Would you like to see this aircraft added to the game?
Where should this aircraft be placed?
- French TT
- Israeli TT
- Other (Explain below)
- I answered “no” to the first question
Most Mirage users across the globe realized some sort of modernization on their fleet, the one we’ll be seeing here is probably one of the more interesting done to the original Mirage airframe, the Atlas Cheetah. The Cheetah program was 2 part plan to increase the SAAF capabilities in times where the options to acquire newer combat aircraft were null given the international arms embargo that was being imposed on the country. The Cheetah E (the one we will be taking a look in this suggestion) is the single seat variant, and the predecessor of the much more refined Cheetah C (that was based on the Kfir rather that on the Mirage III).
The need in difficult times
The story of the Cheetah dates back to the late 70s and early 80s, during those years South Africa was under an Arms embargo, this meant that no nation was allowed to do any kind of military Sales with the country. This had a deep effect on the South African Air Force (SAAF) plans for future acquisitions and even maintenance of the current fleet (Mirage IIIC/E and the newer F1). Given the dire situation and the impossibility of acquiring newer aircraft, it was decided that the best course of action was to upgrade one of the already operational weapon systems. Of all the combat aircraft in the SAAF inventory, the Mirage F1 was seen as the most capable aircraft, a weapon system that had already been proven against Cuban and Angolan Migs with mixed results, this 48 units represented the best the SAAF had to offer, and because of that they weren’t going be subjected to said upgrade.
The choice fell in between 2 models of the Mirage III fighter, the IIIC and IIIE…the ultimate decision fell for the latter, as this aircraft were newer, had more remaining service life and housed a better version of the ATAR 9 engine (among other aspects that made it a better choice than the IIIC). This would be know as the the first part of the “Cheetah Program” where the initial aircraft (upgraded mirages) would be used as a Stop-Gap until the arrival of the more solution. This upgrades weren’t rare, as quite a large number of Mirage operators around the globe were dealing with modernizations/upgrades and modifications for their Mirage fleets (whether it was Mirage V o III) with the objective of putting the French fighter on par with more modern aircraft.
The Israeli Connection:
During this time, only 2 nations worldwide offered Mirage upgrades, France and Israel…the first choice was discarded as France was part of the countries enforcing the embargo, the program fell in the hands of Israel and its main company Israeli Aircraft Industries (a company with more than experience in the field of mirage upgrades). Relations with Israel were already very strong regarding defense, as IMI and other companies already were permanent suppliers of the South African Armed forces. Its worth noting that Israel had experience upgrading the “Legacy Mirages” as by that time, they already had upgraded their own, and more recently they were upgrading the Fleet of the Argentine Air Force (A similar but more simplistic standard to what are we going to see in the Cheetah E), this experience and the fact that Israeli companies could produce most vital components of the upgrade made them exactly what the SA Government was looking for.
An IAI NESHER undergoing upgrades during the late 70s/early 80s
One of the Things that the SAAF put as a requirement was the possibility of carrying out the upgrades in the country at the hands of ATLAS, a company that was known by its license production of aircraft and helicopters as the Impala (Italian Mb.326), Puma, Alouette III and the assembly of various Mirages. Even though the first units to be upgraded would be done in Israel, the rest of the aircraft would be upgraded in South Africa. (Its unknown how many aircraft were upgraded in Israel, with at least the initial test units confirmed).
As we said earlier South Africa was a very large Mirage operator, one of the only ones to have C,E,B,D,D2 & R versions in operation (Mirage F1 is not included here), from this “pool” of Mirages, only some were to be converted. The models that were initially discarded were the C & B variants, this were the first mirages to be adopted by the SAAF, the C/B variants were in a rough state, were smaller than its more modern brethren and had the old Atar 9B engine…making them a bad choice for an upgrade, this would leave the much fit IIIE/D/D2 for the works. The IIIE was a newer aircraft, longer and with a more powerful engine than the C, the examples in the inventory of the SAAF were in better shape and were clearly seen as the main candidate for the Upgrade. The entirety of the Mirage IIIE/D fleet would be subjected to the conversion (with the exemption of 1 unit previously lost).
