While the American giants like Boeing and Lockheed Martin are pitching their older generation aircraft– F-15X and F-21 with a new grandiloquent veneer, India’s HAL is silently proposing its Jaguar MAX (Mothership for Augmented Xploitation) platform to the Indian Air Force. IAF has been using Jaguars for almost 4 decades and has constantly upgraded to keep up with the contemporary battle space.
Indian Air Force received their Jaguars in early 1980’s there are around 90-odd aircraft in service as of 2019. All these aircraft have been upgraded in a phased manner– DARIN I, DARIN II, DARIN III (Display Attack Ranging and Inertial Navigation). DARIN III aircraft received IOC (Initial Operational Clearance) in 2016, later in 2017 it flew with an Elta EL/M 2052 AESA radar, ironically 3rd generation Jaguars became the first in IAF to fly with an AESA radar.
Jaguar was born out of common requirements of British and French Air Force in 1960’s. Primarily meant for advance training and light attack capabilities, the requirements were soon changed to a full fledged ground attack aircraft. Jaguars are notorious for the low flying NOE (Nap-of-the-earth) capability however they lack decent maneuverability at higher altitude. IAF’s love affair with its Air to Ground capability is evident from the designation it provides to its Jags– Deep Penetration Strike Aircraft (DPSA). IAF is also getting almost 35-odd decommissioned Jaguars from UK, France & Oman to cannibalize its spare parts.
The DARIN III standard that received IOC in 2016 has a new avionics suit comprising of OSAMC (Open System Architecture Mission Computer), EFIT (Engine and Flight Instrument System), Elta EL/M 2052 AESA Radar, inertial navigation system with GPS and Geodetic height correction and a Digital Cockpit.
The HAL Jaguar MAX upgrade is significant if IAF wants to fly these fighters beyond 2030. MAX upgrade would allow Jaguars to carry next generation weapons, these includes new generation Cruise missile, PGM’s, LGB, DRDO developed SAAW (Smart Anti Airfield Weapon), advance anti ship missile, new BVR missile (probably Astra). The AIM 132 ASRAAM heat seeking missile is already part of DARIN III upgrade. MAX upgrade will also include a near digital cockpit with single wide- flat panel MFD (Multi Function Display). It also offers Laser/SAR/EO Pod, Radar targeting pod for twin seat variant, AESA based wide band jammer, L-band data-link an a software defined V/UHF radio. With all new weapons package and avionics suit the MAX upgrade will transform 3rd Generation Jaguars into a 4th generation fighter.
But the most crucial part of Jaguar upgrade is its engines, it is available as an option under MAX upgrade. For successful take-off of the Jaguar MAX program HAL needs to re-engine these Jaguars with Honeywell F-125IN engines. IAF Jaguars are already infamous for their under-powered engines, the new upgrade will only add up those numbers.
Read: F-21– The brand new F-16
According to HAL, Honeywell- the sole vendor in re-engine project is demanding excessively high price for their F-125IN engines, which HAL believes is unacceptable and effectively kill the project to re-engine the Jaguars.