The SEPECAT Jaguar

Photo SMSGT John Chapan, USAF

A British Royal Air Force Jaguar flies along side a RAF VC-10 Tanker Refueler (Not shown) during a mission supporting Operation NORTHERN WATCH

A British Royal Air Force Jaguar flies along side a RAF VC-10 Tanker Refueler (Not shown) during a mission supporting Operation NORTHERN WATCH

In the early 1960s, Britain and France began a collaboration to build a new trainer / strike aircraft. After some difficulties, this machine finally emerged as the SEPECAT "Jaguar", which has provided excellent service for decades in the air forces of Britain, France, and several other nations. This document provides a history and description of the Jaguar.

SEPECAT Jaguar origins

While military aircraft often have complicated origins, the story of the birth of the Jaguar is an extreme case. In 1957, British Defence Minster Duncan Sandys (pronounced "Sands") published a white paper that stated the day of the manned combat aircraft was over, and the future belonged to guided missiles. In the wake of the "Sandystorm", many promising British aircraft development projects were cancelled, and British Royal Air Force (RAF) officers began to wonder if they would all be out of jobs soon.

Sandys had greatly overestimated the capability of the guided missiles available at the time, though he could be forgiven to a degree because his point of view was not all that unusual at the time, with both the US and the USSR scaling back important aircraft programs in favor of missiles. Furthermore, at that time the British Empire was in its last phase of disintegration, and there was an obvious need to streamline and rationalize the British military aviation industry. Unfortunately, the result was less of a soft landing than a crash that left wreckage strewn all over the landscape.

Some projects did manage to survive the "Sandystorm" By the early 1960s, a backlash of sorts had emerged, with officers and defense officials now brave enough to question that the day of the manned combat aircraft was really over. New aircraft development proposals began to emerge, if timidly.

One of these proposals emerged in 1962 as "Air Staff Target 362 (AST.362)", which specified an advanced jet trainer to replace the Folland Gnat T.1 and the Hawker Hunter T.7. The trainer was also to serve as a light tactical strike aircraft. The British Aircraft Corporation (BAC, later the core of the modern British Aerospace / BAE Systems organization) came up with a design for the requirement designated the "P.45", featuring twin afterburning Rolls-Royce RB.172 engines, then in design, and a top speed of Mach 1.7.

Proposals were one thing, commitment and funding another, and the money was not forthcoming. However, the French government was also casting about for a new trainer with secondary strike capabilities, which emerged in parallel with AST.362 as a requirement for the "Ecole de Combat et Appui Tactique (ECAT)". The ECAT was to replace the Fouga Magister and Lockheed T-33 in the training role for the French Armee de l'Air (AdA), and the Dassault Super Mystere B.2, Republic F-84F, and North American F-100 in the attack role.

These two parallel requirements led to discussions between the two nations for a collaboration on a single aircraft to meet the requirements of both, with a provisional joint specification released in March 1964, followed by a refined specification in October 1964. British politicians liked the idea of a collaborative program as a means of improving relations with the French and gaining a foothold into the European Common Market.

The meeting of minds was not exactly a perfect fit. There was uncertainty on both sides over the relative priorities of trainer versus strike requirements, and so discussions led the two sides to propose two collaborations, one based on the ECAT that would serve as a trainer for the RAF (and possibly the Royal Navy) and as a trainer / light strike aircraft for the ADA; and a more formidable dedicated strike fighter with "swing wings" for both the RAF and the AdA, designated the "Anglo-French Variable Geometry (AFVG)" aircraft.

A decision to proceed on these two collaborative efforts was formalized in a "memorandum of understanding (MOU)" signed on 17 May 1965. As far as the trainer / light attack aircraft went, the initial agreement envisioned that the RAF would obtain 150 advanced trainer variants, while the AdA would obtain 75 trainer variants and 75 light attack variants. The name "Jaguar" was announced for the new aircraft in June 1965. The British trainer was designated "Jaguar B (Biplace)", while the French trainer was designated "Jaguar E (Ecole)" and the French light attack aircraft was designated "Jaguar A (Appui)".

In May 1966, Breguet Aviation of France and British Aircraft Corporation (BAC) formed a joint company to build the new aircraft. The collaboration was named "Societe Europeanne de Production de l'Avion Ecole de Combat et Appui Tactique", blessedly abbreviated as "SEPECAT". The AFVG was to be built by a collaboration between Dassault and BAC.

