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Nesher

The Nesher (Vulture) was the first fighter to be produced in Israel, thus paving the way for the appearance of more advanced planes like the Kfir and Lavi. The IAF saw the Nesher as a temporary expedient for reinforcing Israel's air power, a sort of intermediate phase before the more advanced models made their entry. When the better planes arrived upon the scene, the Nesher was phased out. The Neshers served in the IAF for just 10 years, and reached the apex of their glory in the Yom Kippur War, during which they scored numerous kills.

The Mirage III, although an excellent platform, suffered from a number of faults in its engine and radar system. Furthermore, in the clear skies over the Middle East there was no use for the entire avionics package provided by the French manufacturer.

After contacts with Israel Dassault agreed to develop a new aircraft, based on the Mirage III but following Israeli guidelines and requirements. The Mirage 5 was conceived to answer Israeli requirements. The Mirage 5, equipped with the same airframe as the Mirage IIIC and engine as the Mirage IIIE, was conceived as a daylight ground strike fighter (radar replaced by a simplified navigation and attack system). This aircraft was radarless, but flew higher and faster and also contained more fuel than its predecessor. First flown on May 19th, 1967, this aircraft was to become the Mirage 5 and Israel ordered 50 of the type.

In the late 1960s the close ties between France and Israel began to cool down, first with the French weapons embargo during the Six Days War (the Arabs were armed by the Soviets so the embargo mainly hurt Israel)

and finally with the embargo following the Israeli commando raid on Beirut airport in December 1968 (following an attack by Palestinian terrorists on an El Al aircraft). France refused to deliver the 50 Mirage 5 aircraft already ordered by Israel and instead used them to arm its own air force.

The need in Israel to replace more than 60 aircraft lost during the Six Days War and the ongoing War of Attrition that followed it prompted Israel to privately acquire the Mirage 5 blueprints from Dassault and to secure the engine blueprints through espionage. Israel Aircraft Industries secretly began the construction of the new fighter in its Ben Gurion Airport facilities.

Under the codename "Nesher" (Vulture) Israel Aircraft Industries secretly began the construction of the new fighter in its Ben Gurion Airport facilities. On March 21st, 1971 the first aircraft took to the air and supplies to the IAF began by May of the same year. At first some disappointment was voiced over the aircraft's air-to-air characteristics but these were gradually silenced and finally disappeared after the aircraft's excellent performance during the Yom-Kippur war of 1973. In total 51 single seat Nesher A's and a further 10 double seat B's were built before production ended in 1974.

The first Nesher landed in the First Combat Squadron's base at Hatzor in May of 1971, with veteran test pilot Danny Shapira at the controls. In the months that followed, additional Nesher planes equipped this squadron, making up for the insufficient number of Mirage IIIs and raising the number of serviceable planes in the squadron. When the rate of production picked up at the Nesher assembly line at IAI, two new squadrons could be established, based solely on the Neshers. The first new squadron inaugurated 'Etzion Airbase at 'Bik'at Hayareakh' ('Valley of the Moon') near Eilat, in September of 1972, and the second was founded in March of 1973 at Hatzor.

When the Yom Kippur War broke out, in October of 1973, the IAF had 40 Nesher planes in its ranks in four squadrons, serving in the First Combat Squadron and in the two new squadrons. The type equipped 4 fighter squadrons - "First Fighter" squadron, "First Jet" squadron, "Hornet" & "Guardians of the Arava".

Although they were originally intended for attack missions, in the course of the war the Neshers were primarily used in air-to-air combat. The IAF command decided to use the Phantoms, Skyhawks and Sa'ars against ground targets, and assigned the Mirages and Neshers the task of fighting enemy aircraft and establishing air superiority over the battle zones.

The Neshers proved to be good fighters and overcame their adversaries (MiGs and Sukhois) with relative ease. The first aerial victory of a Nesher took place on January 8, 1973, when 4 Neshers from the "First Fighter" squadron escorted F-4 Phantoms into Syria to attack a terrorist base. In an engagement with Syrian MiG-21s, 6 MiGs were shot down, two by the Neshers.

One of the first victories of the war was not an aircraft but an AS-5 Kelt air to ground missile launched against Tel-Aviv by an Egyptian Tu-16 Badger on the first day of the war, October 6th, 1973. When Libyan Mirage 5s entered the fighting all Israeli Mirages and Neshers were marked with large yellow triangles bordered by a thick black frame to prevent a case of mistaken identity. At least two Mirage 5s were shot down by Neshers, as well as an Israeli Phantom shot down by mistake, the navigator and the pilot, a former Nesher squadron commander, parachuting to safety.

According to the statistics published after the war, there were 117 dogfights in the course of the Yom Kippur War (65 over Syria and 52 over Egypt). 227 enemy planes were shot down in these confrontations, and only six Israeli planes were shot down (they had been on interception missions, and were either hit by cannon fire or by sirface-to-air missiles).

The Nesher enjoyed great success in the Yom Kippur War with dozens of Egyptian, Syrian and Libyan aircraft shot down, the "First Fighter" squadron alone scoring 59 victories for the loss of only 4 planes. The Nesher squadron from Etzion was one of the leading squadrons, tallying 42 kills without a single plane lost. By the end of the war Nesher 510 had shot down 13 enemy aircraft while 561 had shot down 12.

The Neshers did not just go out on interception missions: they also carried out several attack sorties in the Golan Heights and on the southern front. The action was intense, with every pilot carrying out numerous sorties every day.

The war proved just how vital the Nesher's reinforcement of the IAF's order of battle had been, and convinced the defense community of the importance of continuing to develop fighters in the IAI.

In 1975 the first Kfirs entered service, and the Nesher was gradually relegated to a less central role. All the Neshers were concentrated in two squadrons, and were transferred - in late 1976 - to Eitam Airbase, which had been newly dedicated in the northern Sinai.

Between 1978 and 1981 the the Mirages and Neshers were retired from Israeli service, replaced with Israel's next locally built fighter, the Kfir. The Kfir was a significantly more advanced plane than the Nesher, boasting better performance as well as more sophisticated systems, and upgrading the Neshers was not deemed to be a worthwhile investment.

In 1981, the Kfir had supplanted the Nesher in Heyl Ha'avir, and the Neshers were renovated, for sale overseas. Exported as the "Dagger", 35 single seat examples were sold to Argentina along with 4 two seaters. These took part in the Falklands War of 1982, attacking the British task force sent to recapture the islands, facing Sea-Harriers during the landing at San Carlos. There were still 25 Daggers in service with the Argentinian Air Force (FAA) in 1993.





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