In comparison with Dassault's successful Mirage series and other overseas derivatives, the Cheetah fighter is perhaps the least known. Unfamiliar to many, the Cheetah of the southern hemisphere was born in secrecy for political causes.
Caused by the long ongoing Apartheid policy, in November 1977, an international arms embargo, including combat aircraft and spare parts, was imposed against South Africa by the United Nations. Meanwhile, the increasing border conflicts posed to threaten South Africa's security, a mid-life upgrade of the survivors of 74 aging Mirage IIIs received during 1963-70 became SAAF's high priority.
Under embargo, the state-owned firm of Atlas Aviation (now Denel Aviation as an aerospace group division under Denel (Pty) Ltd.) was the sole answer to the ambitious programme, which aimed at extensively modifying the Mirage III into an efficient combat aircraft. Planned upgrades included a modified airframe, a new engine and better avionics. Programmed launched with the assistance of Israel's IAI (officially denied) in 1984, as the Cheetah's strong resemblance of the IAI Kfir indicates possible Israeli involvement. First prototype redesignated "Cheetah" was rolled out in July 1986, it was a conversion of a Mirage III-D2Z two-seated trainer, and its initial flight took place in the same year. In the following summer, different conversions of varied Mirage IIIs became operational.
基于南非政府长期奉行的种族隔离主义，联合国于一九九七年十一月对南非强制实施包括战机及其零件在内的武器禁运。与此同时，渐增的边境武装冲突正威胁着南非的安全。因此，正在老化落伍的南非空军第二代战斗机──一九六三至七○年从法国所购买的七十四架所剩存下的大部份“幻影”Ⅲ，急需进行更新。在国际制裁下，将“幻影”Ⅲ大幅度修改为高效率的作战飞机的大胆方案，只能由当时国营的阿特拉斯公司(Atlas Aviation)，现为丹奈尔公司(Denel Aviation)所承担。而这些更新包括改良的机身，新的发动机，和更先进的电子设备。方案于一九八四年在以色列的秘密技术援助下开始实施，而“猎豹”和以色列“幼狮”(Kfir)外表之酷似大大地说明了以色列介入的可能性。第一架定名为“猎豹”的原形机于一九八六年七月诞生，由一架“幻影”Ⅲ-Ｄ２Ｚ双座教练机改成，在同年首飞成功。翌年夏天，从不同型号的“幻影”Ⅲ改装而成的各型“猎豹”开始投入使用。
In addition to a longer nose, aerodynamic modifications feature Kfir-style small nose side-strakes to prevent yaw departure at high AoA, a pair of fixed delta canards on the upper parts of the air intakes, dog-tooth outboard leading-edge extensions, and short fences replacing leading-edge slots. Two-seaters also have curved strakes below the cockpit along the lower fuselage.
Structural modifications focus on increasing the minimum life of the wing main spar (originally set at 800 hours) have carried through several proposed progressive stages of modification with the intention of reducing fatigue problems and providing a life extension of up to 1,250 hours for a complete refurbishment with a newly manufactured main spar. About 50% of airframe has been renewed.
With the exceptions of two-seaters and R2Zs that are powered by a SNECMA Atar 9K50 turbojet engine (with a manufacturing license), the fact that other conversions retain SNECMA Atar 9C/9D turbojets is suggested by the absence of the large dorsal airscoop and smaller overfuselage airscoops of the Kfir (which is powered by the heavier, more powerful GE J79). Prior to the installation of the 9K50 in the two-seaters, the inlets and fuselage frames have to be modified. The installation of an IFR probe permits take-off with a lower fuel load and a relatively higher war-load. The probe is fixed to starboard side of the cockpit. Additionally, a single-point pressure refueling system is fitted, enabling times to be reduced (a maximum of five minutes for a clean aircraft).
除了装有斯奈克玛公司的“阿塔”(SNECMA Atar)９Ｋ-５０型发动机（南非已得其生产权）的双座型和Ｒ２Ｚ侦察型外，其余改型沿用原来的“阿塔”９Ｃ或９Ｄ型发动机，这个事实能够从它们缺乏“幼狮”机脊上较大和机身上两个较小的辅助进气口（因配备更重、更大功率的通用电气ＧＥ Ｊ７９发动机之故）推测出来。为了在双座型上装上９Ｋ-５０，它们的近气道以及机身结构将会进行一定的修改。而固定在驾驶舱右则靠后的受油管，可以令飞机在燃料少、武载多的情况下如常起飞。另外，一套新设的单点压力加油系统将减少飞机受油时间（油尽后加油需时最长五分钟）。
Improvements in performance include reductions in specific fuel consumption (4%), take-off distance (10-20%), minimum speed (100 KIAS), time to climb and increase in specific excess power, sustained load factor and sustained turn rate (15%). The canards permit the maximum take-off weight to be increased by 700 kg for a penalty of fewer than 5% in level acceleration time and maximum level speed. The uprated engine also allows a possible increase in payload/fuel capability or MTOW.