The baseline for the Jaguar was the Breguet "Br.121", an unflown design for a light strike aircraft that was a follow-on to the Breguet "Br.1001 Taon (Horsefly)". The Taon had been built for a NATO requirement (the name was in fact an anagram of "NATO"), with two prototypes built, the first performing its initial flight on 25 July 1957. It had a span of 6.8 meters (22 feet 4 inches), a length of 11.68 meters (38 feet 4 inches), and an empty weight of 3,425 kilograms (7,550 pounds). The prototype was powered by a Bristol Orpheus BOr.3 turbojet with 21.6 kN (2,200 kgp / 4,850 lbf) thrust and was marginally supersonic. The NATO requirement had actually been won by the Fiat G.91 fighter, and the Taon never went into production.


Breguet BR-1001 Taon. The Taon never went into production

Breguet BR-1001 Taon. The Taon never went into production

The engine for the Jaguar was also to be built by an Anglo-French consortium. Rolls-Royce of the UK would merge their RB.172 engine design -- which the French had selected for the Br.121 -- with that of the T-260 Turbolet produced by Turbomeca of France, resulting in an afterburning turbofan designated the "RT-172 Adour".

However, the Br.121 design defined a machine of modest capability, with a combat load of only 590 kilograms (1,300 pounds) and a limited combat radius. The British wanted something more formidable and pushed the project in that direction, with BAC changing the design to a bigger and more powerful aircraft. This was a little strange in hindsight because the original British requirement was only for trainers; it appears that the "mission creep" in the Jaguar program was due to RAF insecurity created in the years following the "Sandystorm", in which one British advanced aircraft project after another took it in the neck. The RAF wanted to have more options in case other branches of aircraft development ran into dead ends.

The French felt the changes in definition would lead to delays in delivery and they would be proven right, but they were also tempted by the revised machine's improved capability and went along with the British. Whatever the reasons for the British push for a more capable combat aircraft, the change in direction would prove justified when the French killed off the AFVG in June 1967, citing lack of funds. The British were thoroughly annoyed when they found out that the funding shortfall was due to the fact that the French government had transferred the money to another Dassault program, the "Mirage G", which was very much along the lines of the AFVG but was purely French. The Mirage G would eventually be axed as well, but the hard feelings lingered.

In any case, on 9 January 1968 the British and French governments signed a second MOU on the Jaguar, with both countries committing to the purchase of 200 aircraft each. The British would obtain 110 Jaguar B trainers and 90 single-seat "Jaguar S (Strike)" strike fighters. The AdA would still obtain 75 Jaguar Es and 75 Jaguar As, but the French naval air arm, the Aeronavale, would obtain 10 Jaguar Es and 40 examples of a carrier-capable Jaguar single-seat strike variant, the "Jaguar M (Marine)".

The quantities were tweaked again in January 1970, with the British turning almost 180 degrees from their original position by ordering 165 Jaguar S strike fighters and only 35 Jaguar B trainers. The French must have rolled their eyes.

In any case, Jaguar prototypes were flying by this time:

  • The first French Jaguar E two-seat trainer prototype performed its initial flight on 8 September 1968, this also being the first flight of the Adour engine.
  • The first French Jaguar A single-seat strike variant prototype flew on 23 March 1969.
  • The first RAF Jaguar S single-seat strike variant prototype flew on 12 October 1969.
  • The first RAF Jaguar B two-seat trainer variant prototype followed on 30 August 1971.

Two prototypes were built for each of the four variants, giving a total of eight, with five of the prototypes built in France and three in the UK. A single prototype of the Jaguar M carrier-based strike variant for the Aeronavale -- with a longer nosewheel leg, stinger arresting hook, and other navalizations -- performed its initial flight on 14 November 1969.

The Jaguar M completed carrier deck trials before being cancelled in favor of the Dassault Super Etendard. This has been generally judged a bad move on almost all counts. The Super Etendard was clearly less capable, but it was sold as a modest low-cost update of the existing Etendard IV, and though the "modest" part turned out to be arguably true, the "low-cost" part turned out to be unarguably false. Some authors have poked fun at the evaluation report on the Jaguar M versus the proposed Super Etendard, which is said to have criticised the Jaguar M's handling with an engine out, somewhat oblivious to the fact that since the Super Etendard only had one engine its engine-out performance clearly would leave even more to be desired. In any case, the AdA picked up the other 50 Jaguars ordered by the Aeronavale.

