Flying & fighting in the Indian Air Force Jaguar: IAF Jaguar pilot interview

 

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At the core of the IAF’s dedicated ground attack force is the Jaguar, a tough Cold War fighter-bomber. Group Captain Harsh Vardhan Thakur gives us the lowdown on the ‘last Jags in town’. 

What were your first impressions of the Jaguar? “I was posted to Tuskers at Ambala, where I got my first experience of Jags. As things turned out, I also got married around the same time. So, in many ways, it was a double whammy of destiny. Shall we just say, I got the hang of the Jag eventually, while the other element of my life continues to baffle me ਐ਑਒ਓ.

‘Where the hell is the autopilot…?’ This was the first question I asked at the Jag squadron. I grew up hearing glorious tales of the Jag. To my horror, the start-up checklist was the most glamorous item at my welcome. My mentor (read tormentor) who had the same name as me took me for the pre-conversion phase. He embodied all virtues of what should have been on the aircraft, i.e. lethal, fearsome and unforgiving. I learnt the ropes slowly and eventually became the very reflection of my aircraft, as some would say.”

Which three words best describe it? “In four: not nimble, not agile”

What is the best thing about it? “Navigation. One navigates with the entire mission-play running alongside on the multi-functional display. You see the virtual positions of all participants just the same as you saw them during mission rehearsal. It instils a greater desire for accuracy in pilots and indeed, if you look through the virtual position, you invariably find the element member at exactly the same spot in the sky. The head-up display’s (HUD) highway in the sky is rather novel. It guides you through the route with sub-metric accuracy – something that you only otherwise see in NASA papers. I don’t know of any other fighter anywhere on the globe, which sports a Highway-In-The-Sky (HITS) on the HUD. IAF has inducted a number of twin seat Jags and the Rear cockpit HUD is another unique virtue, which is rare.”

“Four of us accelerated to 560 knots at low levels and then zoomed up to 30,000 feet as we struck the runway, without one missile tracking us.”

.. and the worst thing? “No radar, no BVRs (beyond visual range missiles). I’ve heard many say that engine thrust is less, or perhaps the weight/drag is too much. That can be handled tactically, by simply flying in lighter configurations. But no radar means no eyes and no missiles plummets your respect in an air battle. DARIN-III has thankfully addressed those shortcomings and is a game-changer for Jag ops.”

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How you rate the Jaguar in the following categories?

A. Instantaneous turn

B. Sustained turn

C. High alpha

D. Acceleration

E. Climb rate

 

If you see the evolution of Jags, it was intended to be an advanced jet trainer aircraft. But then an over-design of some aspects led it to becoming a worthy replacement for the Vulcan bomber, at a time when strategic bombers were making way for tactical fighters. Owing to its lineage, Jags retain the DNA of a fighter-bomber, with rather less emphasis on manoeuvrability.  The long and short of it – every fighter in the subcontinent, barring the Mir-III/V can leave the Jag behind in rate of turn, acceleration and climb rate. However, the Jag excels in handling, visibility and availability, which feed quite effectively into its daily tactic of saturation strikes. Jags fly in hoards at tree-top altitudes. Imagine a formation of very-very high-speed choppers. These birds are impossible to spot from the sky and difficult to track from the ground.”

As Group Captain Vinod noted- “I have flown against Jaguars. Once, into the sun, I lost an entire formation who were 200 metres in front of me they just melted in thin air.”

“Its legacy electronic warfare (EW) suite has always been ahead of its time. Indeed, it’s the choice of opponent in all EW-range training capsules. I’ve led many a mission when the planners requested Jags to step up, to make a worthy battle of the whole mission. We’ve had our share of fun, repeatedly slipping through defences and taking out surface targets with maximum impunity. There was a training mission led by me, when I refused the request for our formation to step up (gain altitude) just so ground radars could spot us and track us. So, all the sensors dipped their acquisition units to the surface when we were ingressing. Silly as it may sound, four of us accelerated to 560 knots at low levels and then zoomed up to 30,000 feet as we struck the runway, without one missile tracking us. The auto-bombing on Jag precludes the requirement of pilots to spot their DMPI. Pilots simply press the trigger and smoke a cigar, while the system does all the hard work of honing the sights on to the target and getting the bombs to ride to them accurately. Anyway, the two Jags at low levels penetrated the fringes of the missile envelope several times, then turned away. The CO at the missile unit went, ‘Gotcha!’. The debrief was a laugh riot. The poor CO is my course mate and curses me till date for his failed demo (to students) of the Jag formation take-down. ‘Pick on someone your own size’ I say.”

Interview with IAF Su-30 pilot here

Interview with IAF MiG-25 pilot here

Interview with IAF MiG-29 pilot here

Interview with IAF MiG-27 pilot here

Interview with IAF Mirage 2000 pilot here

Interview with PAF JF-17 pilot here

Interview with Marut pilot here

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When did Indian procure the Jaguar and where were you trained? “The first set of Royal Air Force Jags ferried into Fighting Fourteens (Bulls) at Western Air Command in 1979. 40 NavWASS (Navigation & Weapon Aiming Sub-System) Jaguar International-built at BAe facility in Warton UK, were inducted into the IAF in 1981. RAF Jags ferried back to UK during this period. Subsequently, 80 DARIN (Digital Attack Ranging Inertial Navigation) Jags were built in HAL factory at Bangalore. Testimony that Make-in-India model of manufacturing has been around for decades. The indigenous Jags included upgraded engines, newer avionics, EW suite, recon pods, as well as 10 maritime variant Jags with their A-S radar and ASM. Indigenous Jags have been the mainstay of IAF’s strike fleet for a long time. By the way, there’s a back story behind the acronym DARIN, apparently suggested by SAGEM of France, who were involved in its development in support to the Indian Inertial Organisation (IIO). It was initially suggested to be called INDRA (Inertial Nav Digital Ranging & Attack). However, the name being very similar sounding to the stalwart PM of India, was shelved owing to some unspoken circumstances. Eventually, HAL also manufactured 37 more DARIN-II Jags which continued fresh induction into IAF till as late as 2010. For their time, DARIN-2s were highly modernised Jags with INGPS, LDP, LGB, autopilot, new displays, HOTAS, etc. The first set of NavWASS Jags were also upgraded to DARIN-II standard during this period. DARIN Jags have been upgraded to DARIN-III standard and are now being inducted into service. DARIN-III is a confluence of all the work done on Jags thus far in India. It variously includes AESA radar, new generation AAMs, ASMs, sensor fused armament, extended range LGBs… the list goes on. Its glass cockpit is modern, efficient and retains virtues of the traditional as well as contemporary.”

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2 comments

  1. bart

    Wow, the Sepecat Jaguar is such a super duper almighty highly wondrously terrific plane (even no missile could track it) and I am inclined to agree with the praises heaped on it, still, I wonder why it wasn’t used in the Feb 2019 Balakot aerial clash.

  2. Greg

    Great article and great point of view.
    If you are looking of more information about SEPECAT Jaguar, there is a website speaking mainly about its here:
    http://www.pilote-chasse-11ec.com/
    I know, it is in French, but this site is a real gold mine for anybody looking for operational review.

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