القوات الجوية التونسي

Al Quwwat al-Jawwiya al-Jamahiriyah at'Tunisia
Tunisian Republic Air Force

        Credit:  Roundels of  the world

                                        Last update 07-02-14

Tunesia started evaluating the Northrop fighter in 1975. A purchase of ten single- and two double-seaters (at a cost of USD 53.6m, including support) to replace twelve North American F-86F was considered and a Letter of Offer and Acceptance was received in 1976; Douglas A-4 were also taken into consideration (at a cost of USD 70.7m) as well as Macchi MB.326LT (two-and MB-326KT (single-seaters). The Macchis (four and eight aircrafts)      were received in 1977.

The need to operate a high performance fighter brought in 1981 the recon-   sideration and selection of the Northrop F-5; the contract for the  purchase     of 8  Northrop F-5E and 4 Northrop F-5F was signed in Washington  on 27-04-82 by the Tunisian prime minister under the code name "Peace Djem". It had a value of USD 200m including spares and support.

In-flight deliveries started in November 1984, two double- and one
single-  seaters transiting Prestwick (UK) on 19th/20th, the official date of reception of these first  ones was on 05-12-84 at Sidi Ahmed AB. They had only one stop at Prestwick on delivery; deliveries were completed on 05-03-85 when 2 single- seaters transited Prestwick. Aircrafts were routed mainly via Keflavik- /Alconbury-Nice.

                           Northrop F-5E Y 92515/IL transiting Pestwick on 05-03-85 on delivery    Photo: unknown
                       
Northrop F-5F Y 92506/IO at Pestwick on 19-11-84, US serial is painted under the Tunesian one.   Photo: unknown

Official acceptance by the Air Force of the first 4 Northrop F-5F and 2 F-5E took place at Bizerte on 05-12-84.

Air-to-air missiles AIM-9J Sidewinder, as well as possibly AGM-65 Maverick air-to-ground, were also acquired.

Another four former USAF, 527th Aggressor Squadron, aircraft were purchased in 1988 to augment the strength and replace lost aircrafts; the first two left RAF Kemble (UK) on delivery to Bizerte-Sidi Ahmed AB on 08-06-89, the last two on 23-08-89.

All these aircrafts went to equip the 15th Squadron, based at Bizerte-Sidi Ahmed; USAF instructor pilots trained local pilots.

    
Northrop F-5E Y 92521 call sign IO taking off at RAF Kemble on delivery 23-08-09 still with USAF insignia.
                                                                                                                            Photo: Stuart Lewis

                      Photo: unknown
                  Line-up of three single and 3 double-seaters; of note different camouflages.

OPERATIONS

The aircrafts were tasked with ground-attack and air defence duties; they flew training flights over the Mediterranean sea and it is rumoured that there has been an, more or less friendly, encounter with two Italian Lockheed F-104S/ASA over the sea in January 1984.

Tunisian defence forces have been engaged s
ince in 2011 against transiting Algerian guerillas. Not officially confirmed is the destruction on 20-06-12 near the Chott du Djerid of three trucks trying to smuggle arms between Lybia and Algeria (possibly  by one Tiger); one Northrop F-5, together with two Bell UH-1, has been detached to the South of the country in order to control further smuggling of arms.
Tigers participated to the bombing operations at Jebel Samama on 12-08-13.

EXERCISES AND UNIT VISITS
Air Force's F-5s participated between 24th and 26th October 1988 to
"Phibex", an air-combat training exercise in conjunction with the "USS John Fritzgerald Kennedy" based aircrafts.

Dissimilar air-combat training was the goal of exercise
"Dasix" held between the 20th and 24th 1990 in conjunction with McDonnel F-18s Hornets embarked on  USS Dwight D. Eisenhower (belonging to VF-131 Squadron) and four VF-136 Squadron based at Bizerte-Sidi Ahmed.

Exercise named
"Hannibal" saw several exchange visits in Tunesia and Spain:
Bizerta-Sidi Ahmed AB hosted between September 17th till 21st 1997 three Spanish AF 141st Squadron's GAMD Mirage F.1 for air-to-air combat missions, while Talavera la Real AB, homebase of the Spanish Air Force advanced flying school equipped with CASA/Northrop SF-5, was visited several times, usually by 1 single-and two-double-seaters: between the 11th and 15th September 2000, the 01st and 04th October 2001 as well as in 2004 and September 2005.

