Story of how SEPECAT Jaguar made its way into Indian Air Force

The IAF watched the early development of the Jaguar with keen interest but with no real inclination to acquire it. The keenness was to see how its own HF-24 would do the job so that import or licence production of an aircraft would not be needed.

After the Chief Test Pilot of Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd (HAL) was killed in the HF-24 Mk1R prototype in January 1970, it became clear that the HF-24 would not meet the requirements of a Deep Penetration Strike Aircraft (DPSA). The project to power the aircraft with engines with reheat was abandoned. Nevertheless, the HF-24 performed creditably in the 1971 War with Pakistan in the Western Sector. The HF-24, renamed Marut, had other shortcomings apart from lack of power. It had no avionics worth the name. Indian Air Force wanted to meet the ambition of DPSA requirement indigenously through Marut and Marut was the biggest competitor to Jaguar. After the ill-fate of Marut , it ceased to be a viable competitor to the Jaguar, which became the first on IAF’s wanted list after being held back by the HF-24 for almost seven years.

In mid-1968, even before the maiden flight of the aircraft, SEPECAT made the first formal offer of the Jaguar to India. Jeffrey Quill and Paul Jaillard as a two-man team made a presentation of the aircraft to IAF and invited India to become its launch customer. The Jaguar was offered at an amazingly low cost. This was unacceptable to IAF after its unpleasant experience as the first and only customer for the largely under-developed Folland Gnat, which recorded the highest accident rate of all jet fighters of IAF including the MiG-21 series.

With this in mind and in the hope of developing the HF-24Mk IR, IAF was hardly interested in the aircraft. Two years later, Jeffrey Quill with Jimmy Dell (Deputy Chief Test Pilot of BAC) again made a presentation, this time at Delhi’s Vigyan Bhawan (Science Hall). This was well attended, among others by the Chief of Air Staff and a number of Air Marshals. But the lack of interest of the IAF came through when at the end of the presentation no senior officer asked a single question. Later, there was perhaps more interest in quizzing Jeffrey Quill for his work in developing the Spitfire than asking anything about the Jaguar.

IAF was aware that the Jaguar was having difficulty in overshooting on a single engine with reheat. Dry power was not enough and reheat power was excessive. Modulated reheat, later officially named Part Throttle Reheat (PTR), was being developed. It is believed that the visitors were told that India had no interest in the Jaguar but would have liked to use its engines for the HF-24. Since the Adour 102 engine was having difficulties of its own in developing the reheat system, it could not be considered for the HF-24. The disappointed team returned to Europe.

ndia’s large requirement of aircraft caught the attention of competitors. Dassault-Breguet offered the Mirage F-1, a single engine fighter aircraft with some ground attack capabilities. Sweden’s Svenska Aeroplan Aktiebolaget came in with its SAAB 37 Viggen, also a single engine aircraft powered by a Swedish supersonic development of the Pratt & Whitney JT8D by-pass engine with a Swedish afterburner and thrust reversal.

As is common in India, many interested parties including agents, other promoters and even politicians got into the act of promoting the aircraft, which would give them the most personal benefit. However, IAF was clear in its stand of wanting only a two engine aircraft. Another complication was that after the 1965 Indo-Pak war, USA and Britain had placed embargoes on supply of military equipment to India. India always had a problem with USA’s penchant for imposing sanctions for all kinds of reasons. Since the Viggen’s engine was essentially of US origin, it would have been instantly disqualified but for political influence. The possibility of denial of equipment or spares from Britain was also a major hitch. Mr James Callaghan, the Prime Minister personally solved this problem. On his way back from Australia he gave an unequivocal commitment that Britain would never impose any sanctions on India in future.

After the imposition of a National Emergency, Mrs Gandhi had been ousted when elections took place. The Janata Dal Government decided to pursue the DPSA acquisition vigorously. Meanwhile, British Aerospace (BAe) was formed as a corporation in April 1977 by the merger of the BAC, Hawker Siddeley Aviation, Hawker Siddeley Dynamics and Scottish Aviation. In March 1978, an Indian team led by the Defence Secretary visited France, Sweden and England. After receiving its report, the Government decided to ignore the other two aircraft and to enter into a contract with BAe to acquire the Jaguar. A formal announcement of the selection of the Jaguar to meet DPSA requirements was made by the Government on October 6 1978. By then BAe’s Wg Cdr Alan Keys (RAF Retd) had visited India 24 times to promote the Jaguar.

The memorandum of intention to proceed was followed in April 1979, almost seven months later, by formal contracts for purchase of around 130 aircraft, licence production and transfer of technology. BAe was to provide a batch of 35 Jaguars as Direct Supply (DS). It was on July 27 1979 the first two Jaguar aircraft landed in India. It was the beginning of a new era in the aviation capabilities of the Indian Air Force (IAF). Vampires from De Havilland, first introduced in India in 1948, had retired. Canberra B(I)58 and Hawker Hunter F.56 both aircraft types of 1957 vintage were outdated . Through Jaguar , IAF fulfilled its need for a modern aircraft for low-level interdiction and close air support which would give them deep-strike capabilities.





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