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F-5 Freedom Fighter / Tiger Operators

The light fighter project began at Northrop in 1953 leading to a company-financed supersonic trainer called the N-156F Freedom Fighter. Though not purchased by the U.S. military, the government supported the sale of F-5A's to twenty-one friendly countries. The F-5E Tiger II appeared in the early 1970s. Some 2,700 F-5 aircraft were built for the U.S. and thirty other nations by the time production ceased in 1987.

The South Vietnamese Air Force was created in July 1955 with 32 planes inherited from the French. As the level of combat increased, the United States began supplying aircraft of all types. Initially, the only strike aircraft in VNAF were propeller-driven A-1s. The first jets, a squadron of F-5 Freedom Fighters, entered the inventory in 1967.

In October 1966 the 10th Fighter (Commando) Squadron began training South Vietnamese pilots to fly F-5s and later turned its aircraft over to the South Vietnamese Air Force (VNAF) in June 1967. With USAF assistance, the VNAF has grown from an organization with little combat capability and relatively few personnel to an efficient and viable air force with a jet-aircraft combat capability. The aircraft types range from F-5 jet fighters, A-1 conventional fighters, and O-1 liaison planes to C-119 and C-47 cargo aircraft. By December 1970, the VNAF had grown to nine tactical air wings, 40,000 personnel, and approximately 700 aircraft (A-1Hs, A-37s, F-5s, AC-47s, O-1s, and AC-119s).

The Canadair CF-5 freedom fighter was first aquired by the CF (Canadian Forces) in 1968. The Canadair manufacture of the Northrop F-5 ground support fighter produced 135 CF-5 Aircraft for the RCAF (of which 20 were later declared surplus and sold to Venezuala), and 105 Aircraft for the Netherlands. Because of its simple construction, the Aircraft became known as the "Tinkertoy" or the "Supersonic Tinkertoy". Powered by twin J-85 engines producing 2925 pounds of thrust, the Freedom Fighter has become the world's most widespread light-weight fighter Aircraft. The CF-5 was a twin engine, supersonic, jet tactical fighter designed for missions in close support of ground troops, interception of enemy Aircraft, and armed reconnaissance missions at high and low altitudes. In addition to its training role, the CF-5 fulfilled the requirements for a lightweight strike fighter, able to carry most of the weapons in the inventory. The CF-5's weapons included five 500-pound Mark 82 bombs or 4 pods of 70mm Folding Fin Aerial Rockets (FFARs) or combinations of these. Two GM MN-39 20mm cannons were carried except on the CF-5D dual configuration. The CF-5 had a high approach speed, even compared to other fighters, and its very clean, aerodynamic lines led to very litle speed being lost to aerodynamic drag. Therefore, to reduce wear on the brakes, and especially when it was desirable to cycle Aircraft rapidily through the runway environment, the drogue 'chute was used on occasion to further reduce the Aircraft's speed on landing.

The Department of Defense instructed the Air Force to initiate a study to determine an interim approach for satisfying the needs of Southeast Asia Allies. This project (called PAVE COIN) completed by the Air Force in late 1971 evaluated "off the shelf" aircraft for various roles including the Light Strike (LSA) mission. This evaluation identified several aircraft with military potential and in October 1971 the Air Force recommended to the Office of the Secretary of Defense (OSD) that funding authorization and programming guidance be given in late Fiscal Year 1973 to allow a formal source selection. On March 10, 1972, military commanders in the field advised OSD that replacements for Vietnamese Air Force (VNAF) A-1s should be high performance aircraft (such as the F-4, A-4, A-7, and the F-5) rather than the LSA type. A second in-depth study entitled Aircraft for VNAF was initiated by OSD and assigned to the Air Force. This study, completed on September 1, 1972, considered all existing aircraft and recommended various options, but no specific aircraft was singled out. The study did, however, recognize that a high performance aircraft is required for VNAF. Subsequently, the Secretary of Defense directed that VNAF be provided additional F-5s.

The jets delivered to VNAF - the A-37 (developed specifically for counterinsurgency) and the F-5 (developed for Third World Air Forces) - lacked the capability to suppress surface-to-air missiles and to institute sophisticated electronic countermeasures. VNAF's limited air-to-air capability rested on a squadron of twenty-five F-5 Freedom Fighters (supplemented after 1973 by the newer F-5E). In this category of jet fighters and interceptors, VNAF was more than matched by the North Vietnamese Air Force, whose inventory included 91 MiG-21s in addition to 166 MiG-17s and MiG-19s.

The Peace Hawk program was initiated in 1971 following the Department of Defense Leahy study of 1970 which recommended that Saudi Arabia replace its F-86 and T-33 aircraft. Under the program, the Royal Saudi Air Force is to achieve a level of self-sufficiency in the operation of the F-5 aircraft. By 1977 the five-phase Peace Hawk program was valued at about $2.8 billion. San Antonio Air Logistics Center Detachment 22 was the US Air Force contract administrator and program manager for the Peace Hawk V program. Detachment 22 was dispatched to Saudi Arabia by the US Air Force in 1972 to managed Peace Hawk because of the program's size and complexity and the limited manpower of the US Military Training Mission. The Peace Hawk program proceeded in accordance with DOD recommendations for a Saudi Arabian defensive air capabiity. It successfully provided the Saudi air force with F-5 aircraft and associated facilities. Major FMS items ordered by Saudi Arabia during fiscal years 1975 and 1976 included F-5 aircraft, miscellaneous boats, armored carriers, TOW, Sidewinder, Dragon, Maverick, and Redeye missiles.