  Photo: Spanish AF
Combined exercice of one CASA/Northrop SF-5M and two Northrop F-5E over the Spanish coast;
of note the camouflage of former USAF aircraft.

                     
Northrop F-5E Y 92509 landing at Talavera la Real AB in October 2001, call-sign II painted under the cockpit.                                                                                                                                                                                             Photo: L.M. Blok

A domestic exercise took place on the 29th and 30th June 1999 when the Air Force trained with helicopters (Gazelle) and fighters (Northrop F-5, Macchi MB.326) in day and night fighting against Army targets in an area approximately 35 km south of Gabes.

France has a special relation to Tunisia, so their Air Forces; this has lead to common exercises. Tigers have visited Solenzara AB (in Corsica) in November 1998 (two double-seaters, accompanied by one Lockheed C-130) to exercise with GAMD Mirage 2000C of the Escadre de Chasse 1/12.
This was followed from October 22nd to 26th, 2001 by a second visit involving 2 double- and 1 single-seater, engaged in a local shooting campaign, between the 12th and the 23rd October 2003 by another visit; GAMD Mirage F.1C and GAMD Mirage 2000 were engaged during this visit.
Two Northrop F-5E and one Northrop F-5F were deployed to Solenzara AB in October 2007.

Interception and escort of a simulated hijacked civilian aircraft in conjunction with the Air Forces of Portugal, Morocco, Algeria, Portugal, Spain, Libya, Italy and France (not all participating contemporaneously) was exercised during the last years within the Mediterranean countries "5+5 defence" initiative:
"Renegade" operation took place on November 11th 2009 with a Algerian Lockhhed C-130 simulating the civilian plane, followed on 13th October 2010 by exercise "Circaete". This last mentioned edition involved again an Algerian Lockheed C-130; Tunisian contribution was one Sidewinder armed Northrop F-5E and one Northrop F-5F. During the 2011 edition on September 21st one French CASA CN.235 was intercepted by one Northrop F-5F; the 2012 edition took place on 30th October, two Tigers intercepting an Algerian Lockheed C-130, while the 2014 edition took place on 29-10-14, one Sidewinder armed two-seater escorted an Italian Airbus A.319.

   Photo: French AF
     Sidewinder armed Northrop F-5F Y 92504 escorting French AF
      CASA CN.235 62-IR/158 in Tunesian airspace on 21-09-11

CRASHES
Two single-seaters are known to have crashed, the exact date is unfortunately not known; one double-seater is has been lost on 19-04-96 near Bizerta-Sidi Ahmed AB. An unofficial document noted that 12 Northrop F-5s were based at Bizerta-Sidi Ahmed in 2007; another aircraft might have crashed/been withdrawn from use by then.

There were 12 aircrafts in service in 2004 according to an official US source.

MODERNISATION/REPLACEMENT
The need for a modernisation of the remaining aircrafts was recognised mid 2000s; a delegation was sent to Talavera AB on 2-4 July 2009 to study the upgraded Spanish CASA/Northrop F-5Bs.

Another possibility is their complete replacement; discussions have taken place on 05-12-11 with a French delegation for the possible purchase of 12 former Qatari GAMD Mirage 2000-9 fighters, followed on 16-07-12 with discussions between the Qatari Crown Prince and the Tunisian prime minister for the purchase of 12 GAMD Mirage 2000-5.

A surprise (but not too much) came on 18-09-2013 when the US Congress was notified of a possible Foreign Military Sale of an mainly avionics upgrade for the approximate value of USD 60m. This includes 12 LN-260 GPS/INS Control Display Unit, repairs, publication and technical 
documentation, personnel training and equipment, and logistical/programm support by US personnel, one mainly in Tunisia for flight testing.
An addition was a USD 30m contact with Northrop Grumman Systems Co. as FMS for upograding avionics and  maintenance repairs to be performed at St. Augustine (Florida) and in Tunesia. It will be completed by December 2018.

Fortyeigt Northrop F-5 have been offered by Saudi Arabia in the context of security co-operation between the two countries.