Friday, 27 September 2013

SAAF: The Dassault Breguet Mirage III (Part 1)

The Mirage III in SAAF Service (Part 1)

Origin of the Mirage III

The Mirage III family grew out of French government studies started in 1952 that led in early 1953 to a specification for a lightweight, all-weather interceptor capable of climbing to 18,000 m (59,040 ft) in six minutes and able to reach Mach 1.3 in level flight.

Dassault's response to the specification was the Mystère-Delta 550, (above) a diminutive and sleek jet that was to be powered by twin Armstrong Siddeley MD30R Viper after-burning turbojets, each with thrust of 9.61 kN (2,160 lbf). A SEPR liquid-fuel rocket motor was to provide additional burst thrust of 14.7 kN (3,300 lbf). The aircraft had a tailless delta configuration, with a 5% chord (ratio of airfoil thickness to length) and 60 degree sweep.
After some redesign, reduction of the fin to more rational size, installation of afterburners and rocket motor, and renaming to Mirage I, in late 1955, the prototype attained Mach 1.3 in level flight without rocket assist, and Mach 1.6 with the rocket.

Mirage I (note tail and exhaust configuration) 

Dassault then considered a somewhat bigger version, the Mirage II, with a pair of Turbomeca Gabizo turbojets, but no aircraft of this configuration was ever built. The Mirage II was bypassed for a much more ambitious design that was 30% heavier than the Mirage I and was powered by the new SNECMA Atar after-burning turbojet with thrust of 43.2 kN (9,700 lbf). The Atar was an axial flow turbojet, derived from the German World War II BMW 003 design.However, the small size of the Mirage I restricted its armament to a single air-to-air missile, and even before this time it had been prudently decided the aircraft was simply too tiny to carry a useful armament load. After trials, the Mirage I prototype was eventually scrapped.
The new fighter design was named the Mirage III. It incorporated the new area ruling concept, where changes to the cross section of an aircraft were made as gradual as possible, resulting in the famous "wasp waist" configuration of many supersonic fighters. Like the Mirage I, the Mirage III had provision for a SEPR rocket engine.

Relative size and footprint
The success of the Mirage III prototype resulted in an order for 10 pre-production Mirage IIIAs. These were almost two meters longer than the Mirage III prototype, had a wing with 17.3% more area, a chord reduced to 4.5%, and an Atar 09B turbojet with after-burning thrust of 58.9 kN (13,230 lbf). The SEPR rocket engine was retained, and the aircraft were fitted with Thomson-CSF Cyrano Ibis air intercept radar, operational avionics, and a drag chute to shorten landing roll. The prototype Mirage III flew on 17 November 1956, and attained a speed of Mach 1.52 on its tenth flight. The prototype was then fitted with manually operated intake half-cone shock diffusers, known as souris ("mice"), which were moved forward as speed increased to reduce inlet turbulence. The Mirage III attained a speed of Mach 1.8 in September 1957.
The first Mirage IIIA flew in May 1958, and eventually was clocked at Mach 2.2, making it the first European aircraft to exceed Mach 2 in level flight. The tenth IIIA was rolled out in December 1959. One was fitted with a Rolls-Royce Avon 67 engine with thrust of 71.1 kN (16,000 lbf) as a test model for Australian evaluation, with the name "Mirage IIIO". This variant flew in February 1961, but the Avon powerplant was not adopted.

French Mirage IIICs
The first major production model of the Mirage series, the Mirage IIIC, first flew in October 1960. The IIIC was largely similar to the IIIA, though a little under a half meter longer and brought up to full operational fit. The IIIC was a single-seat interceptor, with an Atar 09B turbojet engine, featuring an "eyelet" style variable exhaust.

DEFA 30mm revolver auto-cannon as installed on the Mirage III and F1

The Mirage IIIC was armed with twin 30 mm DEFA revolver-type cannon, fitted in the belly with the gun ports under the air intake. Early Mirage IIIC production had three stores pylons, one under the fuselage and one under each wing, but another outboard pylon was quickly added to each wing, for a total of five. The outboard pylon was intended to carry an AIM-9 Sidewinder air-to-air missile, later replaced by the Matra Magic.
Although provision for the rocket engine was retained, by this time the day of the high-altitude bomber seemed to be over, and the SEPR rocket engine was rarely or never fitted in practice. In the first place, it required removal of the aircraft's cannon, and in the second, apparently it had a reputation for setting the aircraft on fire !
The space for the rocket engine was used for additional fuel, and the rocket nozzle was replaced by a ventral fin at first, and an airfield arresting assembly later.
A total of 95 Mirage IIICs were obtained by the French Air Force (Armée de l'Air, AdA ), with initial operational deliveries in July 1961. The Mirage IIIC remained in service with the AdA until 1988.
The Armée de l'Air also ordered a two-seat Mirage IIIB operational trainer, which first flew in October 1959. The fuselage was stretched about a meter (3 ft 3.5 in) and both cannons were removed to accommodate the second seat. The IIIB had no radar, and provision for the SEPR rocket was deleted, although it could carry external stores. 
The AdA ordered 63 Mirage IIIBs (including the prototype), including five Mirage IIIB-1trials aircraft, ten Mirage IIIB-2(RV) in-flight refueling trainers with dummy nose probes, used for training Mirage IVA bomber pilots, and 20 Mirage IIIBEs, with the engine and some other features of the multi role Mirage IIIE. One Mirage IIIB was fitted with a fly-by-wire flight control system in the mid-1970s and re-designated Mirage IIIB-SV (Stabilité Variable); this aircraft was used as a test bed for the system in the later Mirage 2000.