The other four variants all went into production, with initial production aircraft flying in 1972 and the type migrating into AdA and RAF service over the next few years. The AdA retained the designations of "Jaguar A" for the single seater and "Jaguar E" for the two seater, but the RAF single seater Jaguar S became the "Jaguar Ground Attack / Reconnaissance Mark 1 (GR.1)", while the two seater Jaguar B became the "Jaguar Trainer Mark 2 (T.2)".


SEPECAT Jaguar Variants. The SEPECAT Jaguar A, the Jaguar GR.1, and the Jaguar E / T.2

SEPECAT Jaguar Variants. The SEPECAT Jaguar A, the Jaguar GR.1, and the Jaguar E / T.2

Production workshare was split 50:50 between the contractors, with BAC building the wings, engine intakes, rear fuselage, and tail assembly, while Breguet built the nose, center fuselage, and landing gear. There were final assembly lines in both countries to build their respective national variants, with BAC rolling out Jaguars at Warton and Breguet producing them at Colomiers, near Toulouse. Rolls-Royce and Turbomeca had a similar arrangement, each building half of the Adour engines, with Rolls completing British Adours at Derby and Turbomeca turning out French Adours at Tarnos.

The Jaguar was the first Anglo-French combat aircraft, and said to be the first RAF aircraft to be designed in metric. It would go on to prove a valuable asset to all the air forces that operated it. The fact remained that the Jaguar didn't really answer the requirements for which the program had been originally established, and these requirements remained outstanding. The RAF would eventually acquire the sophisticated strike aircraft sought in the AFVG effort as the Anglo-German-Italian Panavia Tornado, and an advanced jet trainer in the form of the BAe Hawk . The French would acquire the trainer / light-attack aircraft in the form of the Franco-German Breguet-Dornier Alpha Jet.

The French Jaguar A / Jaguar S

The French Jaguar A single-seater was of generally conventional configuration and had clean, if somewhat angular, lines. It was built mostly of aviation aluminum alloys, with selective use of titanium. There were no major composite assemblies. The aircraft was designed to be easy to maintain under austere field conditions, with no need for a ladder to reach most routine maintenance points. There were five internal fuel tanks, with one in the front, center, and rear of the fuselage and one in each wing, providing a total fuel capacity of 4,180 liters (1,102 US gallons). The Jaguar's handling was generally regarded as good, and it was said to be a fine aerobatic aircraft when flown in a clean condition.

The Jaguar A had a high-mounted wing with a sweep of 40 degrees and an anhedral of 3 degrees, with relatively small wing area for a smoother ride at low altitude. There was a leading-edge flap along the outboard section of each wing, and large, double slotted trailing edge flaps on both the outboard and inboard sections of each wing. There was a "dogtooth" between the outboard and inboard sections of the wing.

There were no ailerons, roll control being provided by a two-section spoiler on top of each wing, just forward of the outboard flaps. There was a prominent "fence" between the inboard and outboard sections of the wing. Along with a conventional tail assembly, with all-moving one-piece tailplanes, there are two ventral fins. There were twin hydraulically-operated perforated airbrakes ahead of the ventral fins, under the wings. The hydraulic system was dual-redundant.

Early Jaguar As were powered by twin Adour 101 afterburning turbofans, with 2,470 kN (3,310 kgp / 7,300 lbf) afterburning thrust each, but the Adour 101 was quickly replaced by the Adour 102 variant, with the same thrust levels but a modified afterburner system. The Adour 101 would only go into afterburner at max RPM, but this made things dicey if a pilot had to break off a landing approach for another go-round if an engine was out: the remaining engine was throttled-down and he would need afterburning power to get back up in the air fast again. The Adour 102 had an afterburner that could be engaged at 85% RPM. All British Jaguars were delivered with Adour 102s.

The engine inlets were mounted high on the fuselage, reducing risk of foreign object ingestion, and had fixed inlets, though there were twin tandem spring-loaded suction relief doors on the side of each inlet to provide greater airflow for ground running.

