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The SEPECAT Jaguar

The Anglo-French jet still roaring across the skies of South Asia 

ON December 20, 2007, XX833 took off from Boscombe Down in Wiltshire to undertake a tour of several RAF stations including Coltishall, Coningsby and Marham, the final flight of the last military-registered Jaguar in British service. The trip ended more than 30 years of operational duties for a project that began life in the design stages as a training jet to replace the likes of the Hawker Hunter, but ended as a supersonic, low-level strike fighter, still in use today by the Indian military. 

Jaguar T.2A XX833

(XX833 - Retired in 2007 and moved to Cosford in 2010 for ground instruction with No1 School of Technical Training, Hangar 4, RAF Cosford - 📸 Alan Wilson)

The Anglo-French scheme was initiated in the late 1960s with the target to create an aircraft with light ground-attack capabilities, but soon developed into a design with supersonic performance to assist in reconnaissance and strike roles – both conventional and nuclear.

The airframes were manufacture in a joint venture between BAC, British Aircraft Corporation, and French firm Bréguet, creating SEPECAT, Société Européenne de Production de l’avion Ecole de Combat et d’Appui Tactique, a dual entity concerned with the production of a combat trainer and tactical support aircraft for both countries. Engine production involved a separate tie-up between Rolls-Royce and Turbomeca to create the Adour, a twin-spool, counter-rotating turbofan engine that delivered thrust in the range of 5,000lb to 8,000lb.

While problems had arisen during the Anglo-French production of Concorde, both Governments were keen on a military collaboration, with the first Jaguar prototype flying in September 1968 as a single-seat, twin-engine, swept-wing design, offering a combat radius of 850km, and a maximum speed in excess of Mach 1.5 – Mach 1 at low level.

Jaguars of 54 Squadron

(Jaguars of 54 Squadron)

The Jaguar became a replacement for the Phantom in the tactical strike role, 54 (F) Squadron accepting delivery of the first of 165 single-seat aircraft in 1974. Further Jaguar squadrons included 6 Squadron at Coltishall, ‘shadow squadron’ 226 OCU at Lossiemouth – a war reserve unit with a peacetime training role – and in Germany, 14, 17, 20 and 31 Squadrons at Bruggen. There were also Jaguars tasked with tactical reconnaissance duties: 2 Squadron at Laarbruch and 41 Squadron at Coltishall, neither carried WE.177 nuclear bombs.

A two-seater training version was also built, Jaguar B, 39 being commissioned by the RAF, able to execute the strike role and ground attack missions.  

The RAF in Germany became the biggest Jaguar customer, the Phantoms being released to replace the Lightnings to provide Britain’s air defence. At Bruggen, they were NATO frontline aircraft, primed to respond to any Soviet Bloc aggression, their low-level capabilities deemed crucial to penetrate the enemy’s defences. Much in the way the Typhoons operate in a Quick Reaction Alert, QRA, status at Lossiemouth and Coningsby, the Jaguars performed that function for NATO.   

In 1984, Nos. 17, 20 and 31 Squadrons swapped their Jaguars for Tornados with Nos. 2 and 14 Squadrons following suit in subsequent years, however, the Jaguar remained integral to operations at Coltishall up to the 2000s.

While testing of the jet continued throughout its active duties, perhaps the most interesting occurred in April 1975, prior to the opening of the M55 linking Preston to Blackpool. Military chiefs decided a new stretch of road would be ideal to see the capabilities of their recent acquisition, a jaguar landing on the motorway and then taking off again after being fully loaded. With the Cold War in full swing, there was a need to test the abilities of the Jaguar to land on non-conventional airfields, the premise being that most of the UK’s landing strips would have been obliterated by nuclear strikes.

The first Gulf War in 1990 saw the Jaguars prove their worth in battle, earning a makeover that many described as ‘desert pink; but was in fact a sand-coloured paint job. As well as gaining a new coat of paint, the Jaguars were also fitted with a range of new weaponry including CRV7 high-velocity rockets and American CBU-87 cluster bombs – the BL755 bombs traditionally fitted to the jet were designed for low level release and deemed unsuitable for operations at higher altitude.

A Jaguar from 41 Squadron deployed to RAFO Thumrait, in the Middle East, taking off to participate in Desert Shield.

(A Jaguar from 41 Squadron deployed to RAFO Thumrait, in the Middle East, taking off to participate in Desert Shield.)

Operation Granby involved 12 Jaguars and 12 Tornados, operating from bases in Oman and Bahrain, with more than 600 combat sorties performed over Iraq by Jaguars, with no aircraft lost. Despite still being in operation a decade later, no Jaguars saw service in the second Gulf War, the jets earmarked for operations in northern Iraq. However, Turkey refused access to its airbases, so plans to attack from the north were abandoned; jaguars had flown over Iraq from Turkey previously on air policing operations in line with United Nations’ resolutions drawn up at the end of the first Gulf War

The announcement of the end of the line for the Jaguars in RAF service came in 2004, three years before their final withdrawal, the decision seemingly lost amongst a range of others cuts in defence. While the end of the Harrier in 2011 was mourned by defence editors and military media experts across the UK and beyond, the Jaguar’s demise was far more low key.

It was not the most popular jet ever manufactured, but Jaguars were sold to several countries including Nigeria, Oman and India, India’s air force fleet still in use today. Despite plans to take the 130 still operating out of service starting in 2023, recent reports in the Indian media talk of a new upgrade suite being created, Jaguar MAX, with plans to keep the fleet in service until the late 2030s. 

An Indian Jaguar pilot dismissed Jaguar MAX as ‘stretching credulity’, but even to consider keeping a jet in service 70 years after its inception is impressive, and a tribute to the design and engineering expertise involved in the creation of SEPECAT.   

And for those in the vicinity of Norwich keen to see one, if not in action, then up close and personal, you should pencil in a trip to Norfolk County Council’s HQ where you’ll find the Jaguar that was formerly located at Coltishall, the station’s gate guardian. 

Jaguar gate guardian on display at the main gate of RAF Coltishall before it was relocated to Norwich County Hall

(Jaguar gate guardian on display at the main gate of RAF Coltishall before it was relocated to Norwich County Hall)

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