While the Mirage IIIC was being put into production, Dassault was also considering a multi role/strike variant of the aircraft, which eventually materialized as the Mirage IIIE. The first of three prototypes flew on 1 April 1961.
The Mirage IIIE differed from the IIIC interceptor most obviously in having a 30 cm (11.8 in) forward fuselage extension to increase the size of the avionics bay behind the cockpit. The stretch also helped increase fuel capacity, as the Mirage IIIC had marginal range and improvements were needed. The stretch was small and hard to notice, but the clue is that the bottom edge of the canopy on a Mirage IIIE ends directly above the top lip of the air intake, while on the IIIC it ends visibly back of the lip.
Many Mirage IIIE variants were also fitted with a Marconi continuous-wave Doppler navigation radar radome on the bottom of the fuselage, under the cockpit. However, while no IIICs had this feature, it was not universal on all variants of the IIIE. A similar inconsistent variation in Mirage fighter versions was the presence or absence of an HF antenna that was fitted as a forward extension to the vertical tailplane. On some Mirages, the leading edge of the tailplane was a straight line, while on those with the HF antenna the leading edge had a sloping extension forward. The extension appears to have been generally standard on production Mirage IIIAs and Mirage IIICs, but only appeared in some of the export versions of the Mirage IIIE.
The IIIE featured Thomson-CSF Cyrano II dual mode air / ground radar; a radar warning receiver (RWR) system with the antennas mounted in the vertical tailplane; and an Atar 09C engine, with a petal-style variable exhaust.
The first production Mirage IIIE was delivered to the AdA in January 1964, and a total of 192 were eventually delivered to that service.
Total production of the Mirage IIIE, including exports, was substantially larger than that of the Mirage IIIC, including exports, totaling 523 aircraft. In the mid-1960s one Mirage IIIE was fitted with the improved SNECMA Atar 09K-6 turbojet for trials, and given the confusing designation of Mirage IIIC2.

Exports and license production
The French AdA obtained 50 production Mirage IIIRs, not including two prototypes. The Mirage IIIR preceded the Mirage IIIE in operational introduction. The AdA also obtained 20 improved Mirage IIIRD reconnaissance variants, essentially a Mirage IIIR with an extra panoramic camera in the most forward nose position, and the Doppler radar and other avionics from the Mirage IIIE.
The largest export customers for Mirage IIICs built in France were Israel as the Mirage IIICJ and South Africa as the Mirage IIICZ. 

Some export customers obtained the Mirage IIIB, with designations only changed to provide a country code. Such as the Mirage IIIDA for Argentina, Mirage IIIDBR and Mirage IIIDBR-2 for Brazil. Mirage IIIBJ for Israel, Mirage IIIDL for Lebanon, Mirage IIIDP for Pakistan, Mirage IIIBZ and Mirage IIIDZ and Mirage IIID2Z for South Africa, Mirage IIIDE for Spain and Mirage IIIDV for Venezuela.
After the outstanding Israeli success with the Mirage IIIC, scoring kills against Syrian Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-17s and MiG-21 aircraft and then achieving a formidable victory against Egypt, Jordan, and Syria in the Six-Day War of June 1967, the Mirage III's reputation was greatly enhanced. The "combat-proven" image and relatively low cost made it a popular export success.
The aircraft remained a formidable weapon in the hands of Pakistan Air force in No. 5 Squadron (Pakistan Air Force), which was fully operational by the 1971 War. Flying out from Sargodha, along with a detachment in Mianwali, these were extensively used for ground attacks. No Mirage was lost in the war. PAF defined their own work package for major Depot level & Overhaul making them world's experts on the Mirage classic. The Mirage fleet is currently being modified to accommodate Aerial Refueling and to carry Hatf-VIII (Ra'ad) cruise missiles. In wake of delays from JF-17 Thunder, Mirages continue to play a major part in the defense of Pakistan airspace through Pakistani's Engineers ingenuity and engineering skills.

A good number of IIIEs were built for export as well, being purchased in small quantities by Argentina as the Mirage IIIEA and Mirage IIIEBR-2 Brazil as the Mirage IIIEBR, Lebanon as the Mirage IIIEL,Pakistan as the Mirage IIIEP, South Africa as the Mirage IIIEZ, Spain as the Mirage IIIEE, and Venezuela as the Mirage IIIEV, with a list of subvariant designations, with minor variations in equipment fit. 
Dassault believed the customer was always right, and was happy to accommodate changes in equipment fit as customer needs and budget required. Pakistani Mirage 5PA3, for example, were fitted with Thomson-CSF Agave radar with capability of guiding the Exocet anti-ship missile.
Some customers obtained the two-seat Mirage IIIBE under the general designation Mirage IIID, though the trainers were generally similar to the Mirage IIIBE except for minor changes in equipment fit. In some cases they were identical, since two surplus AdA Mirage IIIBEs were sold to Brazil under the designation Mirage IIIBBR, and three were similarly sold to Egypt under the designation Mirage 5SDD. New-build exports of this type included aircraft sold to Abu Dhabi, Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Egypt, Gabon, Libya, Pakistan, Peru, Spain, Venezuela, and Zaire.

