAF. This was also a clear indication for India to lose it’s hope to gain ToT in order to produce them locally. Therefore, SAAB and IAF refused to continue talks for Viggen.
As is common in India, many interested parties including agents, other promoters and even politicians got into the act of promoting the aircraft, which would give them the most personal benefit or what we know in common, Commission. It is said the then Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi wanted IAF to procure Viggen for DPSA. However, his demand was refused because of the problems.
When SAAB stepped back, SEPECAT Jaguar was selected as true alternative. The twin engine capability and modern avioncs were also marking it as a trustworthy DPSA perfect for IAF requirement. Therefore, SEPECAT Jaguar was selected to serve as India’s Deep Penetration Strike Aircraft. And our HF-24 suffered a sad death.