South Africa was amongst the earliest export customers for the Mirage III, having initially ordered a batch of 15 Mirage IIIC for low-level ground attack operations, for which they were armed with the Nord Aviation AS-20, along with three Mirage IIIBZ two-seater trainers. Further aircraft were ordered, including a batch of 16 Mirage IIIEs, three Mirage IIID two-seaters and four Mirage IIIR photo-reconnaissance aircraft. During the early 1970s, South Africa reportedly held negotiations with Dassault with the aim of securing a licence to produce either the Mirage III, the Mirage 5 and the Mirage F-1.
However, much like Israel, South Africa was similarly isolated by a French arms embargo after the passage of United Nations Security Council Resolution 418 in November 1977. The South African Air Force launched an ambitious rebuild program for its Mirage III fleet, soliciting Israeli technical assistance to convert existing airframes into the Atlas Cheetah. Fixed foreplanes distinguish the Cheetah from its Mirage predecessor, and an extended nose, probably inspired by the IAI Kfir, houses a modified electronics suite, including radar. Built in single-seat, two-seat interceptor, and two-seat combat trainer versions, the Atlas Cheetah entered service in 1987 during the South African Border War. Armament consists of Denel Kukri or Darter heat-seeking air-to-air missiles, the targeting of which was aided by a pilot’s helmet mounted sight.