Difference between EZ and RZ variants

Export versions of the Mirage IIIR were built for Pakistan as the Mirage IIIRP and South Africa as the Mirage IIIRZ, and Mirage IIIR2Z with an Atar 9K-50 jet engine. 
Export versions of the IIIR recce aircraft were purchased by Abu Dhabi, Belgium, Colombia, Egypt, Libya, Pakistan, and South Africa. Some export Mirage IIIRDs were fitted with British Vinten cameras, not OMERA cameras. Most of the Belgian aircraft were built locally.
The IDF/AF purchased three variants of the Mirage III
70 Mirage IIICJ single-seat fighters, received between April 1962 and July 1964.
Two Mirage IIIRJ single-seat photo-reconnaissance aircraft, received in March 1964.
Four Mirage IIIBJ two-seat combat trainers, three received in 1966 and one in 1968.
The Israeli AF Mirage III fleet went through several modifications during their service life.
Over the demilitarized zone on the Israeli side of the border with Syria, a total of six MiGs were shot down the first day Mirages fought the MiGs. In the Six-Day War, except for 12 Mirages (four in the air and eight on the ground), left behind to guard Israel from Arab bombers, all the Mirages were fitted with bombs, and sent to attack the Arab air bases. However the Mirage's performance as a bomber was limited. During the following days Mirages performed as fighters, and out of a total of 58 Arab aircraft shot down in air combat during the war, 48 were accounted for by Mirages.
License production: In the 1973 Yom Kippur War, the Mirage performed in air-to-air operations only. At least 26 Mirages and Neshers were lost in air-to-air combat during the war.
The Mirage IIIE was also built under license in Australia, Belgium and Switzerland.
M.D.550 Mystere-Delta
Single-seat delta-wing interceptor-fighter prototype, fitted with a delta vertical tail surface, equipped with a retractable tricycle landing gear, powered by two 7.35 kN (1,653 lbf) thrust M.D.30 (Armstrong Siddeley Viper) turbojet engines; one built.
Mirage I
Revised first prototype, fitted with a swept vertical tail surface, powered by two reheated M.D.30R turbojet engines (9.61 kN (2,160 lbf with reheat), also fitted with a 15 kN (3,370 lbf) thrust SEPR 66 auxiliary rocket motor.[2]
Mirage II
Single-seat delta-wing interceptor-fighter prototype, larger version of the Mirage I, powered by two Turbomeca Gabizo turbojet engines; one abandoned incomplete
Mirage III-001
Prototype, initially powered by a 44.12 kN (9,920 lbf) thrust Atar 101G1 turbojet engine, later refitted with 43.15 kN (9,700 lbf) Atar 101G-2 and also fitted with a SEPR 66 auxiliary rocket motor; one built.[2]
Mirage IIIA 
Pre-production aircraft, with a lengthened, area ruled fuselage and powered by a 42.08 kN (9,460 lbf) dry and 58.84 kN (13,228 lbf) with reheat Atar 9B turbojet engine, also with provision for 13.34 kN (3,000 lbf) SEPR 84 auxiliary rocket motor. Fitted with Dassault Super Aida or Thomson-CSF Cyrano Ibis radar. Ten built for the French Air Force.
Mirage IIIB 
Two-seat tandem trainer aircraft fitted with one piece canopy. Lacks radar, cannon armament and provision for booster rocket. Prototype (based on the IIIA) first flown on 20 October 1959. Followed by 26 production IIIBs based on IIIC for French Air Force and one for Centre d'essais en vol (CEV) test centre.[9][10]
Mirage IIIB-1 : Trials aircraft. Five built.[10]
Mirage IIIB-2(RV) : Inflight refuelling training aircraft for Mirage IV force, fitted with dummy refuelling probe in nose. Ten built.[11]
Mirage IIIBE : Two-seat training aircraft based on Mirage IIIE for the French Air Force, similar to the Mirage IIID. 20 built.
Mirage IIIBJ : Mirage IIIB for Israeli Air Force. Five built.
Mirage IIIBL : Mirage IIIBE for Lebanon Air Force.
Mirage IIIBS : Mirage IIIB for the Swiss Air Force; four built.
Mirage IIIBZ : Mirage IIIB for the South African Air Force; three built.
Mirage IIIC 
Single-seat all-weather interceptor-fighter aircraft, with longer fuselage (14.73 m (13 ft 11¾ in)) than the IIIA and equipped with a Cyrano Ibis radar. The Mirage IIIC was armed with two 30 mm cannons, with a single Matra R.511, Nord AA.20 orMatra R530 air-to-air missile under the fuselage and two AIM-9 Sidewinder missiles under the wings. It was powered by an Atar 9B-3 turbojet engine, which could be supplemented by fitting an auxiliary rocket motor in the rear fuselage if the cannon were removed. 95 were built for the French Air Force.
Mirage IIICJ : Mirage IIIC for the Israeli Air Force, fitted with simpler electronics and with provision for the booster rocket removed. 72 delivered between 1961 and 1964.
Mirage IIICS : Mirage IIIC supplied to Swiss Air Force in 1962 for evaluation and test purposes. One built.
Mirage IIICZ : Mirage IIIC for the South African Air Force. 16 supplied between December 1962 and March 1964.
Mirage IIIC-2 : Conversion of French Mirage IIIE with Atar 09K-6 engine. One aircraft converted, later re-converted to Mirage IIIE.
Mirage IIID 
