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F-5G Tiger II

The F-5G was powered by a single General Electric F-404 engine, allowing for a thrust-to-weight ratio of 1.06 to 1. The F-5G might be ideally suited for the air-to-air role. It promised significant improvement over the older F-5E/F models, including projected higher reliability, greater thrust, and improved avionics. In the air superiority configuration, it might carry as many as six AIM-9 missiles and, with its improved radar, should be ideal for augmenting the existing F-15 air-to-air mission and providing a potent air-to-air threat of its own. Despite certain advantages inherent in the F-5G, for example, one particular disadvantage stands out: it lacked long-range radar and AMRAAM capability. Therefore, pilots flying the F-5G would be at a serious disadvantage fighting planes like the Foxbat and Foxhound equipped with AA-9 missiles.

In 1980, President Carter, realizing that his 1977 arms transfer policy was too restrictive to allow for foreign policy options, made an exception to the policy. His decision to allow production of an FX was a way of discouraging foreign purchases of highly sophisticated US aircraft while still meeting the valid defensive concerns of friendly nations. This decision initiated the development of both the F-5G fighter aircraft by the Northrop Corporation, redesignated the F-20 after many modifications, and the F-16/79 fighter aircraft by General Dynamics.

In 1977 DOD requested designs for a newer version of an aircraft like the F-5E to fill Taiwan's need for a new, low-cost fighter. The potential importance of the Northrop sale to Taiwan was seen as a very significant factor in maintaining Northrop's viability as a major aircraft producer. Northrop was shocked when, in 1978, President Carter denied the proposed sale of F-5Gs, particularly since Taiwan already had some F-5Es in service. The Carter administration considered the newer F-5G to be too sophisticated for the defense needs of Taiwan. Northrop, realizing that the commercial incentive of the F-5G program was not being politically backed by the government, deemphasized the entire project.

In January 1980, after months of interagency study, President Carter decided to waive part of his 1977 arms transfer policy to permit development of a new export fighter (FX). The new aircraft was to have capabilities between the F-5E and current U.S. front-line fighters such as the F-16A. To meet the FX policy guidelines and be competitive in the FX arena, Northrop resurrected its dormant F-5G program.

Encouraged by President Reagan's new FX policy, however, Northrop actively pursued the potential sales of F-5Gs to Taiwan. While both Northrop and General Dynamics were developing FX aircraft, Secretary of Defense Caspar W. Weinberger's selection criteria closely paralleled the design characteristics of the F-5G, leading to speculation that Northrop would soon be able to go into production. On August 30, 1982 the F-5G Tigershark made its first flight at Edwards AFB, Calif. In November 1982, Northrop requested that the F-5G be redesignated the F-20, reflecting the extensive changes since its inception and hoping to give it a new image.

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