F-5C/D Skoshi Tiger
Although all F-5A production was intended for Military Assistance Program [MAP], the Air Force actually requested at least 200 F-5s for use in Vietnam. This sudden request on the part of the USAF -- which had previously perceived no need for a lightweight fighter -- was a result of heavier than expected attrition in Southeast Asia and because the F-5 promised to be available with a relatively short lead time. The single-seater was to have been designated F-5C, the two-seater F-5D. This request was initially turned down by the Defense Department, but a USAF request for combat evaluation in Southeast Asia was approved by the DoD in July of 1965, and the evaluation was initiated on July 26, 1965.
The F-5C was the designation given to the modified F-5A's that were sent to Southeast Asia during the mid-60's for the Skoshi Tiger program, a combat evaluation of the F-5 in Vietnam. The name is a corruption of "Sukoshi Tiger" (Japanese for "Little Tiger"). The Skoshi Tiger Program was originally known as the Sparrow Hawk Program. Project Sparrow Hawk at Eglin AFB, Florida had proven that the F-5 was a capable fighter-bomber. The primary modification from the F-5A was the addition of an in-flight refueling [IFR] probe to the F-5C.
The deployment of USAF, Navy, and Marine units to Southeast Asia in 1965 represented the greatest gathering of American airpower in one locality since the Korean War. The F-5A flew its first strike in October 1965. During 1966, American troop strength reached 385,000. Air equipment arriving in South Vietnam included an F-5 squadron, two F-4 squadrons, and additional AC-47 gunships.
In October 1965, the USAF borrowed 12 combat-ready F-5As from MAP supplies (5 F-5A-15s and seven F-5A-20s) and turned them over to the 4503rd Tactical Fighter Wing for operational service trials. The 4503rd TFS (Provisional) was formed on July 29, 1965 to conduct the evaluation. It was an all volunteer group with pilots and ground crew selected from Project Sparrow Hawk at Eglin AFB. The pilots underwent training at Williams AFB while Northrop modified the aircraft for duty in Southeast Asia.
The aircraft were modified to have inflight refuelling probes on the port sides of their noses, 90 pounds of armor plate on their bellies, and jettisonable pylons underneath their wings. Instruments and flight controls were modified and the standered Norsight fixed optical sight was replaced by a lead-computing gunsight. The rudder travel limiter was removed, and the aircraft were camouflaged in tan and two-tone green, with light grey undersides. They were redesignated F-5C for their service with the USAF.
Between 1965 and 1966, USAF Tactical Air Warfare Center [USAFTAWC] personnel saw combat in Vietnam while performing the combat evaluation of the F-5 aircraft, known as Skoshi Tiger. The center conducted this evaluation to determine if an inexpensive, uncomplicated fighter would be beneficial in lower levels of conflict, such as in Southeast Asia.
The F-5 was cleared to carry most of the most common weapons used in Vietnam. As compared to other aircraft, the bomb aiming and delivery system of the F-5 was relatively unsophisticated. Most weapons deliveries were made from a shallow dive, with the pilot judging the range by using his lead computing gunsight. A 150-gallon droptank was usually carried on the centerline pylon, with an additional 150-gallon tank being carried on each of the inboard underwing pylons.
Although the load-carrying capability of the F-5 was not as great as that of other types such as the F-4 Phantom and the F-105 Thunderchief, the Northrop fighter was fast and agile, making it ideal for dodging ground fire during attack runs. It actually proved to be the least vulnerable jet aircraft in the war zone.
On the debit side, the takeoff roll of a heavily-laden F-5 was excessively long, and the range was considered to be inadequate. Difficulties were encountered with the dropping of 750-pound napalm tanks, which sometimes failed to separate cleanly, striking the underside of the wing. The guns of the F-5 tended to "smoke up" the windshield during firing runs, particularly in rainy conditions.
After six months of combat the Air Force brass determined that the F-5 was very capable and requested that they remain in Vietnam as part of the build-up in 1966. The 4503rd TFS(P) was disbanded and re-organized as the 10th Fighter Commando Squadron. The F-5's had done so well in combat that the Air Force delayed conversion of the F-5 into the South Vietnamese Air Force. In combat, the F-5 delivered thousands of tons of ordnance and rockets plus fired over 1.5 million rounds of 20mm ammunition. When compared to it's closest rival, the F-100, the F-5 was found to be just as capable.
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