Northrop F-5 Freedom Fighter
Operational History

The first contract for the production F-5A was issued in 1962, the first overseas order coming from the Royal Norwegian Air Force in February 1964. 636 F-5As were built before production ended in 1972. These were accompanied by 200 two-seat F-5B aircraft. These were operational trainers, lacking the nose-mounted cannon but otherwise combat-capable.

In October 1965 the USAF began a five-month combat evaluation of the F-5A titled Skoshi Tiger. Twelve aircraft were delivered for trials to the 4503rd Tactical Fighter Wing and redesignated as the F-5C. They performed combat duty in Vietnam, flying more than 3,500 sorties from the 3rd Tactical Fighter Wing at Bien Hoa in South Vietnam. Two aircraft were lost in combat. Though declared a success (and deservedly so), the program was more a political gesture than a serious consideration of the type for U.S. service. From April 1966 the aircraft continued operations as 10th Fighter Commando Squadron with their number boosted to seventeen aircraft. (Following Skoshi Tiger the Philippine Air Force acquired F-5A and B models in 1965, putting twenty-three into service. These aircraft, along with remanufactured F-8 Crusaders, eventually replaced the F-86 Sabre in the air defense and ground attack roles.)

In June 1967 the 10th FCS's surviving aircraft were turned over to the air force of South Vietnam, which previously had only A-37 Dragonfly and A-1 Skyraider attack aircraft. This new VNAF squadron was titled the 522nd. The president of Vietnam had originally asked for F-4 Phantoms used by the Americans, but the VNAF flew primarily ground support as the communist forces employed no opposing aircraft over South Vietnam, MiG or otherwise. Ironically, when Bien Hoa was later overrun by Communist forces, several of the aircraft were captured and used operationally by the NVAF, in particular against Khmer Rouge. In view of the performance, agility and size of the F-5, it might have appeared to be a good match against the similar MiG-21 in air combat; however, US doctrine was to use heavy, faster, and longer-range aircraft like the F-105 Thunderchief and F-4 Phantom II over North Vietnam. Several of the F-5s left over from the Vietnam war were sent to Poland and Russia, for advanced study of US aviation technology, while others were decommissioned and put on display at museums in Vietnam.

A few surplus F-5As and F-5Es have been sold to private owners.

F-5E/F Tiger II

In 1970 Northrop won a competition for an improved International Fighter Aircraft (IFA) to replace the F-5A. The resultant aircraft, initially known as F-5A-21, subsequently became the F-5E. It was lengthened and enlarged, with increased wing area and more sophisticated avionics, initially with an Emerson AN/APQ-153 radar (the F-5A and -B had no radar). Various specific avionics fits could be accommodated at customer request. A two-seat combat-capable trainer, the F-5F, was offered. Unlike the gunless F-5B, it retained a single M39 cannon in the nose, albeit with a reduced ammunition capacity. The F-5F was armed with Emerson AN/APQ-157 radar, which is a derivative of the AN/APQ-153 radar, with dual control and display systems to accommodate the two-men crew, and the radar has the same range of AN/APQ-153, around 10 nm. A reconnaissance version, the RF-5E Tigereye, with a sensor package in the nose displacing the radar and one cannon, was also offered. The latest radar upgrade included the Emerson AN/APG-69, which was the successor of AN/APQ-159, incorporating mapping capability, however, most nations chose not to upgrade due to financial reasons, and the radar only saw very limited service in USAF aggressor squadrons and Swiss air force.

The F-5E eventually received the official name Tiger II. The F-5E experienced numerous upgrades in its service life, with the most significant one being adopting a new planar array radar, Emerson AN/APQ-159 with a range of 20 nm to replace the original AN/APQ-153. Similar radar upgrades were also proposed for F-5F, with the derivative of AN/APQ-159, the AN/APQ-167, to replace the AN/APQ-157, but was never carried out.

Northrop built 792 F-5Es, 140 F-5Fs and 12 RF-5Es. More were built under license overseas: 56 F-5Es and -Fs plus 5 RF-5Es were manufactured in Malaysia, which plans to sell the aircraft after upgrading them; 90 F-5Es and -Fs in Switzerland, which currently leases some to Austria to bridge the gap between the retirement of the Saab Draken fleet and the delivery of new Eurofighter jets; 68 in South Korea, and 308 in Taiwan.

Various F-5 versions remain in service with many nations. Singapore has approximately 49 modernized and re-designated F-5S (single-seaters) and F-5T (two-seaters) aircraft. Upgrades include new GRIFO radar, updated cockpits with multi-function displays, and compatibility with the Rafael Python and AIM-120 AMRAAM air-to-air missiles.

Similar programs have been carried out in Chile and Brazil with the help of Elbit. The Chilean upgrade, called the F-5 Plus, incorporated a new Elta 2032 radar and other improvements. The Brazilian program, whose product is called the F-5M (Modernized), is armed with Python V coupled to the DASH helmet-mounted cue system, and new GRIFO radar, cockpit displays and navigation electronics. The Brazilian F-5M is also equipped with the Israeli Derby missile and can operate in a BVR environment. In the Cruzex 2006 multinational war games, a Brazilian F-5 made simulated kills on three Dassault Mirage 2000 aircraft using the Derby, supported by an AEW&C plane, the Embraer R-99 fitted with the Erieye AESA radar, which relayed information by datalink to the F-5M.

Another upgrade programs have been carried out in Royal Thai Air Force by Israel being called the F-5T Tigris, armed with Python III and 4 (with the Dash helmet-mounted cueing system). Unlike other F-5s which have undergone updates, the RTAF aircraft cannot use BVR missiles.

One NASA F-5E was given a modified fuselage shape for its employment in the Shaped Sonic Boom Demonstration program.

United States Although the United States does not use the F-5 in a front line role, it was adopted for an opposing forces (OPFOR) "aggressor" for dissimilar training role because of its small size and performance similarities to the Soviet MiG-21.

The F-5E saw service with the US Air Force from 1975 until 1990, serving in the 64th Aggressor Squadron and 65th Aggressor Squadron at Nellis Air Force Base in Nevada, and with the 527th Aggressor Squadron at Alconbury RAF Base in the UK and the 26th Aggressor Squadron at Clark Air Force Base in the Philippines. The Marines purchased ex-USAF models in 1989 to replace their F-21s, which served with VMFT-401 at Marine Corps Air Station Yuma. The US Navy used the F-5E extensively at The Naval Fighter Weapons School at NAS Miramar, VF-127, VF-43 and VF-45.

The F-5 fleet continues to be modernized with replacements F-5E/Fs purchased from Switzerland. These were updated as F-5N/Fs with modernized avionics and other improved systems. Currently, the only Navy units flying the F-5 are VFC-13 at NAS Fallon in Nevada and VFC-111 at NAS Key West, Florida.

Wikipedia: F-5 Freedom Fighter