GEAR & TECH

This Israeli plane was so good the Marines used it as an aggressor

Israel faced a problem in the 1970s. The Yom Kippur War had seen them take heavy aircraft losses. They needed more planes – and they wanted to get some better performance as well. After all, Syria was acquiring advanced MiG-23s (the Flogger was advanced at the time).


The Israelis had been forced to steal the plans for the Mirage 5 from France after an arms embargo. Mossad had managed to get the Mirage 5 plans in a very brilliant operation, but it was just an interim solution. Israel built 50 Neshers, which correlated to the number of aircraft it had ordered from France. The Nesher was flown by Giora Epstein when he took on 11 MiGs by himself.

An air-to-air right side view of an F-21A Kfir (young lion) aircraft. The Israeli-built delta-wing tactical fighter is being used as part of the Navy's aggressor training. (US Navy photo)

Israel did get lucky when they acquired a license to produce the J79 engine most commonly known as the powerplant of the McDonnell Douglas F-4 Phantom II. While Mossad was trying to swipe the plans for the Mirage 5, Israel had a backup plan: figuring out how to make the J79 work with the Mirage airframe.

Israel had been hoping to pull off one of those ideas, but they soon were in a pleasant quandry after both of their plans succeeded. MilitaryFactory.com notes that the first Kfirs entered service in 1974, just missing the Yom Kippur War. The planes, though, proved to be excellent – and so good that the United States Navy borrowed a number of them to serve as aggressors at schools like Top Gun.

Three F-21 Kfirs in flight. (USMC photo)

The Kfir saw action with the Israelis, mostly in ground attack roles. The Ecuadorian Air Force planes did rack up three air-to-air kills in the 1990s while fighting the Peruvians. Sri Lanka's Kfirs fought the Tamil Tigers. You can see more about this Israeli lion of the skies in the video below.