SEPECAT Jaguar

An RAF Jaguar in winter camoflage takes off carrying the large Jaguar Reconnaissance Pod

In the early 1960’s the RAF began studies to replace the Gnat T1 and Hunter T7 advanced jet trainers and the proposals eventually emerged as Air Staff Target (AST) 362 which also included a secondary role as a light tactical strike aircraft. However, the government of the day, already burdened by the spiralling cost of the TSR-2, was unwilling to fund the project, so at one point it appeared as though the project was unlikely to come to fruition. It was then discovered that the French government were looking for a potential partner to collaborate on a design for an advanced trainer with strike/attack capabilities. The French aircraft was planned to replace their Fouga Magister and Lockheed T-33 in the training role and the Super Mystere B2, Republic F-84F and North American F-100 Super Sabre operated by the Armee de l’Air (AdA) in the strike/attack role. As the aircraft was planned to equip the ‘Ecole de Combat et Appui Tactique’ (School of Combat and Tactical Support) it was known as the ECAT. Dassault and Breguet had both submitted designs in the ECAT competition, eventually won by Breguet with their Br121 design, powered, rather surprisingly for a French design, by twin Rolls Royce RB 172-45 engines. The Br121 design was an update on the BR1001 design that Breguet had originally submitted for an earlier competition for a NATO trainer/light fighter, which was eventually won by the Fiat G-91.

RAF Jaguar XZ362 of II Sqn carrying the large Jaguar Reconnaissance Pod

The prospect of an Anglo/French collaboration appealed to politicians on both sides of the Channel, particularly for some specific British politicians who were desperate to get Great Britain into the European Common Market at almost any cost. Following discussions between representatives from both countries, a joint provisional specification was announced in March 1964, this was followed by a more detailed specification in October 1964. However, from an early stage in the discussions, it was apparent that there were differences between the partners on the relative importance of the training and strike/attack requirements. Eventually the differences could only be resolved by proposing two collaborations; one version was based on the Br121 design would serve as a trainer for the RAF and a trainer light strike/attack aircraft for the AdA. The other version was a more advanced dedicated swing-wing strike/attack fighter aircraft designed the Anglo French Variable Geometry (AFVG) aircraft.

An RAF Jaguar carrying the large Jaguar Reconnaissance Pod

On 17 May 1965 Britain and France signed a Memorandum Of Understanding (MOU) on the plan to build the ECAT and AFVG. In May 1966, under the management of a new Anglo-French company named ‘Societe Europeanne de Production de l‘Avion Ecol de Combat et Appui Tactique’ or SEPECAT, Breguet Aviation and the British Aircraft Corporation agreed to build the ECAT design. The AFVG was planned to be built by a collaboration between Dassault and BAC but was eventually cancelled, due to an alleged lack of French funds. When the British eventually discovered that the lack of funds was caused by the French transferring funds out of their budget for the AFVG, to fund a purely French Dassault AFVG, they were less than impressed with the honesty of their French colleagues. The new aircraft was formally named the Jaguar in Jun 1965. Under the Anglo French agreement, Breguet would have leadership for the airframe design using the Breguet Br.121 as the baseline design – Rolls Royce would have design leadership on the engine, merging the RR RB.172 design with the Turbomeca T-260 Turmolet design to produce the RR RB172 Adour turbfan with afterburner.

An RAF Jaguar GR1A of II Sqn carrying the large Jaguar Reconnaissance Pod

However, the waters were soon muddied by none other than Marcel Dassault. He was thoroughly annoyed when Breguet were awarded the ECAT contract, in preference to the Dassault Cavalier design, then when it became evident that the AFVG was unlikely to progress beyond the drawing board and Dassault realised the potential size of the Jaguar contract, he decided to ensure his company had their finger in the pie by taking over Breguet in 1967. However, for Dassault there was a considerable conflict of interest between promoting the success of the Jaguar against a design that Dassault already had on the drawing boards – the Dassault F1. This conflict of interest was a problem that would emerge a number of times in the future and will be discussed in more detail later in this article.

