France's embargo of Mirage 5J fighters in 1967 forced Israel to establish an indigenous aircraft industry. This led directly to an unlicenced copy of the Mirage III as the Nesher; in 2001 upgraded examples remain in service with the Argentinian air force. The Nesher was developed by Israel Aircraft Industries into the canard-equipped Kfir (Lion Cub). Integration of the new US-supplied J79 engine required total redesign of the rear fuselage and a cooling inlet in the dorsal fin. The new forward fuselage was extended to house avionics, including the Elta 2001B ranging radar and a comprehensive weapons delivery and navigation suite. The prototype was flown in 1973 and production Kfir C2s entered service in the fighter-bomber role with the IDF/AF in 1975.
The tandem two-seat Kfir-TC2 was developed as a weapon-system trainer and EW (electronic warfare) platform. Some 185 C2s and TC2s were built, including 12 C2s exported to Ecuador in 1982, and another 11 to Colombia in 1988-89. Both customers also received to Kfir-TC2s. Ecuador's Kfirs clashed with Peruvian fighters during border disputes in 1995 and, along with Mirage F1s, have made three confirmed aerial kills. Virtually all surviving Israeli Kfirs were upgraded to Kfir-C7 and TC7 standards from 1983. These have two additional hardpoints, further avionics improvements and have what are, effectively, HOTAS cockpits.
Kfirs remain in service only as reserves in Israeli and possibly equip up to five squadrons. The latest export customer is Sri Lanka which acquired six C2s and two TC2s from Israel in 1996. Sri Lankan Kfirs have been used in offensive actions against the Tamil Tiger rebel group.
IAI has developed the Kfir 2000 upgrade for application to surplus Israeli Kfir airframes made available for export. The main addition is a new radome housing an Elta EL-2032 multi-mode radar that allows delivery of PGMs. Some Ecuadorian Kfirs have been upgraded to Kfir CE configuration with Elta EL-2034-5 radar.