SEPECAT Jaguar: This Is What India’s Nuclear Bomber Looks Like

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The Jaguar was retired by France in July 2005, Britain in April 2007, and Oman in 2014. However, 118 remain in service with the Indian Air Force and with a particularly morbid mission in mind.

In Mother Nature, the jaguar is the largest cat species in the Americas and the third largest in the world. In the automotive industry, the Jaguar XJ is a series of luxury cars that’s historically been long on good looks but short of reputed reliability (driving one remains a Bucket List item for me nonetheless). And most relevant to this article, in the military aviation world, you have the SEPECAT Jaguar, an attack aircraft that may be long in the tooth (pardon the bad feline pun) but can still pack quite a deadly punch.

Including a nuclear punch.

SEPECAT Early History and Specifications

The SEPECAT Jaguar made her maiden flight on 8 September 1968 and entered into official operational service with the French Air Force (Armée de l’air) in 1972, followed by her Royal Air Force (RAF) enlistment in 1973. The warbird (or flying battle cat if you prefer) was manufactured by SEPECAT (Société Européenne de Production de l’avion École de Combat et d’Appui Tactique), a joint venture between the British Aircraft Corporation (BAC; now known as BAE Systems) and Bréguet (which eventually merged with Dassault Aviation), thus cementing one of the first major joint Anglo-French military ventures.

The plane was also exported to India (more on this in a bit), Oman, Ecuador, and Nigeria.

The Jaguar has a fuselage length of 55 feet 3 inches, a wingspan of 28 feet 6 inches, a height of 16 feet 11 inches, an empty weight of 15,432 pounds, and a maximum takeoff weight of 34,612 pounds. Max airspeed is 860 knots (989.67 miles per hour/1.3 Mach), with a range of 2,190 miles and a ceiling of 45,930 feet.

Armament-wise, there are two 30mm DEFA cannons and five hardpoints — four under the wings and one under the centerline pylon stations – that can carry a payload of up to 9,920 pounds. As a testament to the aircraft’s versatility, amongst the weapons that it can accommodate are AS.37 Martel anti-radar missiles, AS-30L laser guided air-to-ground missile and two R550 Magic air-to-air missiles, or eight Matra rocket pods, BAP 100mm bombs, MATRA AS37 anti-radar missiles, AIM-9 Sidewinder missiles, and Rockeye cluster bombs.

Oh, yes: and the AN-52 nuclear bomb.

A total of 543 Jaguars were built.

Britain and France’s Fierce Feline of Kuwait and Kosovo

The Jaguar was first “blooded” in combat in December 1977 during Opération Lamantin (“Manatee”), a military intervention by France on behalf of the Mauritanian government during the Western Sahara War. But it was during the 1991 Persian Gulf War – AKA Operation Desert Storm to us Yanks – that the Jaguar arguably had her greatest moments of combat glory, in the hands of RAF and Armée de l’air pilots alike.

Therein, RAF Jaguars flew 612 combat sorties with zero combat losses, whilst 28 of their French counterparts carried out 615 sorties with four planes damaged by Iraqi air defenses but fortunately none shot down; perhaps most significant was the strike conducted by a dozen French Jaguars against Ahmed al-Jaber Airbase.

(As a quick personal aside, I was a high school sophomore during Desert Storm, and like many of my fellow Americans at the time, I watched and listened to the Coalition senior officers’ press conferences with rapt fascination. Most of these briefers were either Americans or Brits, but I do distinctly recall one briefing conducted by a French officer, presenting in-flight camera footage from a Jaguar airstrike against Iraqi targets and extolling the “high degree of precision” involved therein. Thus was formed my first impression of the Jaguar warplane.)

From there, Jaguars participated in Operation Allied Force in the skies over Kosovo and Serbia in 1999, whereupon 12 of these flying killer cats flew 108 sorties and dropped 108 precision-guided munitions against Serb targets; what was particularly historically significant here was that it marked the first time that French military pilots carried out bombing missions on the European continent since WWII.

India’s Nuclear “Cat”

The Jaguar was retired by France in July 2005, Britain in April 2007, and Oman in 2014. However, 118 of them remain in service with the Indian Air Force, and with a particularly morbid mission in mind.

Back in February, 19FortyFive published an article of mine titled “India’s Nuclear Weapons Arsenal: Is It Enough To Counter Pakistan And China?” Therein, I noted that 48 of India’s nukes are specifically designated for aerial delivery, and the Jaguar is amongst the planes tasked with that would-be role, along with the Mirage 2000H/I and the Rafale. In addition to the nuclear capability, the Indian Jags are armed with the Advanced Short-Range Air-to-Air missile (ASRAAM) of MBDA.

Eventually India plans to supersede its Jaguars with the Advanced Medium Combat Aircraft (AMCA), which is currently in the development stage.

Where Are They Now (Besides India, That Is)?

As far as I’ve been able to ascertain, the only Stateside museum with a Jaguar – specifically a GR3A (GR1) variant – on static display is the Pima Air & Space Museum in Tucson, Arizona. For their part, the French have one – tail number A91, with damage from an Iraqi SAM for good measure – at the Musée de L’Air et de L’Espace, located at the southeastern edge of Paris-Le Bourget Airport. Meanwhile, Brits have nine surviving Jaguars spread out across the UK, including the BDAC Old Sarum Airfield Museum in Old Sarum, Wiltshire, the RAF Museum London (this is a museum I can personally vouch for as a super-cool place to visit), and the Imperial War Museum Duxford.