An RAF Jaguar of II Sqn being loaded with the large Jaguar Reconnaissance Pod

It soon became evident that the British side were unhappy with the fairly modest capability of the Br.121 design, which would only have a payload of 1300lbs. The British, despite originally having a requirement for an advanced trainer, kept insisting on a larger more capable aircraft and, despite some French misgivings about possible delays to the programme, the British suggestions were eventually agreed upon. It was clear at this stage that the conflicting British and French requirements could only be met by building different versions of the basic Jaguar design. On 9 Jan 1968 a second MOU was signed by the French and British governments – the British would take delivery of 110 Jaguar B 2-seat trainers and 90 Jaguar S single seat strike aircraft. The Ada would receive 75 Jaguar E 2-seat advanced trainers and 75 Jaguar A single-seat light attack aircraft. In addition the French Navy would receive 10 Jaguar E trainers and 40 of the carrier capable Jaguar M. The Jaguar M was eventually cancelled in preference to the Dassault Super Etendard.

An RAF Jaguar of II Sqn being loaded with the large Jaguar Reconnaissance Pod

The four versions of the Jaguar were eventually built on two production lines, one at Warton in England and the other at Colomiers near Toulouse. Production workshare was split 50 : 50, BAC built the wings, intakes, rear fuselage and tail with Dassault building the nose, centre fuselage and landing gear. The Adour engine production was also split 50 : 50 between the Rolls Royce plant in Derby and a Turbomeca plant at Tarnos. The four Jaguar versions first flew between 1968 and 1971 and by 1972 the initial production aircraft were flying. Deliveries of production aircraft commenced in 1973 with the RAF eventually changing their initial plan completely and eventually opted for 165 single-seat GR1\strike aircraft and 38 T2 trainers. The first RAF Jaguar was delivered to 226 Operational Conversion Unit at RAF Lossiemouth on 30 May 1973.

An RAF Jaguar carrying the large Jaguar Reconnaissance Pod during GW1

The RAF Jaguars eventually equipped 8 front line squadrons, 14, 17, 20 and 31 sqns all based at Bruggen and II(AC) sqn at Laarbruch in Germany and 6, 41 and 54 sqns at Coltishall in England. The Jaguar was mainly used in the strike/attack role, apart from II(AC) and 41 Sqns who operated the aircraft in the tactical reconnaissance role. In the tactical reconnaissance role the Jaguar was equipped with a dedicated BAC reconnaissance pod, which is described in detail elsewhere. The Jaguar recce pod was eventually replaced by the Vinten VICON 18 Mark 600 LOROP pod, the Vinten GP(1) electro-optical pod, known as the Joint Reconnaissance Pod. As modifications were introduced during the service life of the aircraft, the Jaguar eventually matured into a reliable and capable aircraft. However, in the early years of its service it suffered from under-powered Adour 102 engines and some unreliable avionics; these deficiencies were almost certainly a factor when a number of Jaguars were lost as they flew on a gradual descent into the ground. On a hot summers day on the north German plain, when loaded with the heavy recce pod under the fuselage and two full fuel tanks on the wing pylons, the early Jaguars needed a very long take-off run. In the late 1970’s I can vividly recall watching a II(AC) Sqn Jaguar crossing an overrun RHAG cable (1300ft from the end of an 8,000ft runway and which had been specially lowered for the take-off) with its nose in the air and its wheels still firmly on the terra firma, stubbornly resisting all attempts to fly. The Jaguar finally staggered into the air so close to the end of the runway that it damaged the arrestor barrier lying across the threshold.

An RAF Jaguar carrying Vinten VICON 18 Mark 600 pod

The original RAF strike/attack Jaguars were designated GR1 and in addition to the unreliable Marconi-GEC 920ATC Navigation and Weapons Aiming Sub System (NAVWASS) were eventually equipped with in-flight refuelling probes, a Ferranti AR123231 Laser Rangefinder & Marked Target Seeker (LRMTS) and a Marconi AR181223 RWR. The underpowered Adour 102 engines were replaced as soon as possible with more powerful Adour 104 engines. Then, beginning in 1983, 70 Jaguar GR1s were upgraded to GR1As by replacing the NAVWASS with an improved Ferranti FIN 1064 inertial navigation system. After performing well during Gulf War 1 (GW1), the Jaguar 96 upgrade introduced a MIL-STD 1553B databus, an improved HUD, a flat-panel multi-functional display, a HOTAS system and an improved nav-attack system that integrated the FIN 1064 with a GPS receiver and a terrain comparison subsystem – the updated aircraft were known as Jaguar GR1Bs. The next upgrade, known as Jaguar 97, introduced a larger multi-functional display, further improvements to the navigation system, an NVG compatible cockpit and a Helmet Mounted Sight System (HMSS) – the updated aircraft were then re-designated Jaguar GR3As.

