The Sri Lanka Air Force’s (SLAF) five Israeli-made Kfir fighter jets will reportedly get a $50 million upgrade with new sensors, electronics, and avionics from the plane’s maker itself – the Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI).
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The enhancement of operational capabilities of the fighter jet will allow the SLAF even more complex missions than it is currently capable of, which includes rapid air interdiction and ground strike. It has been using the Kfirs since 1995-96 when it first acquired the six Kfir C.2s and a single-seat trainer TC.2.
The all-weather, multirole, and Mach 2-capable jet was Israel’s second domestically produced fighter, an evolution of the first IAI’s Nesher, itself an evolution of the largely based on the French Mirage 5.
The Israelis had studied, reverse-engineered, and obtained detailed technical details and blueprints to eventually develop heavily improved and capable fighters – often considered a symbol of the Jewish nation’s techno-industrial capability.
The Kfir Upgrade Program
The project involves installing highly advanced electronics, radar, sensors, networking and data linking devices, communication systems, and new helmets, which are believed to have Helmet Mounted Display (HMD) visors.
These upgrades push the aircraft to the 4+ generation category that makes a single plane quite capable of undertaking a multitude of roles and operational flexibility.
IAI is also expected to impart technical skills and knowledge to SLAF personnel with handling and maintaining the new equipment in the island nation’s local facilities. In 2012 and 2018, the Colombian Air Force’s Kfir fleet participated in the United States Red Flag exercise, alongside the US Air Force and other air forces.
The Kfir displayed exceptional capabilities throughout the exercise, going toe to toe with the F-15, F-16, and other participating aircraft. The Colombian jets themselves had undergone an extensive overhaul recently by the IAI itself.
“I am proud that IAI’s Kfir has been chosen by customers around the world, including in the United States and as the Colombian Air Force’s primary fighter jet. I am grateful to Sri Lanka’s Air Force for choosing to renew their Kfir selection and continue using the Kfir as their Multi-Role Combat Aircraft.
I believe this deal is an early step in preparing for future upgrades to the advanced model KNG (Kfir New Generation),” said Yossi Melamed, IAI Executive VP and GM of IAI’s Aviation Group.
Some of its clients include the Israel Air Force, US Air Force, Lockheed Martin and Boeing. A similar project was undertaken with the Indian Air Force (IAF), where its 1960s Russian-origin vintage MiG-21 Bisons were upgraded with advanced electronics and HMDs, marking the company’s specialization in being able to work on foreign origin planes with its own top-of-the-line systems.
The Israeli Nesher
The Kfir’s predecessor, the Nesher, was a co-development project with the French, after the highly regarded Mirage-3CJ which saw successful service with the IAF in the 1960s.
However, under pressure to replace the 60 such jets it had lost to the 1967 Six-Day War and the War of Attrition that took place until the 1970s, Israel had pursued the development of a Mirage 3 advancement called the Mirage-5.
Israel was willing to settle for an aircraft with an inferior radar and a compromised all-weather capability, in exchange for higher payload and range – a pressing need those days to counter Egypt and Syria with deep strikes.
However, France imposed an arms embargo on Israel in January 1969 in retaliation to the Israeli air raid on Lebanon, which halted delivery of the first 30 of the 50 Mirage-5 jets Israel had ordered and already paid for.
Worse, it also cut off all support for Israel’s existing Mirage-3CJs, forcing it to mount domestic research and development and international espionage to obtain technical, industrial, and manufacturing details about the plane.
Israel, however, is said to have possessed the basic schematics and blueprints of the airframe, basically making the Nesher an unlicensed version of the Mirage-5.
Details on the Atar engine were acquired from Swiss manufacturer Sulzer, which had manufactured the engines for Switzerland’s air force. Using these details and many Atar engines on Israel’s existing fleet of Mirages, it reverse-engineered the power plant and began manufacturing them.
The Nesher’s airframe had many Israeli-made components, avionics; a Martin-Baker ejection seat and, a capability to fire a wider range of air-to-air missiles like the Israeli Shafrir heat-seeking missile.
The Kfir on the other hand saw a redesigned nose and an Israeli-made General Electric J-79 engine that could provide an improved dry thrust of 49 Kilo Newtons (KN) and an afterburning thrust of 83.4 KN. A distinctive feature of the Kfir was an air-inlet at the base of the vertical stabilizer for additional cooling for the afterburner.
- Nitin holds a double master’s degree in Journalism and Business Management (MBA) from The University of Glasgow, UK. He has over 15 years of global experience in Marketing & Communications, Journalism, and Digital Marketing and widely worked & traveled across Europe, the Americas and Asia. CONTACT: Nytten@gmail.com
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