The Cheetah's avionics upgrade may be based on the Elbit System 81 (or possibly upgraded System 82) weapons delivery and navigation system fitted to the Kfir C2 (or C7). The HUD, CTU and ADCP operate via a MIL-STD-1553B databus and allow for pre-flight programming and HOTAS pilot operation. The nav/attack system includes an inertial system and options include a helmet-mounted sight (of indigenous or Israeli origin) and a radar altimeter. The Kfir-type drooped nose houses an Elta ELM-2001B radar ranging unit which has look-down/shoot-down capability, but lacks the ability to fire long-range air-to-air missiles and a mapping mode. Similar to the Kfir, the Cheetah features a fuselage plug ahead of the windscreen to accommodate the extra avionics. Self-protection systems include an SPS-2000 RWR system with antennae in the nose and in the trailing edge of the fin and a possible jammer system in the former rocket motor fairing. A new ECS is also introduced to provide adequate cooling for the revised avionics.
“猎豹”的电子设备更新，可能是以“幼师”Ｃ２（或Ｃ７）的埃尔比特(Elbit)81型系统（或可能是升级的82型）的导航及武器投射系统作为基础。顾及到起飞前的程序输入以及飞行员对双杆操纵(HOTAS)的操作，抬头显示器、计算机终端设备(Computer Terminal Unit)和武器控制／显示面版(armament control and display panel)将通过一个(MIL-STD-1553B)军用数据链接口进行工作。导航／攻击系统拥有一个惯性系统，选择包括一个（自研或源自以色列的）头盔瞄准器和雷达高度表。“幼师”式的下垂机头容纳了一个埃尔塔(Elta EL/M-2001B)搜索雷达。该雷达拥有下视／下射功能，但是缺乏发射远距空空导弹的能力和缺少地图绘制系统。像“幼狮”一样，“猎豹”风档前的机头部份曾被加长，为额外的电子设备提供了空间。自卫系统包括一个(SPS-2000)雷达预警接收系统，它的天线分别安装于机头和垂尾后沿的部位；系统还可能包括装在原为助推火箭整流罩的一个雷达干扰系统。一个新增的发动机控制系统将为改进后的电子设备提供足够的冷却。
Comparing to the Cheetah EZ, DZ differs mainly by having a longer nose, as that of the Kfir-T, with more obvious droop and containing avionics displaced from the spine. An undernose fairing directly aft of the pitot boom contains two radar warning antennae and a large cooling intake.
The Cheetah's fixed armament consists of two 30-mm DEFA cannon in fuselage underside. All armament of the Cheetah has been officially claimed to be of South African origin, including V3B Kukri/V3C Darter dogfight missiles, and potentially the newly developed medium and long-range AAMs such as the BVR-capable V4 R-Darter. Air-to-surface weapons include AS.30 ASM (possibly with an indigenous designator pod), cluster bombs, rockets and combined fuel/rocket pods. In addition to the five hardpoints inherited from the Mirage III, two more are fitted directly ahead of the wing/engine inlet trunking.
Eight Mirage III-D2Z trainers converted to two-seat Cheetah D standard made up the first conversions and became operational in October 1987. At least 20 Cheetah DZ trainers modified from the Mirage III-BZs, DZs and D2Zs had been produced. These DZs were formerly operated by No. 85 Combat Flying School at Pietersburg (now moved to Hoedspruit), and they played a pathfinder role for the single-seat Cheetah EZ fighter/bomber.
More than 26 Cheetah EZ/RZs converted from the Mirage III-EZs, RZs, and R2Zs were thought be built. These single-seat aircraft retain their original engines for economic reasons as the Mirage III-RZ and R2Z conversions retain their original recce configurations. Originally in service with No. 5 Squadron, the Cheetah EZs were then transferred to No. 2 Squadron "Flying Cheetahs" at Hoedspruit (now moved to Louis Trichardt) which Mirage III-CZs, BZs and RZs were considered inconvertible and were retired from service in October 1990.
By 1994, around 20 Cheetah DZs, EZs, RZs, and R2Zs were already retired and put up for sale. In order to fill the void, a programme to further upgrade the single-seat Cheetahs was revealed in April 1992, and a prototype based on a Mirage III-R2Z was built. This was the single-seat Cheetah C fighter, it features the advanced combat wing (ACW) which reduces supersonic drag and improves several aspects in performance. The ACW sports fixed wing leading-edge droop and an extended outer section of the wing to give greater tip chord. Other improvements include increased sustained turn rate by 14%, increased in-wing fuel capacity, increased MTOW and increased combat radius by 101 km. Wing-tip rails are added to mount two short-range AAMs for a weight penalty of 600 kg comparing to the Cheetah EZ.