Two-seat trainer version of the Mirage IIIE, powered by 41.97 kN (9,369 lbf) dry and 58.84 kN (13,228 lbf) with reheat Atar 09-C engine. Fitted with distinctive strakes under the nose. Almost identical aircraft designated Mirage IIIBE, IIID and 5Dx depending on customer.
Mirage IIID : Two-seat training aircraft for the RAAF. Built under licence in Australia; 16 built.
Mirage IIIDA : Two-seat trainer for the Argentine Air Force. Two supplied 1973 and a further two in 1982.
Mirage IIIDBR : Two-seat trainer for the Brazilian Air Force, designated F-103D. Four newly-built aircraft delivered from 1972. Two ex-French Air Force Mirage IIIBEs delivered 1984 to make up for losses in accidents.
Mirage IIIDBR-2 : Refurbished and updated aircraft for the Brazilian Air Force, with more modern avionics and canard foreplanes. Two ex-French aircraft sold to Brazil in 1988, with remaining two DBRs upgraded to same standard.
Mirage IIIDE : Two-seat trainer for Spanish Air Force. Six built with local designation CE.11.
Mirage IIIDP : Two-seat trainer for the Pakistan Air Force. Five built.
Mirage IIIDS : Two-seat trainer for the Swiss Air Force. Two delivered 1983.
Mirage IIIDV : Two-seat trainer for the Venezuelan Air Force; three built.
Mirage IIIDZ : Two-seat trainer for the South African Air Force; three delivered 1969.
Mirage IIID2Z : Two-seat trainer for the South African Air Force, fitted with an Atar 9K-50 turbojet engine; giving 49.2 kN (11,055 lbf) thrust dry and 70.6 kN (15,870 lbf) with reheat. Eleven built.
Mirage IIIE
Single-seat tactical strike and fighter-bomber aircraft, with 30 cm (11¾ in) fuselage plug to accommodate an additional avionics bay behind the cockpit. Fitted with Cyrano II radar with additional air-to-ground modes compared to Mirage IIIC, improved navigation equipment, including TACAN and a Doppler radar in undernose bulge. Powered by an Atar 09C-3 turbojet engine. 183 built for the French Air Force
Mirage IIIEA : Mirage IIIE for the Argentine Air Force. 17 built.
Mirage IIIEBR : Mirage IIIE for the Brazilian Air Force; 16 built, locally designated F-103E.
Mirage IIIEBR-2 : Refurbished and updated aircraft for the Brazilian Air Force, with canard foreplanes. Four ex-French aircraft sold to Brazil in 1988, with surviving Mirage IIIEBRs upgraded to same standard.
Mirage IIIEE : Mirage IIIE for the Spanish Air Force, locally designated C.11. 24 delivered from 1970.
Mirage IIIEL : Mirage IIIE for the Lebanese Air Force, omitting doppler radar, including HF antenna. 10 delivered from 1967 and 1969.
Mirage IIIEP : Mirage IIIE for the Pakistan Air Force. 18 delivered 1967–1969.
Mirage IIIEV : Mirage IIIE for the Venezuelan Air Force, omitting doppler radar. Seven built. Survivors upgraded to Mirage 50EV standard.
Mirage IIIEZ : Mirage IIIE for the South African Air Force; 17 delivered 1965–1972.
Mirage IIIO
Single-seat all-weather fighter-bomber aircraft for the Royal Australian Air Force. Single prototype powered by 53.68 kN (12,000 lbf) dry thrust and 71.17 kN (16,000 lbf) Rolls-Royce Avon Mk 67 turbojet engine, but order placed for aircraft based on Mirage IIIE, powered by Atar engine in March 1961. 100 aircraft built, of which 98 were built under licence in Australia. The first 49 were Mirage IIIO(F) interceptors which were followed by 51 Mirage IIIO(A) fighter bombers, with survivors brought up to a common standard later.
Mirage IIIR
Single-seat all-weather reconnaissance aircraft, with radar replaced by camera nose carrying up to five cameras. Aircraft based on IIIE airframe but with simpler avionics similar to that fitted to the IIIC and retaining cannon armament of fighters. Two prototypes and 50 production aircraft built for the French Air Force.[33][34]
Mirage IIIRD : Single-seat all-weather reconnaissance aircraft for the French Air Force, equipped with improved avionics, including undernose doppler radar as in the Mirage IIIE. Provision to carry infra-red linescan Doppler navigation radar or Side looking airborne radar (SLAR) in interchangeable pod. 20 built
Mirage IIIRJ : Single-seat all-weather reconniassance aircraft of the Israeli Air Force. Two Mirage IIICZs converted into reconnaissance aircraft.
Mirage IIIRP : Export version of the Mirage IIIR for the Pakistan Air Force; 13 built.
Mirage IIIRS : Export version of the Mirage IIIR for the Swiss Air Force; 18 built.
Mirage IIIRZ : Export version of the Mirage IIIR for the South African Air Force; four built.
Mirage IIIR2Z : Export version of the Mirage IIIR for the South African Air Force, fitted with an Atar 9K-50 turbojet engine; four built.
Mirage IIIS
Single-seat all-weather interceptor fighter aircraft for the Swiss Air Force, fitted with a Hughes TARAN 18 radar and fire-control system, armed with AIM-4 Falcon and Sidewinder air-to-air missiles. Built under licence in Switzerland; 36 built.
Mirage IIIT
One aircraft converted into an engine testbed, it was fitted with a 9000-kg (19,482-lb) SNECMA TF-106 turbofan engine.
Mirage IIIX
Proposed version, announced in 1982, fitted with updated avionics and fly-by-wire controls, powered by an Atar 9K-50 turbojet engine. Original designation of the Mirage 3NG.

