The Jaguar is an Anglo-French strike aircraft and trainer, developed from 1965 to 1969 in order to replace existing British and French strike aircraft (the Hawker Hunter and F-100 Super Sabre respectively, although the French eventually used the Super Etendard for their carrier force). The pan-European development was an experiment that paid off; the Jaguar was a commercial success and paved the way for the Concorde, the PANAVIA Tornado and the Eurofighter Typhoon. It is or has been flown by Britain, France, India, Nigeria, Oman, and Ecuador. The Japanese Mitsubishi F1 is physically and conceptually very similar, although they are different aircraft.

Technically the Jaguar is a single-seat, high-wing strike aircraft designed to carry large amounts of bombs to a target at subsonic speed and subsequently egress at supersonic speed. It is armed with two internal 30mm cannon and can carry up to 10,000lb of bombs, rockets, and air-to-ground missiles, and ASRAAMs for air defence. The payload is roughly half that of the F-15E Strike Eagle, although the Jaguar requires one fewer crewmember and costs £15 million per unit to the Eagle's £40 million.

SEPECAT was a collaboration between Breguet - famous at the time for the Alpha Jet, now owned by Dassault - and BAC, the British Aircraft Corporation, which is now BAE SYSTEMS, with assistance from sundry support industries. Whilst individual sections of the PANAVIA Tornado are manufactured in different countries, the Jaguar dates from a time when entire aircraft were fabricated in a single factory. There are, consequently, some regional differences; the Jaguar is powered by two Anglo-French 'Adour' turbojets which were produced by Rolls-Royce and Turbomeca, and were also used in the BAe Hawk. For British service Rolls-Royce subsequently modified the engines (rated to produce 8,040lb of thrust each) to push out an extra 400lb, thus making the British Jaguars slightly faster than the French. On the other hand, the French Jaguars were equipped to carry tactical nuclear bombs, which were 'lofted' at distant targets by pulling the aircraft up as the bombs were released.

The name itself stands for 'Société Européenne de Production de l'Avion ECAT' - ECAT, the name of the project when it was still in the planning stages, stood for 'Ecole de Combat et Appui Tactique', so the full name of the aircraft is "Société Européenne de Production de l'Avion 'Ecole de Combat et Appui Tactique' Jaguar" ("European Society for the Production of the 'School of Combat and Tactical Support' Aircraft"). Such are the ways of pan-European collaboration. 'Jaguar' itself is not an acronym for anything; it is a reference to the animal of the same name, the idea being that by invoking a powerful predator, the aircraft and its pilots will have victory in battle. The French word for 'Jaguar' is 'Jaguar'.

The Jaguar was introduced into French service in 1973, and RAF service in 1974, replacing the F4 Phantom in the strike role, the Hunter having been naturally retired in the interim. Equipped with a state-of-the-art inertial navigation system and subsequently upgraded with new HUDs and GPS, it did not see combat until the 1991 Gulf War. Although outclassed by more modern designs - in the RAF its role overlaps with that of the Harrier and the Tornado, making it a 'jack of all trades, master of none' - it remains in service in the Indian and British air forces; in the former case (where it is called the 'Shamsher', or 'Sword') because India needs all the aircraft it can get, and in the latter case because it is relatively cheap to maintain and upgrade, and it performed well during Desert Storm. Until the Eurofighter Typhoon comes into service, it is the RAF's only single-seat supersonic aircraft, and thus the RAF is unwilling to give it up; doing so at a time when both the Harrier and the Tornado are falling into obsolescence would raise the spectre of an RAF that only flew surveillance aircraft, or helicopters. For a variety of reasons, including bird strikes, the inevitable risks of low-level training, mechanical failure and the occasional pilot error - including one incident of a pilot failing to engage reheat on take-off, and crashing into a barrier at the end of the runway - at least 65 RAF aircraft have been lost in accidents since the aircraft was adopted, 11 in 1978 / 1979 alone. Not a single Jaguar, whether British or otherwise, has been lost in combat.

Whilst some aircraft possess a certain glamour, the Jaguar does not - it is neither good-looking nor definitive, and despite being in active service for over a quarter of a century it remains rather anonymous. A defence review of 2004 revealed that the Jaguar will be removed from RAF service by 2007, its role to be undertaken by the incoming Eurofighter.


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