On 26 July this year, the entire nation commemorated 20 years of India’s victory in Kargil. Amidst these celebrations, however, another significant military event that took place four decades ago got clouded. It was on July 26, 1979, that the Indian Air Force inducted its first Jaguar, twin-engine, ground-attack aircraft in the 14 Squadron, “The Fighting Bulls” at the Ambala. This aircraft significantly enhanced India’s deterrence over its western neighbour. Costing over a billion dollars, it was one of India’s single largest defence acquisitions of that time. It also marked a clear departure of a decade long Soviet centric defence acquisition policy.
India procured this aircraft from Britain. The first few aircraft that were delivered, within four months of signing the contract, in April 1979, were from amongst those already in service with the Royal Air Force. The fact that this aircraft was a nuclear-capable platform, caused the US to exert immense pressure to block this sale, though to no avail.
Acquisition of Jaguar aircraft was to fulfil India’s quest for a “Deep penetration Strike Aircraft”, to replace the ageing Canberra’s and Hunters in its inventory. It was amongst the first Indian arms procurement programme for which both the eastern as well as the western block countries fielded their platforms, which included the Soviet MiG-23; the Swedish Viggen; the French Mirage F1 and the Anglo-French Jaguar, which emerged as the preferred option after protracted trials.
One of the prime considerations for opting for Jaguar was its quick delivery schedule. As mentioned above, the first few aircraft came from the RAF inventory, to be replaced subsequently by newer India specific versions. The second Jaguar Squadron was operational within 3 years! Concurrent preparations began at the HAL Bangalore Division for its licensed assembly in India. By the mid-’80s IAF had a four squadron operational fleet of Jaguars. In 1987, a flight worth of Jaguar’s Maritime Strike Variant, the Jaguar IM were also introduced. India today has nearly six squadrons of this aircraft, with their vintage ranging from about a decade to nearly four decades. This aircraft has seen perhaps the maximum number of upgrades, including the recent mounting of AESA radars.
29/07/19 Mohit Charan/Financial Express