South Africa performed an update to their Mirages along the lines of that of the Kfir and incorporating some Israeli-built kit.  In 1986, Atlas Aircraft Corporation of South Africa (later Atlas aviation and finally Denel Aviation) rolled out a refurbished Mirage III machine named the "Cheetah".  The Cheetah E is a single seat, multi-role, all-weather fighter version of the Cheetah D. 

The E variant used the Mirage IIIEZ as the basis for the conversion and needed extensive upgrades and refitments to bring the aircraft up to Cheetah specifications.  Sixteen of the SAAF Mirage IIIEZ aircraft were converted to Cheetah E standard.  Cheetah E 841 was developed from Mirage IIIEZ. 842 and was the final example of the Cheetah E batch.

Due to the very short operational life of the Cheetah E, which was only a few years from its entry into operational service in 1987/88 to its final retirement in 1992, the single-seater Cheetah E was regarded by most observers as having only been an interim fighter for use in the period before the Cheetah C's became operational.  Its typical mission while in service was as a standby interceptor as the aircraft were qualified to carry locally-built South African weapons, such as the Kukri and Darter AAMs, two V3B and later V3C air-to-air missiles as well as Israeli weapons such as the Python AAM which could all be cued by the pilot's helmet-mounted sight.  The Cheetah E radar was not capable of supporting long-range radar-guided AAMs.  The operational Cheetah E also retained the twin 30mm DEFA cannon and could carry such ordnance as conventional bombs, cluster munitions, and unguided rocket pods.  There were always a minimum of two fully armed Cheetah E aircraft on permanent alert status to counter any potential attack that may have emanated from the north.

Other improvements to the Cheetah E featured:

  • Structural upgrades to "zero-life" the airframe.
  • Kfir-like canards, nose strakes, and dogtooth wing.
  • An Atar 09K-50 engine. The Cheetah featured larger engine intakes to ensure the necessary airflow.
  • Two additional stores pylons under the intake ducts, for a total of seven pylons.
  • A fixed refueling probe, mounted over the right air intake.
  • A Martin-Baker Mark 10 ejection seat.
  • New avionics, the majority of Israeli origin but with some elements built in South Africa, mostly packed into an extended nose.
  • The updated avionics kit included:
  • A lightweight Israeli Elta EL-2001 radar, a simple set but much better than the aged Cyrano radar system, capable of tracking and targeting in both air to air and air to ground combat.
  • An Elbit head-up display (HUD) and a South African built helmet mounted sight.
  • A self-defense suite, including missile and radar warning sensors, active jammers, and chaff-flare dispensers. The chaff-flare dispensers were fitted in a fairing under the tail.
  • New navigation and weapons management systems.

The sixteen Cheetah E aircraft, the last being delivered in 1991, went into service with 5 Squadron at AFB Louis Trichardt.  This aircraft was regarded by most observers as having just been an interim fighter for use in the period before the Cheetah Cs became operational, due to the very short operational life.  The Cheetah E entered operational service in 1987/88 and was retired in 1992.  With the entering into service of the Cheetah C, all the Cheetah E aircraft were withdrawn from service and 5 Squadron was disbanded in 1992.  None of the Cheetah E aircraft ever saw actual combat during the Border War but these aircraft continued to maintain the round the clock alert status until the end of the Border War in 1989.

All the Cheetah E aircraft were placed into storage although the final example, No.842, was painted in a non-standard camouflage scheme and used for systems testing before being passed on to the SAAF Museum where she is now permanently on display.
During 2003, Chile purchased five of the mothballed aircraft, numbers 819, 820, 827, 832 and 833 and indicated the desire to purchase seven more aircraft (822, 823, 825, 828, 829, 831 and 834) to use the airframes as a source of spares for its similar ENAER Pantera aircraft.