Dassault Mirage III (Part 2) Progeny: The Cheetah and Kfir

Mirage III Progeny: The Cheetah program

During the early 1980's, the SAAF faced modern Soviet aircraft and weapons in Angola. Being handicapped by a UN arms embargo, the SAAF had to act urgently to improve its capabilities. 
The SAAF never had a large number of combat aircraft to spare. It only had about forty combat-ready 1970's-vintage Mirage F1's. If it was to take them out of service to upgrade them, it had no replacement other than the  even older, 1960's-vintage Mirage III's. These were shorter-ranged, had less powerful engines and obsolete combat systems, and could carry less ordnance. This meant any upgrade would have to be applied first to the older Mirage III's, as they were the only aircraft that could be spared from combat operations for that purpose.

Fortunately, this wasn't a bad choice in the end. Two major aircraft programs had demonstrated what could be done by building on the foundation of the Mirage III, probably one of the most successful proven combat aircraft of it's day. First, Dassault Aviation was by then producing the successor to the Mirage F1, the Mirage 2000, which returned to the delta-wing format of the Mirage III.

Mirage III D

Israel agreed to supply systems and components, and the green light for the Cheetah project was given in the early 1980's. In order to provide a measure of diplomatic and political 'cover' for Israel, it was decided (as with  many South African weapons projects) to claim that it was an purely indigenous development. Despite huge similarity between the Kfir and the Cheetah, officials in on both sides  steadfastly deny that the two aircraft had anything in common. 

The SAAF provided Israel a two-seat Mirage IIID as the prototype air frame for conversion. It was stripped down completely and all components subject to metal fatigue or stress were replaced, effectively returning the air frame new condition. An extended nose cone was fitted, derived from the Kfir TC.2 model, which housed advanced electronic systems, and small canard wings were fitted above the air intakes to improve low-speed handling and angle of attack. (The canards on the D and E model Cheetahs were smaller than those used on the later Cheetah C's, reportedly because it was too difficult to reinforce the fuselage frames in the engine intake area to accommodate the larger units. The Cheetah C's used the same full-size canards as the Kfir; but their air frames were supplied by Israel, as noted below. Presumably they weren't subject to the same limitations as the French-air frame-based Cheetah D's and E's.)

Israel Aircraft Industries (IAI), together with several other companies in that country's defense industry, had already produced a series of Mirage derivatives. Israel had purchased Mirage III aircraft from France prior to the Six-Day War of 1967, and had ordered a further 50 Mirage 5's (a simplified version of the Mirage III). However, these were embargoed by France after the conflict. Undaunted, Israel stole the plans to the Mirage III from Switzerland, which was license-manufacturing the aircraft (Swiss engineer, Alfred Frauenknecht, would later be sentenced to 4½ years imprisonment for his collaboration with Israel).

Israel used these plans to develop its own fighters. The first  was the Nesher, almost an exact copy of the Mirage 5 (indeed, it's so exact that some sources suggest IAI actually assembled Mirages, clandestinely supplied in kit form by France, rather than manufactured the Nesher itself). A total of 60 Neshers appear to have been manufactured, most sold to Argentina at the end of the 1970's under the name of Dagger 

These aircraft confronted British forces during the Falklands War. Israel went on to produce the Kfir, a considerably upgraded Mirage derivative with Israeli electronics with a US J79 turbojet engine (As on the F-4 Phantom II fighter-bomber, also operated by Israel at the time).

Argentine "Dagger"

The IAI Nammer ("Leopard",  frequently mistranslated as "Tiger") was a fighter aircraft developed in Israel in the late 1980s/1990s as a modernised version of the Kfir for the export market. Although a prototype was built and flown, buyers were not forthcoming and development was ceased. The avionics of the Nammer were those of the cancelled Lavi project.

