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Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Innovations in Military Operations [Indian Air Force]

This article appeared in the latest issue of 'Bulletin', a newsletter published by the Bengaluru [formerly Bangalore] branch of the Institute of Defence Scientists & Technologists [IDST]. URLs not part of the original text.

Innovations cleverly adopted during military operations make a difference between winning a war and losing it! Indian Air Force demonstrated it during the 1971 war. IAF converted 10 of its Antonov An-12 transports into 'bombers' with specially designed bomb crates to carry 6,000lb of bombs that could be delivered using the conveyer belt in the cargo cabin. Over a 15-day period, the bombers successfully attacked ammunition and supply dumps; damaged military installations; bombed an ordnance factory and a railway marshalling yard; and destroyed a gas plant and an airfield. The bombers emerged safe and victorious after crippling the adversary's war machinery though they had been sprayed with anti-aircraft shells. The pay-off from this clever adaptation was, indeed, remarkable.

Another example was equipping of the Fairchild C-119 Packet medium transport aircraft with an Orpheus J-39 Jet Pack in order to be able to land at the highest air-strip in the world, Daulet Beg Oldi (DBO), at 16,200ft AMSL in the depth of Himalayas. The feat was accomplished as early as July 1962 in view of the strategic importance of the location of DBO within only a few kilometres from the LOC with both neighbour-nations, Pakistan and China. This joint effort by Indian Air Force and Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd has helped maintain military presence in the region since then.

The Marut HF-24 was India's - and Asia's - first supersonic fighter to be built based on the design by Dr. Kurt Tank, the WW-II aircraft designer from Germany. Forcefully promoted by the then Air Chief, Air Marshal S Mukherji, the Marut had become an emblem of the Nehruvian emphasis on economic self-reliance in the realm of defence. The first prototype of Marut took to the air on June 17, 1961 - in less than five years of the project go-ahead in 1957.

The twin-engine Marut Mk1 was conceived to be a ground attack fighter with four 30mm guns, an internal rocket launcher, and four under-wing hard points for drop-tanks/bombs/rockets. The fighter incorporated many advanced aerodynamic concepts and was designed to reach supersonic speeds. A total of 147 Marut Mk-ls were built including 18 two-seat Mk 1Ts.

Twin-Seat variant of HF-24 Marut fighter aircraft


Sadly, the full potential of this splendid design could not be realised as HAL had to settle down with less powerful and non-afterburning Bristol Siddeley Or-703 turbojets, as efforts to obtain engines with the desired thrust levels, viz., Or-12, BS-75 turbofan, Russian RD-9F, Egyptian E-300, etc., did not bear fruit.

Nonetheless, efforts were made to enhance the operational efficacy of the machine by indigenous innovations like the following:

  1. Development of an after-burner (Re-hear) for the Orpheus-703 engine for a 30-35% thrust increase.
  2. Adding a RATO-motor developed to assist take-off in the Max Take-Off Weight configuration.
  3. Adopting an extended-chord wing to improve take-off and turn performance.
  4. Changing over to 'two 150-gal Drop Tanks' in lieu of 'four 100-gal Drop Tanks' for the same extended range by saving on drag.

A Marut Mk-1R variant was built with 'Reheat' engines on a slightly extended airframe with improved area-ruling for supersonic drag reduction. Unfortunately, even before the gains of the Mk-1R variant could be fully assessed, the only Prototype of the Mk-1R was lost in an accident precipitating foreclosure of its development.

Also: Hindustan Fighter : HF-24 Marut [Part 1] || Hindustan Fighter : HF-24 Marut [Part 2]

The Marut Mk-I fighter squadrons that had entered service with the IAF fared well in the 1971 war. Three Maruts earned Vir Chakras for commendable war service.

The right power-plant that eluded the Marut denied this versatile machine the pride of place it deserved in Indian military aviation. The Maruts faded away an under-exploited asset when they were decommissioned in 1985.

Military situations throw up surprises and it is not always possible that the nation is ready with the most appropriate military weapons to counter every such offensive from an adversary.

More often, the case could be that such 'situation-specific' counter measures are non-existent and yet to be invented.

Victorious Indian Army in Kargil, after defeating the intruding Pakistan Army


Nation has faced situations like the Kargil war of 1999, occurrences of insurgency by terrorist groups, challenging search and rescue operations in difficult terrains, etc., when the forces took some time to effectively respond and retrieve the situation - for lack of appropriate equipment, or, known tactics.

The 'An-12 bomber' and the 'Packet with Jet Pack' are to be remembered on such occasions. One should now be able to quickly rig up a military solution to unexpected threats using innovatively the numerous systems and equipment available with the defence forces and the national laboratories, viz., combat vehicles, naval systems, fixed- and rotary-wing flying platforms, re-locatable tethered balloons, remotely-controlled delivery parachutes, unmanned air vehicles, guns and other armaments, sensors for day and night surveillance, etc. With innovative plans for anticipated applications, it should be possible to overcome, apart from likely major military conflicts, also the low-intensity proxy wars that are now becoming a menace the world over.


Related: The Indian Air Force in Wars - Air Commodore Jasjit Singh, Indian Air force [IAF]