The Kfir (translated as "lion cub") is a semi-native Israeli fighter jet designed to meet the IAF (Israeli Air Force) requirements for a ground attack aircraft. While Israel purchased about 50 new-build Dassault Mirage 5Js from France and awaited delivery, the arms embargo all but canceled deliveries.
As is the case with most today, Israel looked for solutions from within, and through the innate ingenuity and global espionage that James Bond would be proud of, Kfir was born.
In many ways, the Kfir became the ultimate evolution of the French Dassault Mirage III family of fighter jets, albeit equipped with Israeli avionics and various airframe changes to differentiate the new aircraft from its French origins. Although usually associated with the IAF, Kfir has also completed combat service (albeit in limited numbers) in Colombia, Ecuador, Sri Lanka and the United States of America (the latter with the US Navy and US Marine Corps) .
Any country with a relatively short contemporary Israeli military history knows a thing or two about what it takes to wage war. Israel, essentially built to survive, has long relied on purchasing foreign aircraft to replenish its Israel Air Force and Israel Defense Forces inventories.
The country has successfully purchased its first Mach 2-capable Dassault Mirage III series jet fighter, becoming the first foreign customer of its kind for the French aircraft. The Mirage III was an all-weather delta-wing Speedster that proved very successful on the open market, with 1,422 prototypes produced - no mean feat in a post-WWII world.
Israel used the model throughout the 1960s and brought it to the fore (and succeeded) in the Arab Wars of 1967 and 1973, as well as other less intense conflicts.
These experiences with the French system reveal some significant limitations when considering IAF requirements. While the Israeli Mirage IIICJs are excellent air-to-air fighters, they don't quite fit the IAF's multi-role requirements. Additionally, with its base engine, the Phantom III is underpowered and not suitable for the range required for the type of missions the IAF will perform in the near future.
Takeoff and landing operations on the Phantom III also require a significant amount of runway surface. On top of that, the Israeli pilot has surpassed the practicality of the original avionics kit.
Israel began receiving Douglas A-4 Skyhawks and McDonnell Douglas F-4 Phantom IIs in the late 1960s, both American-built aircraft that proved very capable of performing Israeli air defense/air superiority missions. Perhaps most important is Israel's right to license the General Electric J79 turbojets that power its F-4 Phantom - a fact that will play a role in Kfir's future development.
Initially in collaboration with the French company Dassault Aviation, the two countries developed a day-to-ground attack version of the Mirage III airframe, to be designated Mirage 5 (formerly the Roman "5" in "Mirage V"). The Phantom 5 will have a similar large-area delta wing layout, a lighter maintenance burden, and increased internal fuel capacity for improved range. By 1968, 50 prototypes of the new plane had been completed, but the French government's arms embargo against Israel the previous year thwarted the deal.
Therefore, the Mirage Vs were not delivered to Israel, but were assigned to the French Air Force.
The Israelis, undeterred, began to meet the IAF's demands in other ways. This includes the blatant theft of approximately 250,000 Mirage-related documents from Luftech's corporate offices through Israeli intelligence agencies. Luftech contracted with Swiss-based Sulzer Engineering, which itself was employed by Dassault, to assist with licensed production of the French Mirage.
This covert operation proved successful and gave the Israelis everything they needed to know about the French system.
Early September 1970, a two-seat Mirage IIIBJ with a J79 turbojet. A two-seat Kfir prototype was launched on October 19 of the same year. Unlicensed replicas of the Mirage V (known in Israel as "Nesher") soon surfaced and were redesigned alongside the J79, which first flew in September 1971. The Kfir prototype was improved with new Israeli avionics, reinforced landing gear and a redesigned cockpit, named Ra'am (or "Thunder").
The first flight took place in June 1973.
The design of the new system was completed in a relatively short period of time, and although both General Electric turbojets and Rolls-Royce turbofans were considered for the new fighter, the completed Kfir was unsurprisingly installed in the proven in the GE J79. The Spey turbofan engine originated in the United Kingdom and powered the British McDonnell Douglas F-4K Phantom and the Blackburn Corsair fleet. As expected, the availability and locally licensed production of the J79E1 turbojet engine, considered the most powerful engine in the J79 engine family, made the decision easier. However, it did impose a stricter export policy on future Kfir sales overseas these require approval from the U.S.
Selection of the J79 forced a complete redesign of the existing Mirage III airframe. The J79 is larger and shorter than the original Mirage III engine, and offers 11 percent more mass flow at the expense of higher operating temperatures.
The fuselage was widened and shortened, while the air intakes, the latter of which were intended to increase airflow into the turbojet, were enlarged. The entire engine is shielded in titanium, and an air intake is installed at the bottom of the leading edge of the vertical tail to help cool the afterburner. The additional weight and expected field use of the new aircraft is handled by improved and strengthened landing gear.
A J79-engined Phantom IIIB served as another Kfir prototype, this time with forward canards and wings, and entered service in 1974. In the end, the Israelis basically went ahead and produced an entirely new plane.