直至一九九四年为止，约有二十架“猎豹”ＤＺ、ＥＺ、ＲＺ和Ｒ２Ｚ分别退役，并被公布出售。为了填补这些空缺，一个将单座“猎豹”作进一步升级的计划，于在一九九二年四月曝光，并有一架“幻影”Ⅲ-Ｒ２Ｚ被改成了原形机。这便是“猎豹”的最新改型，Ｃ型“先进战翼”(ACW/Advanced Combat Wing)战机。它的“先进战翼”设计特别在于它的固定下垂的翼前缘，和被伸延的主翼外侧──以提供更大的翼尖弦长。其它性能改进有：持续回转率被提升了14%，增加了最大起飞重量、翼内的储油量以及额外的一百○一公里的作战半径。另外，两个翼尖分别加上了可以配备短程空空导弹的挂架，但是相对于ＥＺ型，飞机的重量将会有六百公斤的增加。
A more powerful EL/M-2035 radar, a development of the Elta EL/M-2021B, was fitted with the Cheetah C. The radar enables the Cheetah C to be armed with the IR-guided U-Darter dogfight missile (that can be incorporated with HMS) and the R-Darter mid-range AAM. Thirty-eight of such type were produced between 1993 and 1995, converted from what rumored to be acquired from an undisclosed source (most possibly Israel). Furthermore, an engine upgrade for the aircraft has reportedly been undertaken with Russian help, which is to introduce the Klimov RD-33 turbofan engine that equips the MiG-29.
South Africa's withdrawal from Namibia in the late 80's of 20th century had eased the border tension with Angola, followed by the replacement of the Apartheid regime in 1994, which relatively had changed South Africa's defense standpoint and budget. As a result, the indigenous CAVA fighter program was dropped, as was the SAAF's requirement to acquire 32 advanced heavy fighters. However, the Cheetah's future looks gloomy as a new aircraft procurement, which included 28 advanced light fighters, was announced by the SAAF later. A deal to acquire 19 single-seat and 9 two-seat Gripens from the Saab-BAE Systems (now Gripen International) was signed in December 1999. The first two-seat Gripen is expected to be delivered in 2006 and all 19 single-seaters in 2010. Even though South Africa's policy of keeping a low profile on its military deployment has not been altered, but we can assure that Cheetahs' service in SAAF will ultimately come to an end by the time when a more capable fighter - Gripen leads the SAAF as the dominant regional air power in the first half of 21st century.
Cheetah C: a further upgrade of the single-seat Cheetahs; a new "Advanced Combat Wing" design for performance improvements; with a new EL/M-2035 radar and a new engine.
Cheetah D: two-seated trainer; conversion of the Mirage III-BZ, DZ and D2Z; longer fuselage and more delicate equipment; with a SNECMA Atar 9K-50 engine.
Cheetah E: single-seat interceptor/fighter bomber; conversion of the Mirage III-EZ; retains the original engine from the Mirage III; mostly retired or converted to C standard.
Cheetah R: reconnaissance fighter version; retains the recce configurations from the Mirage III-RZ and R2Z.
“猎豹”Ｃ(Cheetah C)：“猎豹”的最新型号。改良自单座“猎豹”或者不明型号的“幻影”Ⅲ（“幼狮”？）战机。机翼引入“先进战翼”(ACW)的概念，提高了飞机的性能，并采用了新的(EL/M-2035)雷达和发动机。“猎豹”Ｄ(Cheetah D)：双座型教练机，改自双座“幻影”Ⅲ-ＢＺ、ＤＺ和Ｄ２Ｚ等飞机。机身较长，设备比单座型要复杂。发动机改用“阿塔”(SNECMA Atar)９Ｋ-５０。
“猎豹”Ｅ(Cheetah E)：单座型截击／战斗轰炸机。改自单座“幻影”Ⅲ-ＥＺ，沿用旧的“幻影”Ⅲ发动机。大多数已退役或被改成Ｃ型。 “猎豹”Ｒ(Cheetah R)：侦察型战机。保留着“幻影”Ⅲ-ＲＺ和Ｒ２Ｚ机鼻下的侦察摄影设置。
CHEETAH E/C SPECIFICATION:
Powerplant: one SNECMA Atar 9C rated at 41.97 kN dry and 60.8 kN with afterburning; or one SNECMA 9K-50 rated at 49.2 kN dry and 70.6 kN with afterburning
Fuel: internal fuel 2288 litres; external fuel up to two 1700-, 1300-, 1100- or 625-litre drop tanks
Performance: maximum level speed M2.2 (2338 km/h) at 12,000 m; maximum cruising speed 956 km/h at 11,000 m; service Ceiling 17000m
发动机：一台斯奈克玛“阿塔”(SNECMA Atar)９Ｃ涡喷发动机，干推力41.97千牛，加力60.8千牛；或一台“阿塔”(SNECMA Atar)９Ｋ-５０涡喷发动机，干推力49.2千牛，加力70.6千牛