The Nammer promised an upgrade package for existing Mirage III and Mirage 5 air frames. Two configurations were proposed, one based around re-engining with a General Electric F404, the other around retaining the Mirage's SNECMA Atar engine. Elta EL/M-2011 or EL/M-2032 fire-control radar was to be fitted. The first of these options maximised performance and range, the second maximised the aircraft's air-to-air targeting capability. As development progressed, the Nammer came to be advertised as a new-build aircraft with the EL/M-2032 an integral part of the package, and customers able to choose their preferred engine out of the F404 (or its Volvo derivative, the RM-12), the SNECMA M53, or the Pratt & Whitney PW1120. The design strongly resembled the Kfir C-7,but was easily distinguished by its longer nose and lack of a dorsal air scoop under the tail fin

Details of the weapon and control systems fitted to the Cheetah have never been publicly revealed by the SAAF, but it can probably assumed they were close to or identical to those found on various models of the Kfir. IAI lists them as including, in the latest Kfir version:

The radar used in the Cheetah D and E models (and in the Kfir C.7) was the simple Elta EL/M-2001Bunit. The Cheetah C, the last development of this project, possibly had the much more advanced Elta EL/M-2032 . The Cheetah C's electronic systems were probably on a par with those of the F-16C/D fighter-bombers of the USAF at the time.

The intermediate single-seat Cheetah E model:

Here's the final iteration of the Cheetah, the 'C' model:

The SAAF's two-seat Mirage IIID variants were the first to be converted. This was probably for two reasons. First, and most pragmatically, the two-seat air frames could be most easily spared from operational duties. Second, they were probably urgently needed to replace the worn-out two-seat Buccaneer aircraft in the nuclear strike role (South Africa had six nuclear weapons, developed at the height of its political isolation and military struggle, which were dismantled in the early 1990's). The Buccaneers had not been updated with modern strike systems, which limited their usefulness; so the upgraded Cheetah D's would have been welcome in this role.

Sixteen two-seat Cheetah D's were produced, as well as 16 single-seat Cheetah E's, the latter mostly converted from Mirage IIIEZ air frames (although some were reportedly converted from air frames supplied by Israel, due to a shortage of suitable South African Mirages). All had been delivered by 1991. Finally, 38 Cheetah C's were produced under the auspices of 'Project Tunny'. 
The Cheetah C's were reportedly based on stripped down Kfir air frames supplied by Israel, modified to accept the French Atar engine rather than the US J79.  Most of the SAAF's Mirage III's had been delivered during the 1960's. Some had reached the end of their fatigue lives, and were thus unsuitable for conversion. Others had been lost in accidents, and the Cheetah E conversions had absorbed many of the remainder.

Given these two facts, there would not have been enough usable single-seat Mirage III air frames left in the SAAF inventory to produce 38 Cheetah C's.  one can safely assume that the reports that say Israel supplied the fuselages for the latter is accurate. Apart from the prototype Cheetah D, most of the conversions were carried out in South Africa by Atlas Aircraft Corporation (today part of Denel Aviation), with Israeli technical assistance (which decreased as local industry gained experience and competence).

The C models were delivered from 1993-1995, replacing the Cheetah E's, which were retired. Some of the two-seat Cheetah D's were retained in service as lead-in trainers for the C versions, and to provide a specialist strike function if required. A single experimental Cheetah R version was produced, using a Mirage IIIR2Z airframe, but no other reconnaissance versions were converted, and the Cheetah R did not enter squadron service, being retired soon afterwards. The reconnaissance function was taken over by Cheetah C's fitted with pod-mounted cameras.

The first ACW prototype was tested on the only Cheetah R, and a more evolved model was tested on a two-seat Cheetah D. The latter improved the Cheetah's sustained turn rate by 14%, and permitted maximum takeoff weight to be increased by well over half a ton. It also permitted angles of attack up to 33 degrees at low speeds, with much greater stability, at the expense of a reduction of approximately 5% in the aircraft's maximum supersonic speed. However, for budgetary reasons the SAAF declined to upgrade their Cheetahs with the ACW, and it was never put into production.

If it lost aircraft due to combat or accident  it could not replace them, due the embargo; and it had to keep its combat planes as up-to-date as possible, to ensure they did not become so obsolete that they risked being shot down in large numbers by more advanced enemy aircraft. 

Mirage 2000-5F of the French Air Force

South Africa had friendly ties with Israel, particularly in the military field.  South African technological institutions such as the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR), and local defense companies such as Kentron (today Denel Dynamics), Reutech and others, were developing advanced radar and electro-optical detection and guidance systems. The latter companies in particular often collaborated with their Israeli counterparts (up to and including producing Israeli components and systems under license in South Africa). It would therefore be entirely feasible for the advanced combat systems of the Kfir to be 'transplanted' into the Mirage III's of the SAAF, including local assembly and partial production if necessary.

AI Kfir, in US Navy colors under the designation F-21A,
where it served as an adversary aircraft for Dissimilar Air Combat Training

The Cheetah had a considerably more powerful and more economical engine, greatly improved avionics and weapons systems, and a fly-by-wire control system, which rendered it far superior to the Mirage III from which it stemmed. (It's generally accepted that the French Mirage 2000 is roughly comparable, in terms of its overall capability, to contemporary models of the US F-16 Fighting Falcon or the Soviet MiG-29.) The SAAF reasoned that if Dassault could develop the Mirage III into a fully modern warplane, they could do likewise. This was aided by the fact that in the 1970's, South Africa had purchased a license to manufacture the Mirage III and F1, as well as the latter's Atar 09K-50 turbojet engine. All the necessary plans were thus already on hand.

