Last update 05-08-2013
Letter of Offer and Acceptance for 12 Northrop F-5E was requested
by Indonesia in May 1977; the country menaced to buy French Mirages, bureaucratic procedures delayed the US offer till February 1978 when the
sale of 12 Northrop F-5E and 4 Northrop F-5E was notified to the
Congress at a cost of USD 125m; unsatisfaction with French credit terms determinated the acquisition of the Northrop fighter.
The aircrafts were to replace 18 former Australian CA-27 Sabres equipping Skuadron Udara 14, Wing 300, at Iswahyudi AB; the US government placed restrictions regarding the use of these aircrafts: they where not to be used in former Portuguese colony East Timor, now part of Indonesia, where a guerrilla war was taking place.
The first two former Sabre pilots to act as instructors were sent to Williams AFB in December 1979, followed by another one in January 1980. Local technicians were also sent to the USA for training.
Northrop personnel, assisted by Indonesian technicians, assembled the aircrafts at Iswahyudi AB, while first local flight of a Tiger was done by Northrop F-5F TL-0514; the inauguration of the Skuadron Udara 14 on the new fighter was on 05-05-80. Twelve former Sabre pilots were converted in one year.
The first exercice with a foreign country, called Malindo Eagle VI, took place between thr 8th and 10th September 1980 in conjunction with Malaysia, while a domestic exercise took place in November 1980 when five aircrafts flew from Madiun to Medan via a stopover at Halim Perdanakusuma (Jakarta). They encountered bad weather on the last leg. Another domestic exercise took place at the beginning of 1981: Jayapura (Indonesian New Guinea) was visited testing use of small airports; this airport had a runway of just 1'600 meters, though Tigers need at least 1'800 meters.
First loss of an Northrop F-5E happened on 24-10-86, when a pilot killed in a training sortie in Eastern Java. In the meantime another 2 F-5Es are known to have been lost in accidents.
Beginning in the early '90s a program, called
MACAN (Modernisation of Avionics
Capabilities for Armament and Navigation) was established to improve the air combat and ground attack
capability, plus to enable the planes to act as an lead-in trainer for
the F-16s received
starting from December 1989; SABCA of Belgium, as systems
integrator, was awarded in March 1995 a
contract to upgrade 8 single-seaters and 4
at a cost of USD 40m. The contract included installation of new
avionics, offering commonality with local F-16s and Hawk
109/209, rewiring, structural
repairs on at least one aircraft and spares
package over four years. Upgrade of the fighter's radar
APG-59(V)3 to (V)5 standard was completed in a separate program.
Modified aircrafts were returned to Indonesia in February 1999, ferried on Antonov An-124. Upgrading of the remaining aircrafts was to be at Iswahyudi AB, in batches of no more than three at a time, SABCA to supply modification kits, procedures and 3 technicians to assist work, expected to last up to 5 months to complete.
Northrop F-5E TS-0501 at Gosseliers during armament trials in May 1998 after conversion
to MACAN standard. Photo: unknown
F-5s were rotated during the years throughout the county to familiarize
pilots with the 5'100 kms long archipelago, but in 1999 and 2000 three
F-5Es were based at Kupang-El Tari AB (West
Timor), to be used for air defence of the border area with East Timor against a possible Australian military intervention during unrests;
MACAN modified aircrafts flew in the lead with non upgraded F-5E as
wingman (not all were MACAN modified at the time) in order to make use of the
Continous friction with the USA regarding military operations in East Timor, including the use fo Northrop F-5s, led in 1999 to a full embargo of military material. This had very serious consequences to the operation of the Air Force due to shortage of spare parts, which had to be bought from third parties, and, regarding the upgrade of the Tigers, of maintenance/repairs and acquisition of new components. It seems that 7 F-5E and 4 F-5F have been upgraded, work on the missing single-seater (TS-0510) having been stopped while being in the USA. One source mentions that upgrade was completed by 2001.
Northrop F-5E TS-0502 and F-5F TS-0516 at Madun-Isfahyuidi on 27-04-00, both upgraded to
MACAN standard, with badge of the 3rd Wing. Note brighter than original camouflage, smaller
stencilling and red last two of serial on nose.
As part of a reorganisation Wing 3 was established on May 5, 2000 at Iswahyudi with 14 Squadron (F-5E/F), 3 Squadron (F-16A/B), Squadron 15 (Hawk Mk53), after Wing 300 had been disbanded on 01-04-85 and all Squadrons placed directly under control of two operational Commands, Komando Operasi Angkatan Udara 1 (for the Western part of Indonesia) and Komando Operasi Angkatan Udara 2 (for the Eastern part of Indonesia).