Brazil had expressed interest in supersonic aircraft, including the F-5 beginning in the mid 1960s. However, it was not until President Nixon lifted the restriction on the introduction into several Latin American countries of supersonic aircraft that the F-5 sale became possible. In 1973, the executive branch encouraged Northrop's sales efforts. A high-level DOD team was sent to negotiate with the Brazilians. The U.S. officials insisted that Brazil use FMS credit even though Erazil preferred a cash sale. At the same time, Northrop officials negotiated a commercial contract with Brazil on the airframe portion of the program. Nrorthrop's contract with Brazil totaled $72.3 million, and included 6 F-5B and 36 F-5F jet aircraft, less engines and other GFE. The Brazilians wanted a commercial contract to gain procurement and management experience. Thirty Brazilian Air Force procurement personnel worked for more than two years at the company's Hawthorne, California, plant. Brazil signed more than $36 million worth of FMS cases with the U.S. Covernment for engines, initial spare parts, and technical data.

In 1977, the US Congress exempted from the $25 million price ceiling all commercial exports in support of a coproduction agreement as long as the agreement is covered by a Memorandum of Understanding between the United States and the foreign government. However, before the basic agreement can be signed, it must be submitted to section 36 (b) procedures. This exemption permits the type of mixed commercial-FMS sales used by Northrop. In 1979, the first use of this provision occured involving the sale of 68 F-5E and F-5F aircraft to Korea on a coproduction basis.

Funds to purchase military equipment might have been available from Egypt's Arab allies such as Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, except'for the Arab's rejection of the Egypt-Israeli peace treaty. Wealthy Arab countries have withdrawn official aid to Egypt for both military and economic development. One victim of this action was a proposed Egyptian purchase of fifty F-5 aircraft from the United States using Saudi financing. The deal had been close to completion when Egypt signed the peace treaty.

The F-5 Technical Coordination Group (TCG) was established in 1979 at Kelly Air Force Base in San Antonio, Texas. Once a system is procured the TCG provide a single point of contact for countries on all their technical concerns regarding their respective systems. This means the country has direct contact via telephone, fax, and e-mail with any of the TCG team specialists. Member countries can call the TCG directly for all Aircraft/Weapon System technical issues instead of routing messages through various organizations, providing a quicker turn around time on all questions and concerns. The TCG program provides dedicated follow-on technical and engineering support to the FMS customers to improve serviceability, maintainability and reliability.

The group initially consisted of five people including the first TCG Chief, Mario Garza. Two countries applied for membership the first year. The F-5 TCG grew over the next four years to a membership of eighteen countries. As of 2003 the F-5 TCG had a membership of nineteen countries with a twentieth country currently considering membership. The member countries are Bahrain, Botswana, Brazil, Chile, Honduras, Jordan, Kenya, Korea, Malaysia, Mexico, Morocco, Norway, Philippines, Singapore, Spain, Switzerland, Taiwan, Thailand, and Tunisia. The member countries currently comprise almost 100 percent of the F-5 fleet. The US Navy has a squadron of F-5s used in aggressor training. The F-5 TCG was staffed with thirty-five people in 2003, ranging from logisticians to engineers and equipment specialists to technical order support and other administrative positions.

With the workload transfer from Sacramento Air Logistics Center (SM-ALC) to Ogden Air Logistics Center (OO-ALC) at Hill Air Force Base, Utah, the F-5 TCG lost a lot of knowledge and well-trained personnel. As a result, a working relationship has developed with the Inter- American Air Forces Academy (IAAFA), a US Air Force organization located at Kelly Air Force Base, San Antonio, Texas. IAAFA is the only USAF organization that provides formal F-5 and A-37 training in the US government. IAAFA provides formal F-5 and A-37 refresher training to TCG Engineers and Technicians in areas such as Airframe Systems, Landing Gear Systems, Egress Systems, Hydraulics Systems, Electrical Systems, Avionics Systems and Armament Systems. IAAFA training provides the TCG Engineers and Technicians with essential formal and hands-on experience, facilitating quick and accurate responses to aircraft related issues experienced by TCG member countries.

In September 2002, a member country requested emergency assistance from the F-5 TCG. As a result of a powerful typhoon, which caused extensive flooding, eighteen of the country's F-5s sustained considerable water damage after having been submerged in contaminated water. Critical life support equipment was destroyed and aircraft sustained considerable water damage to all systems. TCG's experienced team of structural, mechanical and electrical engineers and technicians quickly came together to respond to country's urgent request. This unprecedented situation required the F-5 TCG team to request assistance from other areas-CAD/PAD, Landing Gear, Electrical, Structural, Mechanical, Life Support, IEMP, etc. Within a few days the TCG was able to provide country with the restoration measures for their fleet and thus save the aircraft from being declared condemned or unserviceable.

Canada, Venezuela, Norway, and other countries have upgraded their F-5A fleets. Canada's upgrade encompassed an airframe refurbishment, a HUD, advanced avionics and HOTAS controls. All of them have since been retired and offered for sale, 13 of which were bought by Botswana.


  1. US Air Force
  2. US Narine Corps
  3. US Navy
  4. Bahrain
  5. Botswana
  6. Brazil
  7. Canada
  8. Chile
  9. Ethiopia
  10. Greece
  11. Honduras
  12. Indonesia
  13. Iran
  14. Jordan
  15. Kenya
  16. Libya
  17. Malaysia
  18. Mexico
  19. Morocco
  20. Netherlands
  21. Norway
  22. Philippines
  23. Saudi Arabia
  24. Singapore
  25. South Korea
  26. Spain
  27. Sudan
  28. Switzerland
  29. Taiwan
  30. Thailand
  31. Tunisia
  32. Turkey
  33. Venezuela
  34. Vietnam
  35. Yemen

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Page last modified: 07-07-2011 02:31:18 ZULU