IAI Nesher (Vulture)

Israeli-made combat aircraft, IAI Nesher (Vulture) is a derivative of Dassault Mirage 5, first flown in 1969, known for ground attack and air superiority.

In brief

The IAI Nesher, a combat aircraft developed by Israel Aerospace Industries, is a derivative of the French Dassault Mirage 5. It was designed in the late 1960s as a multirole fighter capable of air superiority and ground attack missions. The Nesher features a delta wing design, a single-engine setup powered by a Snecma Atar 09C jet engine, and can reach speeds of up to Mach 2.2. Its armament includes two 30mm DEFA cannons and a variety of air-to-air missiles, bombs, and rocket pods. Despite its proven combat effectiveness, it was eventually replaced by more advanced aircraft but remains notable for its role in numerous military conflicts.

History of the Development of the IAI Nesher (Vulture)

The development of the IAI Nesher dates back to the 1960s, a period of intense innovation and need for military superiority amid the Cold War’s geopolitical tensions. Israel, facing constant threats from its neighbors, sought to bolster its air force capabilities. The decision to develop the Nesher was spurred by a French arms embargo in 1967, which halted the delivery of the Dassault Mirage 5 aircraft that Israel had ordered and partly paid for.

In response, Israel embarked on an ambitious project to produce an indigenous fighter that would meet its specific needs while circumventing the embargo. The project, spearheaded by Israel Aircraft Industries (now Israel Aerospace Industries), aimed to create a versatile and powerful aircraft capable of ensuring air superiority and effective ground support.

The Nesher’s design was heavily influenced by the Mirage 5, leveraging plans and specifications acquired through clandestine means. Its development was marked by a blend of innovation and pragmatism, with engineers adapting the design to accommodate locally available technologies and resources. The first Nesher prototype took to the skies on September 21, 1969, marking a significant achievement for the Israeli defense industry.

Though the Nesher does not have a specific NATO nickname, its development and deployment significantly impacted the Israeli Air Force’s operational capabilities. It was a clear demonstration of Israel’s determination and ingenuity in overcoming diplomatic and logistical challenges to secure its defense needs.

Design of the IAI Nesher (Vulture)

The IAI Nesher’s design was a masterful adaptation of the Dassault Mirage 5, tailored to meet the operational requirements of the Israeli Air Force. Featuring a delta wing configuration, the Nesher was built for speed, agility, and versatility. It measures 49 feet in length, with a wingspan of 27 feet, and a height of 14.5 feet. The aircraft’s structure was optimized for both air-to-air combat and ground attack missions.

Powered by a single Snecma Atar 09C turbojet engine, the Nesher could achieve a maximum speed of Mach 2.2 at high altitude, equivalent to 2,236 kilometers per hour, and had a service ceiling of over 59,000 feet. Its operational range was approximately 1,200 kilometers, extendable with external fuel tanks.

One of the key advantages of the Nesher’s design was its robustness and adaptability to various missions. However, it faced drawbacks, such as limited avionics compared to contemporary adversaries, and a reliance on external sources for some critical components. Despite these challenges, the Nesher was a significant step forward in Israel’s quest for a self-reliant defense industry, offering valuable lessons for future indigenous aircraft projects.

IAI Nesher (Vulture)

Performance of the IAI Nesher (Vulture)

The Nesher’s performance metrics are a testament to its effectiveness as a multirole fighter aircraft. Equipped with a Snecma Atar 09C jet engine, it delivered a thrust that propelled the aircraft to speeds up to Mach 2.2 (1,386 mph or 2,230 km/h) and allowed operations at altitudes exceeding 59,000 feet (18,000 meters). The aircraft boasted an impressive range of 1,200 kilometers (746 miles), extendable with drop tanks.

In comparison to its contemporaries, the Nesher demonstrated formidable capabilities, particularly in air-to-ground missions. Its speed and agility made it a challenging target for enemy fighters, while its payload capacity and armament versatility allowed for effective ground attacks. When compared to aircraft like the American F-4 Phantom II, the Nesher offered a balance of speed, agility, and operational cost, though it lagged in avionics and radar technology.

Variants of the IAI Nesher (Vulture)

The Nesher saw various iterations throughout its service life, including the Nesher S (Sfighter) for air superiority roles and the Nesher T (Trainer), a two-seat version for training purposes. Each variant was

equipped to fulfill specific roles, with modifications to avionics, armament, and fuel capacity to enhance their operational effectiveness. Differences between the variants were primarily in cockpit configurations and mission avionics, reflecting the diverse operational requirements of the Israeli Air Force.

Military Use and Combat of the IAI Nesher (Vulture)

The Nesher’s combat debut came in the early 1970s, where it proved its mettle in various conflicts, most notably in the Yom Kippur War of 1973. Armed with two 30mm cannons and capable of carrying an array of missiles and bombs, the Nesher was instrumental in achieving air superiority and providing ground support. It participated in numerous missions, including air strikes, reconnaissance, and interception operations, showcasing its versatility and effectiveness in combat.

The Nesher faced various adversaries, including Soviet-designed MiG fighters, and was successful in numerous engagements, underscoring its capabilities in air-to-air combat. Its operational success led to sales to Argentina, where it continued to serve effectively until it was eventually replaced by more modern aircraft.

The Nesher’s legacy in military aviation is marked by its combat effectiveness, versatility, and the crucial role it played in the development of Israel’s indigenous defense capabilities. It was eventually phased out in favor of more advanced designs, such as the IAI Kfir, which built upon the lessons learned from the Nesher program.


The IAI Nesher represents a pivotal chapter in the evolution of combat aircraft, reflecting a period of intense innovation driven by strategic necessity. Its development, performance, and operational history offer insights into the challenges and triumphs of designing military aircraft in the face of geopolitical and technological constraints. While it has since been succeeded by more advanced platforms, the Nesher’s legacy endures as a symbol of resilience and ingenuity in aerospace design and military strategy.

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