Production of Kfirs began between 1974 and 1975, delivered to the IAF, and missed service in the 1973 Yom Kippur War.
IAI Kfir has a tailless delta plan which basically defines it as an aircraft without horizontal stabilizers. The main wings are widely mounted low on the fuselage, dominating the design and providing the necessary lift and control surfaces. The wing itself is more than half the length of the fuselage and has a pronounced sweep along the leading edge, ending with a truncated wingtip and a tapered trailing edge with subtle sweep.
The triangle starts behind the side air intakes, runs all the way back, and ends in front of the exhaust. The main wing (in most Kfir models) is complemented by a pair of smaller forward units called canards.
Used in aircraft to improve handling and provide additional lift at low speeds, canards often provide more inherent advantage than initially anticipated - sometimes none at all. The Kfir's canards are significantly higher than the main wing and are mounted directly in front of the main wing components.
Part of the distinguishing feature of Kfirs is the narrow nose cone leading to the two-part canopy. The cockpit is located forward of the fuselage, and the sloping nose facilitates relatively unobstructed forward and downward, as well as upward and sideways visibility.
The air intakes are located directly behind the sides of the cockpit and are closed by internally mounted intake cones. The fuselage has a raised spine that extends from the rear of the cockpit to the bottom of the vertical tail. The caudal fin is relatively large and swings back along the leading and trailing edges.
The rear wing protrudes slightly beyond the rear exhaust. Thin pelvic fins can be seen below the engine exhaust.
The landing gear is fully retractable and consists of a conventional tricycle arrangement consisting of two single-wheel main landing gear legs and a single-wheel front leg. The front legs retract aft under the cockpit floor, while the main landing gear system folds forward and towards the fuselage centerline.
Kfir's standard armament is a 30mm Raphael DEFA 553 series cannon, each carrying 120 to 140 rounds of ammunition, which can be used both air-to-air and air-to-ground to suit the character with equal enthusiasm. To complement this weapon, the Kfir can deploy a variety of ammunition on its five (or seven) external mounts, two of which are placed in an underwing position and three along the fuselage.
The overall advantage of the delta shape allows for increased payload and internal fuel due to increased wing area compared to conventional swept wing planes.
For air-to-air engagements, the Kfir can carry the American-made AIM-9 Sidewinder short-range air-to-air missile, as well as the Israeli-made Python series of missiles. Both of the two rockets can be carried. For air-to-surface missions with ground targets, the Kfir is approved for use with the American AGM-65 Maverick missile.
Anti-radiation missile Shrike is used to strike radar installations. Rockets play an important role in Kfir's arsenal and consist of 19-round launcher pods capable of firing 68mm unguided rockets. Laser guidance (Paveway) and conventionally dropped bombs (Mark 80, Matra Durandal) complete the Kfir's air-to-ground toolbox.
The hardpoints are also available for "dedicated" cargo, depending on the type of mission, including reconnaissance pods and drop tanks (the latter for longer ranges and longer dwell times).
The Kfir lineage has produced several known variants. While the original Kfir became the first production model of 27, at least 25 of these aircraft were leased to the United States between 1985 and 1989 to serve as aggressor roles for the U.S. Navy and U.S. Marine Corps.
In U.S. inventory, these Kfirs are designated F-21A. The American Kfirs differed in many ways, most notably the implementation of the front canards for better handling, cornering and reduced speed control, especially during takeoff.
The duck success of these models proved promising and they were included in the revised C.1 standard.
The Kfir C.2 is an evolution of the basic production C.1, which first flew in 1974 and deliveries began in 1976. She became the first official production Kfir with various aerodynamic changes. The leading edge of the wing is now a familiar "canine" design (the canine leading edge helps to disrupt airflow over the high-speed wing and increase stall speed to some extent), while the front canards have been part of the aircraft since the beginning and are now Features larger sweeps. Strips were added under the forward fuselage, and her avionics suite was upgraded to an ELTA M-2001B ranging radar.
The cockpit has also been overhauled to include an MBT dual computer flight control system, an Elbit S-8600 multi-mode navigation and weapons delivery system, a central Taman air data computer and an angle of attack sensor blade (mounted on the port side of the fuselage) . And an Israeli electro-optical HUD (Heads Up Display).
TC. 2 Became a two-seat trainer model based on the C.2. With the addition of a second rear cockpit (students and instructors sitting side by side), the fuselage was lengthened and the nose assembly lowered, improving the front pilot's visibility somewhat. 185 C. 2s/TC total. 2 were produced.
The C.2 is powered by an IAI General Electric (licensed by Bedek) J-79-J1E turbojet engine. Dry thrust is in the 11,890-pound range, while the afterburner produces 18,750 pounds. Top speed is 1,516 mph and the range is 480 miles.
Service is capped at 58,000 feet, with a climb rate approaching 45,930 feet per minute.