Given that the Cheetah prototype was converted in Israel, it's very interesting to note the proposed IAI Nammer aircraft of the late 1980's. Wikipedia info:

You can't help but notice that the line drawing above is virtually identical to the pictures of the Cheetah C and Kfir 2000 . Also note that the translation of 'Nammer' is the name of a big cat. A co-incidence? Did the prototype' of the Nammer become the prototype SAAF Cheetah C ?  It would certainly have been a good cover story to disguise IAI's involvement with the latter program. 

SAAF Cheetah C in Service Ysterplaat AFB

Pilot friendly advanced "Glass" Cockpit;Hands On Throttle And Stick (HOTAS) operation;
Advanced multi-mode Fire Control Radar (FCR) with SAR; State-of-the-art weapons delivery, including Beyond Visual Range missiles; Digital Moving Map (DMM); Electronic Warfare (EW) Suite.

The Israeli lineage of the Cheetah is clearly demonstrated by comparing the aircraft side-by-side. The SAAF Cheetah D, the initial two-seat version of the aircraft:

Kfir TC.2 of the Israeli Air Force:

Note identical extended and slightly downward-sloping nose cones, housing the electronics; the canard wings above the engine air intakes; and the strakes on the nose cone. Note the second curved strake running from the base of the nosecone down and back along the bottom of the fuselage. The Cheetah has an air refueling probe on the starboard side of the cockpit, which is absent from the Kfir TC.2, but an identical probe may be seen on other Kfir models, as shown below. The rear fuselage is different as the Cheetah uses a French Atar engine, while the Kfir uses the US turbojet; but from the engine forward, there's virtually no difference.

And the single-seat Kfir C.7:

Note that both have small strakes at the tip of the nose cone, identical instrument probes beneath it, and an in-flight refueling probe that goes to the starboard air intake, rather than behind the cockpit, as in the later Cheetah C. The Cheetah E also incorporates the Kfir C.7's additional two weapons stations beneath the air intakes. I therefore consider the Cheetah E and the Kfir C.7 to be essentially identical from the engine forward.

      IAI publicity photograph of their Kfir 2000 

The refueling probes are different, but the noses of the two aircraft are, again, almost identical. (Note, too, their similarity to the IAI Nammer mentioned above.) As far as its weapons and electronic systems are concerned, the Cheetah C is the functional equivalent of the Kfir 2000 (also known as the Kfir C.10.

The first sixteen Mirage III's supplied to the SAAF were 'C' model interceptors, with a shorter fuselage than subsequent models - too short to be converted into Cheetah C's, which have a longer fuselage. They could not have been lengthened without a reconstruction so extensive (and expensive) that it would have effectively meant producing a new air frame.

Vinten Vicon 18 Series 601 reconnaissance pod mounted beneath a Cheetah C

Some of the Cheetah D aircraft had been converted from Mirage IIID2Z airframes, which had been delivered with Atar 09K-50 engines in the 1970's. Naturally, they retained these more powerful engines in their Cheetah guise. The remainder of the D's, and the Cheetah E models converted from Mirage IIIE's, retained their 1960's-vintage Atar 09C turbojet engine, as local production of the more powerful Atar 09K-50 (used in the Mirage F1) had proved economically unfeasible - South Africa's technological base was insufficiently advanced to manufacture all of the required components. In any event, due to changing circumstances , the lower-powered Cheetah models would all be retired within a few years.

Efforts were mounted to obtain additional 9K-50 engines to equip the Cheetah C models. The Mirage F1 was operated by a number of other countries, including Jordan, Iraq, Morocco and Qatar, all of whom also purchased armaments from South Africa. It is possible that one or more of those nations made Atar 9K-50 engines available to South Africa in return for arms shipments. The most likely candidate would have been  Iraq.

They bought over 80 Mirage F-1's from France, and, as mentioned above, obtained 100 G5 howitzer cannon from South Africa. (Iraq was engaged in a war with Iran from 1980-1988). 

Since combat operations would naturally impose greatly increased wear on the engines of its aircraft, it could order large numbers of replacement engines without arousing suspicion. I have little doubt that some of these replacements were swapped for South African artillery and/or ammunition - probably at a very favorable 'rate of exchange', because South Africa needed the engines very badly.)

The retirement of the SAAF's Mirage F1 fleet in the 1990's was partly (although by no means exclusively) caused by the need to transplant at least some of their engines into the Cheetah fleet. The surviving F1CZ interceptors were retired in 1992. 

Some of their engines went into the Cheetah C program. The Cheetah D and E versions (which had all entered service by 1992) took over from them until the Cheetah C's were ready. The last of the Mirage F1AZ's were retired in 1997, after all the Cheetah C's had entered service.

Mirage F1

If the Cheetah aircraft had a major weakness, it was their engines. The Atar 9C engines used by Mirage III's were rated at a maximum of 13,240 pounds static thrust with afterburner. The Atar 9K-50 engine of the Mirage F1 was rated at 15,873 pounds static thrust with afterburner, an increase in power of almost 20%. 

