We’ve long admired a great many British aircraft, and disdained oh so many French aircraft. Which puts us in a bind, because we want to really like the Jaguar, but it’s half British, and half French.  By the 1960s, the costs of developing a tactical aircraft were so high that smaller nations struggling to maintain a realistic aviation industry decided to partner up with other nations in bilateral and joint projects. There’s a long, long, long list of projects that failed, for technical reasons, budgetary reasons, inability to decide on work share, and diverging tactical requirements. But a few programs have actually worked out pretty well. The Panavia Tornado comes to mind, as well as its successor the Typho0n. Among the earliest successful joint programs was a partnership between BAC and Breguet to form SEPECAT, a joint company that designed and built the Jaguar, a supersonic light strike/ground attack aircraft that served Britain and France from the early 1970s through well into the 21st Century.

The Jag is a single seat* twin engine supersonic low/medium altitude jet that was used primarily in three roles:

  1. Nuclear strike
  2. Close Air Support
  3. Tactical Reconnaissance

In spite of its sleek lines, what the Jag wasn’t was a fighter. While it could carry Sidewinder (or similar) short range air to air missiles, that was more a matter of self defense. It didn’t even have radar. Instead, it had a respectable (for its day) navigation/attack system to guide it to its target.

And to be honest, it really wasn’t supersonic, either. That is, with no external stores, and given time and altitude, sure, it could break the sound barrier. But down low, and carrying its normal war load, no way. But it was pretty fast down low, which was the whole point.

There are four wing stations for external store under the wings. There are also two wing stations over the  wing, rather unusually, where the Sidewinders were carried. There is also a centerline station. Typically, the Jag would carry two drop tanks under the wings, a chaff dispenser on one wing and a jammer pod on the other, and a couple of 1000lb bombs on the centerline.

In addition to service with the RAF and the French AF, the Jag has had respectable overseas sales, especially in India, but also in Oman, Ecuador, and Nigeria.

Grab a cup of coffee. This is a fairly interesting look at life in an RAF Jag squadron. At around the 15 minute mark, there’s some spectacular low level flying in what I suspect is Star Wars Canyon in Oman.
[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yX3l6i6BKfM]

The French Navy also looked at a carrier capable version, but the word is that it was somewhat awful around the boat.
[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=U9TJuWLXIPc]

*There are also two-seat operational trainer variants that retain combat capability.

Rivet Joint for the UK

I’m too lazy to give this the write up it deserves, but here’s the hot wash. One of the most critical functions of an air force, any air force, is reconnaissance. And of the various types of recon, perhaps none is as critical as signals intelligence, or SIGINT.

And the crown jewels of airborne SIGINT is the USAF’s RC-135W Rivet Joint. Based on a heavily modified KC-135 airframe, the Rivet Joint sucks up just about every electron in the air.

Britain, long a pioneer in electronic wizardry in the sky, found its old Nimrod R1 program in shambles. After exploring various options, they settled on buying three new-build* RC-135Ws for themselves. And rather surprisingly, the US went along with this. It’s not publicly acknowledged, but I suspect there is an agreement in place for sharing the “take” from these platforms.


The first British Rivet Joint was delivered this spring and the RAF is still learning to operate it. One step recently was the first aerial refueling. Because all of Britain’s tankers are hose and drogue tankers, the Rivet Joint will have to rely on US tankers with the flying boom to support their missions.

*Actually, the airframes are all former KC-135R birds that first flew in 1964, but the point is, they’re being converted to Rivet Joint now, as opposed to taking delivery of existing US Rivet Joints.