The Jaguar A used ruggedized landing gear for rough-field operation, with single-wheel nose gear and twin-wheel main gear, all fitted with low-pressure tires. The nose gear retracted backward and the main gear retracted forward, rotating 90 degrees to tuck flat in the fuselage, a procedure that must have been interesting to watch. The Jaguar also featured a a runway arresting hook between the engine exhausts, and a brake chute in the tailcone. The brake chute could be replaced by a chaff-flare countermeasures dispenser.

The pilot sat in an air-conditioned and pressurized cockpit on a Martin Baker Mark 4 ejection seat, under a clamshell-style canopy that hinged open to the rear. The windscreen was made of armor glass. The Mark 4 ejection seat could only be used at ground level at speeds in excess of 165 KPH (90 knots) and is referred to as a "zero-ninety" seat. Some French Jaguars were later refitted with Martin-Baker FB9 seats, which were true "zero-zero" ejection seats that could be operated on the ground when the aircraft is standing still. All other national users selected the FB9 seat from the outset. There was a noticeable intake for the aircraft cooling system just behind the cockpit.

Avionics included simple navigation kit, including a Decca Doppler navigation radar license-built in France; a Thompson-CSF head-up display (HUD); fire-control electronics; identification friend or foe (IFF) system & radio gear; and a CFTH radar warning receiver (RWR), with discreet receiving antennas in the top of the tailfin and in the wingtips. An OMERA 40 panoramic camera, fitted in a tidy fairing just under the nose, was introduced early in production, and midway through production it was joined in the fairing by a TAV38 laser rangefinder. It appears that most or all Jaguar As that initially lacked the camera and the laser rangefinder were retrofitted with it.

The Jaguar A's built-in armament consisted of twin 30 millimeter French DEFA 553 cannon with 150 rounds per gun, firing out from the "corners" of the fuselage behind cockpit. The cannon had a rate of fire on 1,300 rounds per minute each, and could be fired together or separately. There were two stores pylons on each wing and one under the centerline, for a total of five. The centerline and inboard pylons were rated at 1,130 kilograms (2,500 pounds) each, while the outboard pylons were rated at 565 kilograms (1,250 pounds) each. Total stores load was 4,540 kilograms (10,000 pounds).

The centerline and inner wing stores pylons were "wet" and could be used to carry up to a total of three external RP36 tanks, with a capacity of 1,187 liters (313 US gallons) each. A retractable inflight refueling probe was fitted on the right side of the nose.

CountryAngo-FrenchAngo-French Flag
Wingspan8.69 meters28.51 feet
Wing area24.18 sq meters260.27 sq feet
Length16.83 meters55.22 feet
Height4.90 meters16.08 feet
Empty weight7,000 kilograms15,400 pounds
MTO weight15,500 kilograms34,200 pounds
Max speed1,600 kmh991 mph
Service ceiling14,000 meters46,000 feet
Operational Radius1,410 kilometers876 miles
CrewOne, Pilot
Engine typeAdour 102 afterburning turbofan
No. of Engines2

Typical stores loads might included iron bombs; Belouga or other cluster munitions; SNEB 68 millimeter unguided rocket pods; external fuel tanks; and air to air missiles (AAMs) such as the Matra Magic. Two squadrons were equipped with the AN-52 25 kilotonne tactical nuclear weapon. Other French Jaguar stores include the Martel anti-radar missile and its follow-on, the "Armat"; and the last 30 Jaguar As were fitted to carry the Atlis laser-target designator pod on the centerline, for guidance of French BGL laser-guided bombs and the AS-30L laser-guided missile.

Jaguar As could also carry the RP63P centerline reconnaissance pod, which was a modified drop tank fitted with one forward-looking and two side-looking film cameras. Some sources claim the pod also retained a partial fuel storage capability, which seems plausible given that the three cameras wouldn't take up that much space. Countermeasures gear included a variety of jammer pods, such as the ESD Barax countermeasures pod; the Phimat chaff-flare dispenser, carried on an outer wing pylon; and neatly faired Alkan chaff-flare dispensers under under each wingroot. As mentioned, a dispenser could also be carried in the tailcone.

The French Jaguar E two-seater was slightly longer than the Jaguar A and had the same powerplants, but reduced avionics kit and no retractable inflight refueling probe, though some were fitted with a fixed probe. The rear seat was raised by 38 centimeters (15 inches) to give the back-seater a better forward view.

Author: Greg Goebel