Indipencence of East Timor in 2002 and improved relations with the USA brought an end to the military materials embargo in February 2006; only 6 F-5s were operational at the time, one additional F-5E (serial TS-0510) was held in the USA, sent to Northrop in 1999 for repairs and wasn't anymore operational. This has been returned to Iswahyudi AB beginning of 2006, to be used as source for spare parts.
Jordan offered a grant of F-5s in December 2005, but the offer was not accepted as the Air Force preferred to finance acquisition of later generation Sukhoi Su-27SKM and Su-30MK2 fighters for its Skuadron Udara 11.
A replacement aircraft for the Northrop F-5 is in the wishes list of the Indonesian AF at present in the, together with replacements of BAe Hawk Mk53 trainer and North American OV-10F Bronco COIN aircraft, the last one being the most urgent and the F-5 in the last position.
Northrop's Tigers participated to several national and combined with neighbouring countries exercises as well as alarm operations. Some of them are listed hereunder.
An Air Combat Manoevring Range, developed, together with Singapore, was established at Pekan Baru (Sumatra ) for air-to-air and air-to-ground in during 1980, initially utilising CA-27 Sabre and Hunters of the two countries and, from 1986 in excercise Elang Indopura IV/86, F-5s. The biennally held excercise involved, apart from helicopters and transport aircrafts, Indonesian Northrop F-5s and Singaporean ones, initially F-5E, later upgraded F-5S.
The latest excercise, Elang Indopura XIV/2006, was held between 03 and 22 July 2006, divided in Phase 1 as Command Post Excercise at Paya Lebar AB (Singapore), Phase 2 as Air Manoeuvre Excercise at Iswahyudi AB with of 6 Indonesian F-5Es and deployment of 6 Singaporean F-5S.
An interception on alarm took place on 26-04-06 when 2 F-5E based at Kupang AB intercepted about 80 miles form Kupang 4 Australian F-18C and 1 B.707 tanker en route from Darwin (Australia) to Paya Lebar AB (Singapore). After initial radio contact problems it was cleared that the Australian aircrafts had obtained prior clearance to overfly Indonesian air space.
"Air Power Show 2007" exercise, to
show Air Force capabilities, was held
on Belitung Island (Sumatra) 18-11-07
with the participation of 3 F-5Es,
2 F-16A, 4 Hawk 109/209 destroying
Photo: Indonesian AF
The discovery beginning May 2009 of a number of unknown fighter aircrafts flying near Rote Island by a radar station near Kupang (Timor Island) prompted routine air patrols by four Northrop F-5E along the Indonesia-Australia border, but no contact has taken place till now.
The distance between the island and Australia is less than 90 miles.
Continous tension with Malaysia brought during 2009 the basing of some Tigers at Balikpapan AB (East Borneo); a ground controlled interception exercise, called "Cakra-B/09", was held between April 6th and 14th 2009 to improve readiness, with the participation of 5 Northrop F-5. These aircrafts were supported by General Dynamics F-16 at the same base and 2 Sukhoi Su-27 and 2 Sukhoi Su-30 based at Makasar (also in East Borneo, but farther away from the border).
Plans are on-hand (September 2011) to buy 24 ex USAF General Dynamics F-16C/D and re-equip Freedom Fighter equipped Sqn 14 with these aircrafts as well as to make good attrition losses of F-16A/B equipped Sqn 3, though the average life span available of present F-5s is 4'000 hour which could keep the fleet flying till 2020.
The Indonesian Air Force Chief of Staff mentioned in March 2012 that they are considering the Republic of China offer to grant 1 Squadron of Northrop F-5E/Fs, but not accepted.
Another grant has been from South Korea for 16 Tigers if Indonesia buys one Squadron of KAI T-50 trainers. This grant has been rejected by May 2013. The reason was that the Indonesian Northrop F-5s had been upgraded during the years, while the Korean ones were largely equipped with the original systems.
Sixteen of the trainers were anyhow bought to re-equip Squadron 15; exercises are held from 2014 against the Korean trainer from Solo/Adisumarmo AB.
The Northrop aircrafts are to be replaced by a Squadron of Sukhoi Su-35 in 16 Squadron according to an official document signed on 27-11-15, the Northrop retired by the end of 2020.