When talking about the Israel Aircraft Industries (IAI) Kfir, many observers and students still have a picture of a fighter with limited air-to-air and air-to-ground capabilities, more suited to so-called ”brush-wars”, than to modern combat situations. However, the IAI C.10 is the latest in the line of Kfir multi-role fighters developed by matching the J-79 engine with the aiframe of the Dassault Mirage 5, and is also known the Kfir 2000, or the CE, the latter designation being applied to the fighters in service with Ecuador. The Kfir C.10 is actually an upgrade package based on advanced technologies, which can significantly improve the capabilities of the veneralbe delta-wing design, and turn it into a true multi-role fighter. , and is provided with on board systems of an advanced nature.
On the outside of the Kfir C.10, not much has changed compared to the older C.7 design: main characteristics remained the same, and the first important difference is the addition of the larger nose and an in-flight-refuelling (IFR) probe. Obviously, the IAI wanted to tackle one of the main problems which plague aircraft of similar design and mission capabilities, and were especially notable when the Kfir C.7 was compared with such designs like MiG-27, Su-25 etc. When carrying full weapons loads namely, the older version was severely restricted in regards to the endurance and maximal range. With the IFR-probe much longer combat ranges and far increased tactical flexibility are possible.
The other main outside change is the addition of a larger radome, together with a longer avionics section, in front of the cockpit. Here the hearth of the new fire-control system is positioned, the EL/M-2032 Pulse-doppler (PD) radar, developed from the EL/M-2035 set designed for the canceled IAI Lavi (a light multi-role fighter design developed by Grumman and IAI in the mid-1980s, recently developed by the Chinese into their newest fighter, the J-10). It features a TWT coherent transmitter and a low-sidelobe planar antenna, and functions in several air-to-air, as well as the air-to-ground, air-to-sea, ground-mapping, and terrain avoidance modes. According to the manufacturer, in the air-to-air modes detection ranges for fighter-sized targets (assumingly with 2-3sqm radar-cross section) are 35-55nm in the ”Look-up” mode, and 30-45nm in the ”look-down” mode.
The EL/M-2032 radar adds a brand new capability to the Kfir, namely that of integrating radar-homing missiles, foremost the Derby, developed and produced by the Rafael armament Development Authority. Debry has an active radar homing missile with an estimated effective combat range of 20km against a closing target and 10km against a target moving away. Despite repeated claims to the contrary Derby is in no way comparable to the R-77, MICA or AMRAAM. The disadvantages of this missile are the lack of a data-link, the small body-diameter (which makes it impossible for a larger motor to be used), and its draggy aerodynamics, all of which make interceptions over longer ranges impossible. Because of the lack of a data link the missile either goes active on launch (LOBL) meaning break-away maneuvers can be facilitated immediately; or, it is launched, covers the first flight-phase guided by INS, and then goes active (LOAL). The later method is somewhat risky, as due to a lack of updates from the parent radar, the missile may lock-on to the wrong target when it goes active.
It seems, however, that this all was not as important for the designers of the Derby. On the contrary, this weapon covers the gap between such medium-range missiles, like AIM-7 Sparrow, AIM-120 AMRAAM, or R-27/AA-10, and short-range missiles, like AIM-9 Sidewinder. Derby offers a wider engagement envelope over shorter ranges and is completely independent from the launching platform upon being fired, which makes it ideal for high-speed, and brisk engagements in areas less well covered by the ground control or AEW aircraft and helicopters. Besides, the Derby is smaller and lighter than usual BVR-AAMs. I.e. the Derby might prove ideal for most of the smaller ar forces around the world. Besides the Derby, the Kfir C.10 can also carry the proven Python Mk.3 and Mk.4 advanced IR-homing short-range missiles. Both the Pythons and the Derby are compatible with the DASH HMS. Furthermore, a full range of air-to-ground weapons was integrated into the fire-control system, including laser-guided bombs (LGBs), Luz and AGM-65 Mavercik guided missiles, AGM-45 and AGM-88 anti-radar missiles (ARMs), wind-corrected cluster-bomb-units (CBUs), as well as other ”dumb” or ”iron” bombs. Two cannons caliber 30mm – based on the well-proven DEFA-design, are built in as well, albeit, it should be noted that the IAI is well known as being very flexible when it comes to customer's wishes, and therefore the mentioned weapons configurations are compiled on the assumption that the Kfir C.10 can use at least the weapons already compatible with the – much-older – Kfir C.7.
Despite the increased weight, and the fact that the center of gravity (CoG) certainly moved forward by the addition of the larger avionics bay in front of the cockpit, the maneuverability of the C.10 is said to be very good, foremost due to a pair of larger canards, mounted on the usual place – engine intakes. This can be questioned to a certain degree, as the canards are now foremost needed to move the CoG further to the rear and thus compensate for the increased weight forward.
