BackgroundThe project that would ultimately give birth to the Kfir can be traced back to Israel's need for adapting the Dassault Mirage IIIC to the specific requirements of the Israeli Air Force (IAF).
The all-weather, delta-winged Mirage IIICJ was the first Mach 2 aircraft acquired by Israel from then close ally France, and constituted the backbone of the IAF during most of the 1960s, until the arrival of the A-4 Skyhawk and, most importantly, the F-4 Phantom II, by the end of the decade. While the Mirage IIICJ proved to be extremely effective in the air-superiority role, its relatively short range of action imposed some limitations on its usefulness as a ground-attack aircraft.
Thus, in the mid-1960s, at the request of Israel, Dassault Aviation began developing the Mirage 5, a fair-weather, ground-attack version of the Mirage III. Following the suggestions made by the Israelis, advanced avionics located behind the cockpit were removed, allowing the aircraft to increase its fuel-carrying capacity while reducing maintenance costs.
By 1968, Dassault had finished production of the 50 Mirage 5Js paid for by Israel, but an arms embargo imposed upon Israel by the French government in 1967 prevented deliveries from taking place. The Israelis replied by producing an unlicensed copy of the Mirage 5, the Nesher, with technical specifications for both the airframe and the engine obtained by Israeli spies. Some sources claim Israel received 50 Mirage 5s in crates from French Air Force (AdA), while the AdA took over the 50 aircraft originally intended for Israel
DevelopmentThe development of this aircraft has been attributed to covert action on the part of Mossad. After General De Gaulle embargoed the sale of arms to Israel, the IAF feared that in the future it would no longer have an upper hand over its regional adversaries that were being re-equipped with more advanced Soviet aircraft. The bulk of the Israeli Air Force had been locked into the Mirage but was quickly facing problems because Mirage numbers were somwhat depleted after the Six-Day War. They did not have a better alternative than the Mirage. Mossad was able to acquire the plans for the Mirage III, which were used directly in the design process of the Kfir aircraft series.
Two powerplants were initially selected for trials, the General Electric J79 turbojet and the Rolls-Royce Spey turbofan. In the end, the J79 was selected, not least because it was the same engine used on the McDonnell Douglas F-4 Phantom II, which the Israelis began to acquire from the United States in 1969, along with a license to produce the J79 themselves. The J79 was clearly superior to the original French Atar 09, providing a dry thrust of 49 kN (11,000 lbf) and an afterburning thrust of 83.4 kN (18,750 lbf).
In order to accommodate the new powerplant on the Mirage III's airframe, and to deliver the added cooling required by the J79, the aircraft's rear fuselage was slightly shortened and widened, its air intakes were enlarged, and a large air inlet was installed at the base of the vertical stabilizer, so as to supply the extra cooling needed for the afterburner. The engine itself was encased in a titanium heatshield.
A two-seat Mirage IIIBJ fitted with the GE J79 made its first flight in September 1970, and was soon followed by a re-engined Nesher, which flew in September 1971.
An improved prototype of the aircraft, with the name Ra'am B ("Thunder") the Ra'am A was the Nesher, made its first flight in June 1973. It had an extensively revised cockpit, a strengthened landing gear, and a considerable amount of Israeli-built avionics. The internal fuel tanks were slightly rearranged, their total capacity being increased to 713 gallons.
There were unconfirmed reports that a number of the original Mirage IIICs, re-engined with the J79 and given the name Barak ("Lightning"), took part in the Yom Kippur War of 1973, but some sources point out that there is no real evidence that these aircraft ever existed.
- Kfir C.1 : Basic production variant.
- F-21A Kfir : 25 upgraded Kfir C.1 aircraft were leased to the USN and USMC for an aggressor role and were designated F-21A. These aircraft had been modified and included canards on the air intakes. These canards greatly improved the aircraft maneuverability and slow speed control, and were adopted on later variants.
- Kfir C.2 : An improved C.1 that featured a lot of aerodynamic improvements. Changes included "dogtoothed" leading edges on the wings, small strakes under the nose and a larger sweep angle of the canards.
- Kfir TC.2 : A two-seat training variant developed from the C.2. It has a longer and lowered nose to improve the pilot's view.
- Kfir C.7 : Vastly modified variant. Most if not all C.2 aircraft were modified to this variant. It included an improved J79-GEJ1E engine that offered more 1,000 lbs of thrust at full afterburner (and as a result increasing the Maximum Take-off Weight by 3,395 lbs), 2 more hardpoints under the air intakes, better avionics such as the Elta EL/M-2021B radar, HOTAS configured cockpit and inflight refueling capability.
- Kfir TC.7 : A two-seat training variant developed from the C.7.
- Kfir C.10 : A variant developed especially for export. The most important change is the adaptation of the Elta EL/M-2032 radar. Other changes include HMD capability and two 127×177mm MFD's. This variant is also known as Kfir CE ( Ecuadorean version ) and Kfir COA (Colombian version).
- Kfir TC.10 : Upgraded version of the TC.7 for the Colombian Air Force.
- Kfir C.12 : Upgraded version of the C.7 for the Colombian Air Force, a C-10 without the Elta EL/M-2032 radar.
- Kfir Tzniut : Reconnaissance version of the C.2.
- Kfir C.60 : Upgraded version of the C.10, proposed to Bulgarian Air Force 
- Crew: One
- Length: 15.65 m (51 ft 4¼ in)
- Wingspan: 8.22 m (26 ft 11½ in)
- Height: 4.55 m (14 ft 11¼ in)
- Wing area: 34.8 m² (374.6 sq ft)
- Empty weight: 7,285 kg (16,060 lb)
- Loaded weight: 11,603 kg (25,580 lb) two 500 L drop tanks, two AAMs
- Max. takeoff weight: 16,200 kg (35,715 lb)
- Powerplant: 1 × IAl Bedek-built General Electric J-79-J1E turbojet
- Dry thrust: 52.9 kN (11,890 lb st)
- Thrust with afterburner: 79.62 kN (17,900 lb st)
- Maximum speed: 2,440 km/h (2 Mach, 1,317 knots, 1,516 mph) above 11,000 m (36,000 ft)
- Combat radius: 768 km (415 nmi, 477 mi) (ground attack, hi-lo-hi profile, seven 500 lb bombs, two AAMs, two 1,300 L drop tanks)
- Service ceiling: 17,680 m (58,000 ft)
- Rate of climb: 233 m/s (45,950 ft/min)
- Guns: 2× Rafael-built 30 mm (1.18 in) DEFA 553 cannons, 140 rounds/gun
- Rockets: assortment of unguided air-to-ground rockets including the Matra JL-100 drop tank/rocket pack, each with 19× SNEB 68 mm rockets and 66 US gallons (250 liters) of fuel
- Missiles: 2× AIM-9 Sidewinders or Shafrir or Python-series AAMs; 2× Shrike ARMs; 2× AGM-65 Maverick ASMs
- Bombs: 5,775 kg (12,730 lb) of payload on nine external hardpoints, including bombs such as the Mark 80 series, Paveway series of LGBs, Griffin LGBs, SMKBs, TAL-1 OR TAL-2 CBUs, BLU-107 Matra Durandal, reconnaissance pods or Drop tanks