An RAF Jaguar carrying the Joint Reconnaissance Pod

The latest upgrade is to replace the Adour 104 engine with the improved Adour 106 engine. All of the remaining RAF Jaguars are now based at RAF Coltishall which, under the latest round of defence cuts, is scheduled to close in Dec 2006 when the 80+ surviving Jaguars will be retired. From an uncertain and unreliable beginning, the RAF Jaguars have eventually been developed into reliable and capable aircraft - highly regarded by those who fly and maintain them. Nevertheless, even the most biased Jaguar fan would agree that the aircraft is no F-18, but when you consider that the aircraft started out as nothing more than an advanced trainer, it’s surprising and something of a triumph that it’s evolved and been developed as well as it has.

A French Jaguar

The French Jaguars were less capable than the RAF versions, but gained a good reputation for their rugged reliability. French Jaguars were capable of carrying the RP63P reconnaissance pod – a fairly basic converted fuel pod with 1 forward looking and 2 side looking cameras. The French Jaguars also served in GW1 where they flew over 600 sorties without losing any aircraft. The aircraft also flew sorties over the former republic of Yugoslavia during the Bosnia war, but by 2001 all the French Jaguars had been retired. The SEPECAT organisation was keen to sell the Jaguar abroad and even before the RAF and French orders were completed they were actively marketing an export version of the Jaguar, referred to as Jaguar International. However, as mentioned earlier, Dassault were not in the least bit interested in promoting the sale of the Jaguar in preference to the Mirage F1. Consequently, it was left to BAC and then BAe to promote sales of this Anglo French aircraft, that was actually based on an original French design – so much for cross-channel co-operation. Eventually in 1980 BAe obtained from Dassault full rights to export the Jaguar. Nevertheless, wherever BAe subsequently tried to sell the Jaguar International, it was usually in direct opposition to aircraft offered by Dassault and this ‘double-dealing’ undoubtedly left a bitter taste in BAe and the British government about the benefits of any future Anglo-French co-operation. Despite the best efforts of the French, Jaguar International was sold to Ecuador, India, Nigeria and Oman. The Ecuador and Oman Jaguars remain in service; the Nigerian aircraft lasted less than 10 years before being withdrawn from service. India initially acquired some RAF aircraft on loan, before eventually opening their own production line in the HAL factory at Bangalore, assembling kits supplied by SEPECAT but with a considerable local content – a total of around 90 aircraft were eventually built by HAL and many aircraft remain in service.

An RAF Jaguar carrying the Joint Reconnaissance Pod

Aerospace collaboration between Great Britain and France has a somewhat chequered history and often only proceeded beyond preliminary discussions if the British effectively acquiesced to French design requirements. A number of joint projects took place in the 1960’s, most notably Concorde, but probably as a result of their experience with the Jaguar collaboration, it would appear that since then the British have grown weary of French demands and would rather collaborate with the Germans, Italians and Spanish – where a collaborative project is just that and where all the partners also remain committed to future export sales. The Eurofighter Typhoon is the most obvious example of this new collaboration and, although the French were initially involved, when the other partners refused to build a lighter design to suit the unique French requirement for carrier ops, they flounced out of the programme to build the Rafael to suit their specific requirements, but at great expense. Whilst the resulting aircraft is impressive, it is less capable than the Typhoon and has yet to attract any foreign sales.

Now that the European mainland aerospace companies have merged to form EADS, leaving BAe out in the cold, looking towards the US aerospace industry and Boeing in particular for a buy-out, there is no chance of any further collaborative aircraft programmes between just France and Britain. Just how successful the new European collaboration proves to be remains to be seen, neverthelss, the delays and arguments surrounding the planned A400M military transport doesn’t exactly fill me with confidence, but only time will tell.