SAAF Mirage IIIC
Even though South Africa had a decent number of Mirages, another model would make its arrival to also take part on this upgrade, the Nesher T, this were the 2 seat training versions of the famous Nesher Fighter used by the Israeli Air Force. The SAAF would acquire a total of 5 units that were among the last available for sale (this sale also included what some describe as Second hand Kfir’s for the Cheetah C project), this Nesher Ts would be used for another upgrade, along the Mirage IIID/D2s, under the name “Cheetah D”.
Good old Mirage Upgrading:
The initial part of the upgrade was also split into 2 different models, the Cheetah D (upgraded Mirage IIID/D2/Nesher T) and the Cheetah E (Upgraded Mirage IIIEZ) + a reconnaissance example under the name Cheetah R (subject for another time). The upgrade itself for the both aircraft were almost the same, with both being “put at” the same standards as the Kfir C.2/C.7, and to achieve this standards…the following changes were realized:
New Ebit Head Up Display (HUD)
Addition of a Weapons Delivery and Navigation System
Integration of the ELTA 2001B radar **(illustrative pic from a Kfir)
- New RWR (found below the nose and in the tail)
- Addition of Countermeasures (Flares/Chaff)
- Addition of More Hard-points for armament (2 additional ones below the intakes)
- Integration of new armament
Work would undergo on both Cheetah E and D at a similar rate, with the first unit to be completed being Cheetah D (845), unit that was seen undergoing testing in Israel unpainted and under an Israeli Serial (175), 845 would be publicly presented as the first Cheetah to exit production on 1986…although, other D series units were already upgraded and delivered to Sqd No.89CFS.
Service and end:
The Cheetah E would see an extremely short service life, starting with the 5th squadron on the mid 80s among conflicts between South Africa and neighboring countries, but this aircraft would not participate on any action during said engagements, and seeing an end in 1992 as the Cheetah C was being produced and was almost ready to roll out of production. Examples of the Cheetah E found themselves in storage after just 5-6 years in operation, after a few of them were eventually sold as spares for other air forces that operated similar aircraft (Chile with the ENAER Pantera) but most of the remaining Cheetah Es were discarded or scrapped, with a few being preserved for museums.
Details of the particular service life of this aircraft are rare, and given how little it served on the SAAF…sadly there isn’t much i can really say…
Discarded airframes awaiting to be scrapped
Length: 15.5 m
Wingspan: 8.22 m
Height: 4.5 m
Wing Surface: 34.8 m²
Empty weight: 6608 kg
Max takeoff weight: 13700 kg
Engine: SNECMA Atar 9C
Power: 9436 Lbf of thrust (normal), 13669 Lbf (Afterburner)
Max speed: 2338 Km/h
Landing Speed: 296 Km/h
Service ceiling: 17000 m
Internal Guns: x2 DEFA 552 30mm cannons (125 RPG)
A total of x7 Hard-points to carry up to 6000kg of:
The Matra Magic R.550 (Magic I) were already used by the Mirages before the conversion
BOMBS: (Given the main role of the E being air defense, the choices of ground ordinance reduce significantly)
Pictured in an Expo with Mk.82 Bombs
As far as my research went, the Cheetah E was never equipped with guided bombs or any other guided A-G armament
RADAR: ELTA 2001B (5km AIR-AIR, 10 AIR-GROUND)
BALLISTIC COMPUTER: (Cannons, Bombs and rockets(?))
CHAFF/FLARES (fitted in the space for the SEPR rocket)
WORLD AIR POWER Journal—Vol.27 1996
Military jets from 1945 to the present day
Modern Fighter aircraft—Francis Crosby (IWM)
Observer Aircraft—William Green
Jane’s aircraft recognition guide
Blog de las Fuerzas de Defensa de la República Argentina: WVRAAM: Kukri y Darter (Sudáfrica)
Atlas Cheetah - Wikipedia
Monografico: Cheetah | Zona Militar
Reseña: El Atlas Cheetah, felino sudafricano