The core technology of both these engines was based on the German BMW 003 axial-flow turbojet developed during World War II, and was becoming increasingly dated. Technology that old simply couldn't keep pace with more modern developments. The Atar 9-series turbo jetengines weren't nearly as powerful (or as economical) as the turbofan engines installed in more modern military aircraft such as the F-16 or the MiG-29 (using two Klimov RD-33 turbofans, each rated at 18,285 pounds static thrust with afterburner. Such engines weren't available to South Africa at the time the Cheetah program was developed, so the SAAF had to make do with what it could get.

The Cheetahs used an upgraded wing, offering improved aerodynamic qualities compared to that originally fitted to the Mirage III. The wing design from the Carver program was experimentally adapted to fit the Cheetahs as the Advanced Combat Wing, or ACW. The diagram below shows how more advanced Cheetah wings evolved, from the initial production variant to a final design with missile stations on the wingtips. The ACW was flight-tested, but never entered service. 

The ACW had a fixed, drooped leading edge. An early iteration (Version 2 as shown above) had a simple notch in the leading edge at mid-span, while a later model (Version 3 above) had a much wider slot. This permitted underwing mounting of the SAAF's standard 500-liter (about 132 US gallon) drop tanks, which would otherwise have struck the lowered leading edge. Additional fuel tanks were incorporated into the drooped leading edge, which were claimed to improve the Cheetah's radius of action by almost 100 kilometers (just over 60 miles).

Official and unofficial South African sources claim that the Cheetahs were very successful, and popular with their pilots. Compared to the earlier Mirage III's and F1's, this is probably true. 
The Cheetah C's were  more capable than anything preceding them in the SAAF inventory. In terms of their electronics and weapons systems, they could certainly have matched the 1980's-vintage MiG-23's and -27's, and Sukhoi Su-20/22's, that the SAAF encountered in Angola. 

Due to the lower power of their engines, I don't believe they could have matched the Soviet aircraft in acceleration or top speed. One cannot believe claims from some South African sources that the Cheetah C was comparable in performance to the US F-15 Eagle. 

SAAF Cheetah C over USS Forrest Sherman, Cape Town 2007

Despite its limitations, the Cheetah program was a success, albeit at a very high price. Including all research, development, tooling, purchase and production expenses, and averaging them across the 71 aircraft produced (16 D's, 16 E's, 38 C's and a single R - the latter not entering service), each Cheetah cost South Africa well over twice the price of a brand-new contemporary equivalent (e.g. the Mirage 2000) on the open market. Operating in a sanctions environment, there was no alternative. 

The program updated obsolete third-generation jet combat aircraft to fourth-generation standards as far as their weapons and electronic systems were concerned, and provided the SAAF with an aircraft capable of handling any regional threat at the time. Fortunately, with the end of the Angolan War in the late 1980's, the collapse of the Soviet Union in the early 1990's, and the end of apartheid in 1994, no more sophisticated threats arose that would have required a more technologically advanced response.

During the 1990's the SAAF found itself in a budgetary crisis. Not surprisingly, the first democratically-elected post-apartheid government prioritized restoring balance to political, economic and social structures Funding was directed largely to such efforts. Furthermore, the military threats facing the country had almost completely evaporated, compared to the days of the Border War and international sanctions, which had driven the Cheetah program from its inception. 

There was no longer a pressing need for combat aircraft, but a need to conserve the SAAF's much more restricted budget. The number of front-line aircraft was therefore slashed. Only one squadron was retained, operating 28 Cheetahs (a mixture of single-seat C's and two-seat D's, all powered by Atar 09K50 engines). The remainder of the Cheetah fleet was retired from SAAF service. A couple were used as development aircraft, but most were placed in storage. Some were later sold to other nations. The last Cheetahs were retired in 2008, and are presently being replaced by 26 Saab Gripen multi-role fighters.

SAAF Saab Gripen fighters

Sadly, these reductions in force and budgetary constraints caused major problems for the SAAF in retaining the services of its highly qualified and skilled pilots. Many of them saw no future for themselves in the new climate of politically correct restructuring, and resigned to pursue more lucrative opportunities elsewhere. Some became mercenary pilots of combat aircraft for other nations and/or organizations, where their superior flying skills and combat experience were greatly appreciated and well compensated. 

The SAAF's budgetary and personnel problems have not abated since. It has been rumoured that only 8 trained pilots for its Saab Gripen fighters remain , down from 30 pilots in 2005 and 20 in 2008. 

The SAAF is presently in the midst of a crisis as far as trained personnel are concerned . . . a very sad situation for a service that only two decades ago boasted pilots equal to, if not better than, those of most first-class air forces, including the USAF. The SAAF will probably never regain the very high standards it had attained by the end of the Border War in the 1980's.

And the sad end of the road for some Cheetahs:

More info on SAAF Mirages:

The Mirage F1 (click to follow links) 3 Parts, including the Border war:
Part 1 History of the F1
Part 2 The Border War: F1s in Combat
Part 3 Combat record and First Hand Account (Arthur Piercy)

(Source Wings and Wiki, other Internet sources. Not for gain, just a fan blog. No copyright infringement intended)

Amelia Earhart's sad demise

Dozens heard Amelia Earhart's final, chilling pleas for help, researchers say Distilled from 2 posts in the  Washington Post a...