Air Platforms

US Navy eyes cost-effective F-5 upgrades

18 November 2019

A pair of F-5Ns of VFC-13 at NAS Fallon, Nevada. Source: Jamie Hunter

In October, the US Air Force (USAF) awarded four companies indefinite delivery/indefinite quantity (IDIQ) contracts worth USD6.4 billion to provide contracted adversary air (AdAir) support over the next five years. The US Navy (USN), having pioneered the use of contractor owned/contractor operated (COCO) adversaries in the 1990s, is looking at a number of ways to enhance its own 'red air' support to front line forces.

The USN and US Marine Corps (USMC) currently operates three reserve command squadrons of ex-Swiss Northrop F-5N Tiger IIs, plus three F-5F 'Frankentiger' two-seaters, which mated existing F-5F front fuselages with ex-Swiss rear fuselages. Despite plans to 'sundown' the F-5 in 2015, it is now looking at ways to keep them relevant for modern training, and to extend them out past 2030.

The US Department of Defense USD718 billion Fiscal Year (FY) 2020 budget included USD39.7 million to acquire a further 22 F-5E/Fs from Switzerland, to supplement and in some cases replace the 43 aircraft currently in service. The Tiger II is ideal for the role; cheap to operate, simple to maintain with no complex systems. However, the aircraft in its current state only realistically offers MiG-21 'Fishbed' threat replication and desperately needs to be modernised to offer credible modern-day opposition.

Tactical Air Support Inc (TacAir) of Reno, Nevada, acquired a fleet of 21 F-5E/Fs from the Royal Jordanian Air Force in 2017 and immediately began developing a bespoke upgrade for the aircraft at its maintenance and logistics facility in St Augustine, Florida. The company was rewarded when in late 2018 it was awarded a five-year USD107 million contract from the navy to provide adversary services in addition to training for air and ship crews to counter electronic threats.

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