The Kfir is a jet fighter built by Israel Aircraft Industries that served in the Israeli Air Force. Its design was based on the Mirage III.
In 1967, the main air superiority fighter in the Israeli Air Force was the delta-winged Mirage III from France. After the Six-Day War, however, France imposed an arms embargo on Israel, forcing it to look elsewhere. In addition to importing planes from the U.S., Israel starting producing its own aircraft, two of which quickly gained prominence. One was the Nesher, a copy of the Mirage 5. The other was the Kfir (Lion Cub).
The Kfir first flew in 1973. The airframe was based on the Mirage, but the single engine was a General Electric J79 turbojet, the same as was used by the F-4 Phantom. Canards were added for extra maneuverability. The Kfir has two 30 mm cannons in the wingroots and can carry up to 13,000 pounds of ordinance.
The Kfir was in production by 1975, and began replacing the A-4 Skyhawk. The fighter saw its first combat on November 9, 1977, when Kfirs made a successful attack on a terrorist training base in Lebanon. During renewed fighting in Lebanon a couple of years later, a Kfir pilot scored the first (and only, in Israeli service) aerial victory for the type, a Syrian MiG-21, on June 27, 1979. During the fighting in 1982 (Operation Peace for Galilee), Kfirs, along with the A-4s still in service, were used against Syrian radars and SAM sites. At least one Kfir was lost, to anti-aircraft fire, during this conflict.
All Israeli Kfirs have since been retired, replaced by the F-16.
After a delay caused by US refusal to sell the GE J79 engine, Ecuador acquired twelve Kfirs for air defense starting in early 1981. They saw action in the 1995 war with Peru as escorts and interceptors, and on February 10, two Kfirs intercepted two Peruvian A-37 Dragonflies on a strike mission, forcing them to abort and shooting one down with an Israeli-made Shafrir missile. Although the Kfir was built as a multi-role fighter, there’s no indication that they flew any air-to-ground missions in this conflict. Ecuador upgraded its remaining Kfirs after the war.
Sri Lanka added Kfirs to its inventory starting in 1996, and the planes flew several strike missions against the Tamil Tiger rebels. They saw intensive action in 2001 during Operation Kinihira, a successful government offensive against the Tigers. As far as is known, none were shot down, but three Kfirs were destroyed on the ground by rebel sappers on July 24, 2001, during a raid on Katunayake Airbase.
In the 80s, the U.S. showed an interest in Kfirs for dissimilar combat training. Several were leased to the Navy and Marine Corps as aggressor planes, under the designation F-21. All the Kfirs were returned to Israel by 1990.
The Kfir in Popular Culture
- Encyclopedia of Modern Military Aircraft, ed. by Paul Eden, Amber Books, 2004
- Rolling Thunder: Jet Combat From World War II to the Gulf War, by Ivan Rendall, Dell Publishing, 1997
- Ejection History – Kfir
- Peru vs. Ecuador, Alto-Cenepa War, 1995
- Fuerze Aerea Colombiana
- Sri Lanka, since 1971