Inside the airframe, the completely reconfigured cockpit is provided by two multi-color displays (MCDs), and there is a possibility to add the third one directly underneath the head-up-display (HUD).
Kfir C.10 on the World-wide market
On the first view, there is certainly a question about the reasoning behind the investment into the development of the Kfir C.10: the Israeli Air Force has put all ist remaining Kfirs into mothballs, and foreign sales were always severely limited foremost because any potential deals have first to be permitted by the USA, the owner of much of the technology mounted into the Kfir, starting with the J-79 engine. Nevertheless, the IAI moved forward with this version for pretty good reasons.
Yet, the technology for such an ”upgrade offer” was largerly already available. Besides, the few customers and third-parties interested in the Kfir C.10 have shown obvious interest, so there was a market. Finally, there was also the need for the Israeli arms industry to keep ist development departments busy.
The result of this work, the Kfir C.10, is clearly something that is badly needed by many air forces, and, even if the airframes and their engines couldn’t be sold, the Israelis still can offer the avionics package – which is definitely interesting for any Mirage III/5 and even Mirage F.1 users.
The Kfir C.10 is undeniably equipped to a high standard, even if it cannot be directly compared with such modern multi-role fighters like Su-30/35/37, or with latest marks of the F-16s Mirage 2000s. It is certainly also not even remotely comparable to the Eurofighter or Rafale, and is utterly laughable in the face of the F-22. It should rather be compared to aircraft like the BAE Hawk 200, the Israeli-Romanian MiG-21 Lancer, Russo-Indian MiG-21-93/21I, or certain ideas for the upgrade of the MiG-23s and MiG-29s. The weapons system consists of advanced technology, and the plane could also benefit from having the ability to carry modern ARMs, which only a few specialized – and comparatively much more expensive – other type can.
Compared with other modern interceptors, regardless if F-15s or Su-30s, the Kfir C.10s lacks the endurance, speed, and weaponry. But it is ideally suited as an advanced point-defense interceptor, or airspace control aircraft, and drug-buster. And, the avionics and systems of the C.10 can be mounted into a number of already available, but currently – due to the obsolescence of their weapons system – obsolete airframes. With other words, the newest Kfir is exactly what a number of countries which cannot afford much more expensive aircraft are looking for.
Comparission with Similar Projects
For comparison purposes, in the following chapter the Kfir C.10 will be contrasted with the planes mentioned earlier in the following areas: avionics, weapons, and general multi-role effectiveness.
The EL/M-2032 may not have the longest detection ranges currently available to other airborne radars of similar capabilities. This is in part due to the different diameter and shape of the radomes, but also other limitations unique to each design: the detection ranges are subject to change from a MiG-21 Lancer to a Kfir to an upgraded Chilean F-5, even though all use the same radar. So if the airframe would permit, the EL/M-2032 might very well have significantly improved detection ranges. Nevertheless, the chart does show a closeness between the look-up and look-down figures that is vastly different from what we see in, say the RDM or N-019. All in all with the given information it is hard to draw hard conclusions, and it will be better left at the fact that the EL/M-2032 set appears – at least when these figures are compared – quite a competent system.
In terms of air-to-air weapons the Kfir is not really able to claim advantage over any of it’s competitors: Lacking a true medium-range-air-to-air missile (MRAAM) coparable to the AMRAAM on the F-16, Skyflash of the Hawk 200, the R-27s and R-77s on the MiGs, or the Super 530D and MICA on French Mirage 2000s and Rafales, respectively, the Kfir C.10 should be decisively in disadvantage when encountering such systems. But the R-27, which equips the MiG-29 for the most part, and the Super 530 as well as the Skyflash and AIM-7, are semi-active radar-homing-missiles (SARH), which require the radar of the parent plane to illuminate the target until impact. This translates into severe tactical disadvantage, as the firing aircraft is not able to maneuver while the missile is homing on the target, or has to break-off the radar contact if counterattacked. Besides, the envelope zones of the weapons like Super 530D, AIM-7, and R-27 are long since no serious secrets for most air forces (and intelligence services), so these weapons can very easily be avoided by flying outside their envelopes.
Clearly, the Derby cannot compare with any of the mentioned MRAAMs in range, and it lacks the data-link, which most of the other MRAAMs have. But, it has probably a far wider envelope zone the full size of which is so far unknown. This can very easily cause a considerable surprise the first few times it might be used in combat. Besides, the fact remains, that even in the most recent air combats, almost 98% of all the MRAAMs fired were launched fromwithin the WVR ranges, but approximately from distances which the Derby can cover. Finally, the Derby needs no support upon being launched,which means that regardless how many targets the EL/M-2032 eventually can track simultaneously, the pilot can engage as many as there are Derbys on his plane – one by one, in quick succession, if by no other means, then by locking-on on one target after the other.
