F-21 Kfir, IAI

F-21 Kfir

The Kfir is a development of the French Mirage 5 with an J79 engine, built in Israel after France refused to deliver the original aircraft. Some changes to the fuselage were necessary to accomodate the engine; the Kfir also had sturdier landing gear and wing extensions. The Kfir C.2 introduced canards. The Kfir is mainly a ground attack aircraft, with a secondary role as fighter. The original Kfir prototype which first flew on October 19, 1970 was a combination of the Dassault Mirage III airframe with the GE-J79 afterburning turbojet of the F-4 Phantom II. Produced in small numbers in 1972, 25 aircraft were eventually leased to the US Navy and Marine Corps as F-21A'a (12 were used by the US Navy and 13 by the USMC). These F-21 KFir were in service in the US as "agressors" for dissimilar air combat training. A total of 212 Kfir's were built, approximately 125 Kfirs remain in service today with Israel, as well as Columbia and Equador.

Type: Kfir C-1
Function: fighter
Year: 1975
Crew: 1
Engines: 1 * 8120kg P&W J79-PW-17
Wing Span: 8.22 m
Length: 15.65 m
Height: 4.55 m
Wing Area: 34.80 m2
Max. Speed: 2445 km/h
Ceiling: 18000 m
Max. Range: 1300+ km
Armament: 2*g30mm

Type: Kfir C.7
Country: Israel
Function: fighter-bomber
Year: 1983
Crew: 1
Engines: 1 * 83.4kN P&W J79-J1E
Wing Span: 8.22 m
Length: 15.65 m
Height: 4.55 m
Wing Area: 34.80 m2
Empty Weight: 7285 kg
Max.Weight: 16200 kg
Max. Speed: Mach 2.3
Ceiling: 17680 m
Armament: 2*g30mm, 6085 kg payload

Prime contractor: Israel Aircraft Industries Ltd.
Nation of origin: Israel
Function: Multi-role fighter
Crew: 1
Year: 1970
In-service year: 1972 as C1
Engine: One General Electric J79-J1E afterburning turbojet, 18,750 lb thrust
Wing span: 8.22 m / 27 ft
Length: 15.65 m / 51 ft 5 in
Height: 4.55 m / 14 ft 11 in
Weight: 16,060 lb empty / 36,376 lb max. take off
Ceiling: 58,000 ft
Speed: 2,440 km/h / 1,516 mph at high altitude
Armament: Two DEFA 553 30mm cannons with 140 rounds each, plus up to 13,415 lb including AAMs, cluster bombs, free-fall bombs, laser guided bombs, Durandal anti-runway bombs, AGM-65 Maverick ASMs, napalm tanks, ECM pods, or drop tanks.


The IAI Kfir is one of the best known examples of the developmental approach to the design and construction of combat aircraft, which consists in the modernization of well-proven airframes to face the challenges posed by an increasingly sophisticated air-combat environment. The 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 supersonic aircraft acquired by Israel, 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 drawbacks to 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 this country by the French government in 1967 prevented Dassault from ever delivering the aircraft. The Israelis replied by producing an unlicensed copy of the Mirage 5, the Nesher (Eagle), with technical specifications for both the airframe and the engine obtained by the Israeli intelligence.


Still, even before the first Neshers were delivered to the IAF in 1971, the designers at IAI were already working on a second, more ambitious project: determined to improve upon the Mirage III/5/Nesher all-around performance, and dissatisfied with the original SNECMA Atar 09's low thrust and high fuel consumption, IAI decided to find a replacement engine.

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 the 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 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 fin, 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 ("Thunder"), 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
Production-series deliveries of the new Mirage III/5/Nesher derivative, named Kfir, began in 1975, the first aircraft being handed over to the Heyl Ha'Avir (IAF) during a special ceremony held at IAI's plant, on the eve of Israel's Independence Day. On the outside, the Kfir resembled a Nesher, except for the abovementioned airframe modifications. When the Kfirs were modified to use small detachable canards and other minor improvements, they were given the name Kfir C.1. Only 27 Kfir C.1s were produced, as IAI was already developing a markedly improved version of the aircraft. All the Kfir C.1s were eventually fitted with canards smaller than the ones on the Kfir C.2.

Kfir C.2
The much improved Kfir C.2, revealed in 1976, was the first full-standard version of the aircraft. Benefiting from the operational experience obtained with the first variant, the C.2 featured delta canard foreplanes mounted on the air intakes, narrow "strakes" along the tip of the nose, and extended "dogtooth" outer wing panels. These aerodynamic modifications gave the Kfir better all-around manoeuvrability, reduced landing and take-off distance, and superior handling at low speeds. All C.2s were also equipped with a Martin-Baker Mk.10 ejection seat, and seven weapons pylons.

The nose of the Kfir C.2 was also redesigned to allow for the placement of a new set of modern Israeli avionics, including the Elta EL/M 2001 or 2001B Pulse-doppler ranging radar, the Rafael MAHAT or IAI WDNS-141 weapon-delivery systems, twin computer flight control systems, multimode navigation systems, and a HUD.

At the beginning of 1981, IAI presented the Kfir TC.2 two-seat variant, which, while retaining full attack capabilities, served as a conversion trainer and Electronic warfare system. The TC.2 is easily recognized by its extended nose, housing all the avionics displaced by the second seat, and noticeably drooped to improve cockpit visibility. By 1983, when production was shifted to a new version, a total of 185 Kfir C.2s and TC.2s had been built.

Kfir C.7
In 1983, IAI began to upgrade the Kfir C.2s/TC.2s to a new variant, the Kfir C.7/TC.7, which carried a modified version of the J79-GE-17E powerplant, with an additional 4.45 kN (1,000 lb st) of afterburning thrust, and an enhanced thrust-to-weight ratio. The Kfir C.7 featured a modernized HOTAS cockpit, with new avionics, including the Elta EL/M-2021B pulse-Doppler radar and the Elta EL/L-8202 advanced electronic jammer, plus guided weapons carrying capability, two additional hardpoints below the intake ducts (for a total of nine), and provision for in-flight refueling. With a maximum take-off weight increased by 1,540 kg (3,395 lb), as well as an improved combat radius, the Kfir C.7 was a much better ground attack aircraft than its predecessor. The emphasis given on the improvement of the strike capabilities of the Kfir signaled the new role asigned to the aircraft in the IAF's order or battle during the 1980s, as the F-15s and F-16s took over the air-superiority and interception missions.

Kfir C.10
Developed by IAI for the export market, the Kfir C.10, also known as Kfir 2000, is the latest version of the Kfir family. It features a new wrap-around glass cockpit, an in-flight refuelling probe, and a larger nose containing a highly optimized set of advanced avionics. The modernized HOTAS cockpit includes an improved HUD, two Multifunction Color Displays, an Up-front Control Panel, and support for a Helmet Mounted Display System. The Elta EL/M-2032 Multimode Airborne Fire Control Radar enhances the aircraft's performance in both air-to-air and air-to-ground missions, and gives the Kfir C.10 the capability to carry the RAFAEL Derby active radar-homing missile, as well as the latest versions of the RAFAEL Python IR-homing missile series. As of 2006, the only nation known to have acquired Kfir C.10s is Ecuador, where the variant is referred to as Kfir CE.
Aviation Top100 Home go back