Therefore, it is actually questionable if the Derby-armed Kfir C.10 is really in such a ”disadvantage” when compared with the F-16s, Mirage 2000s etc... On the contrary, and especially considering the relatively new experiences of the first Kfir C.10-customer (the ”Condor War”, from 1995), the type can easily prove highly usefull for any operator likely to be confronted with a numerically superior opponent, and superior to anything else in service in Latin America, just for examples.
If IRH missiles are to be considered, the Kfir has some of the best. The Python 4 is thought to have as much as 60¼ off-boresight capability, though this may be a slight over estimate. Regardless, ist combat record so far is very clear: one firing, one kill. The MiG’s R-73 is the most closely comparable, being compatible with an HMS and having significant off-boresight capability, but the Python 4 is a more modern weapon and certainly less vulnerable to counter-measures than currently available versions of the R-73. The Sidewinder of the Hawk and F-16 are fine weapons with a proud combat record but currently available versions are still not cued to any HMS and lack off-boresight capability of the Python 4 or the R-73. Lastly the Magic of the Mirage is a fine weapon but not in the same class, for the same reasons as the Sidewinder, as the Python 4 – and obviously because of the range.
In terms of multi-role effectiveness, a properly equipped Kfir C.10 is at least equal to any of the above-mentioned aircraft, and superior to Hawk 200 or the AMX. It can not haul as many heavy weapons as F-15E or Su-30, or even the MiG-27, but it certainly can carry as many as the F/A-18, MiG-21-93, Lancer, or the Mirage 2000. Besides, the Israelis can supply a wide range of highly effective and combat-proven targeting and reconnaissance/targeting containers, which could increase the capabilities of the C.10 to those comparable to even the latest marks of the F-16s available to several NATO countries, and far ahead of any available MiG-29s.
Thanks to a wide range of different reconnaissance pods built in Israel, the C.10 can also easily be turned into a self-escorting recce platform: an capability for which quite a few other modern fighters need extensive modifications or even specialized versions.
Affordable Price, but not many Customers
So, what it really comes down to is the customer. In regards to the cost, the Kfir C.10 certainly stands favourably in competition with most of the other modern types. And still, at the time this is written only one country, Ecuador, has Kfir C.10 types in service. And even the Fuerza Aérea Ecuadoriana currently has only two examples. The further purchase seems to have been stopped, mainly due to the fact that the arms race prevalent in South America of the 1990s slowed down due to economic problems.
Of course, the reasons for the Ecuador not to upgrade ist remaining C.7s to the C.10 standards could be different as well. It could be, that there are some unknown deficiencies in the new version: perhaps the nose of the plane really became too heavy due to the addtion of the larger radar and all the avionics. It could be, that the canards cannot equalize the weight, and the C.10 is even less maneuvreable than the Kfir C.7. There could be other deficiencies too: foremost, despite the problematic economic situaiton world-wide, the number of countries ready to afford more expensive and better equipped aircraft is again increasing, even if the offers for upgrade of already existing airframes look better than ever before. The point is, that the most modern fighter planes simply outclass anything built some 10, 15, 20 years back, even if it is uupgraded with most modern avionics and weapons. The situation on this plan is only to worsen in the near future – of course, for older types.
But, most likely, the IAI is killing the C.10 by so many other system-solutions it offers. Any country looking to replace outdated planes such as the MiG-21 or F-5 will find an upgrade with all the strong points of Kfir C.10 already available; and it is certainly much more feasible for a country to upgrade already available aircraft instead of first having extensive negotiations with the USA, and then purchase completely new – but still old – aircraft. Besides, the same advanced equipment as available on the newest Kfir is also available for several types which stand in direct competition with it. The Romanian MiG-21 Lancers and Chilean F-5s both use the Elta EL/M-2032. For this reason, even if the IAI and the IDF/AF would probably be very glad to sell out all the remaining 200+ Kfir airframes stored at different places in the Negev Desert, no widespread new sales of the C.10 are to be expected – except to the current customers. Most likely, sooner or later Ecuador will continue upgrading ist remaining Kfirs, and then perhaps also Sri Lanka might follow, if the need arise (currently not very likely, given the end of the war against the Tamils).
But, as indicated before, there is still a considerable market for such fighters like the C.10, this foremost in the countries which are looking for fighters capable to haul modern weapons and deliver them precisely, but also to fight air-to-air with a reasonable chance of success. If a former Warsaw Pact or Soviet Block nation is considering previously used F-16As, they should take a serious look at the Kfir C.10 as well. It is not a super plane but a workman-like product, with the weapons and systems to do more than it seems to be capable.
© Copyright 2002-3 by ACIG.org
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