United States of America – Marines

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NAS - Naval Air Station

The only Marines Northrop F-5 equipped Squadron has been the VMFT-401 based at NAS Yuma (a reserve unit mainly manned by reservists), originally attached to the Marine Aircraft Wing 4 (MAW-4).
The Squadron was transferred to Marine Aircraft Group 46 (MAG-46) by 01-10-97, being transferred to the
MAG-41 in June 2009 due to the dissolution of MAG-46.

Before that one Northrop F-5E (BuN 160794, bore number 545) received the "Marines" inscription on its fuselage but this was not attached to an US Marines unit but to the Fighter Weapons Squadron (USAF); it was first reported at Oceana NAS on 03-05-80, last in March 1987 (possibly 1989). The inscription was changed to "Navy" later on (when?).

   F-5E BuN 160794 with its fiercest opponent Grumman F-14A.  Photo: US Navy

 Fighter Training Squadron 401 (VMFT-401) "Snipers"

This was formerly equipped with 13 Kfirs C.1 (locally designated F-21A) on loan; it returned them to Israel by September 22nd, 1989. The first own Northrop F-5E arrived at Yuma NAS on 13-04-89; the base housed on 26-04-89 at least 11 former USAF Northrop F-5E, still in the serials and colours of its former operator; its first tactical sortie was flown in June 1989. The majority of the missions were flown in the desolate, sparsely populated ranges near NAS Yuma

The exact equipment was as follows: 01-10-88 13 F-21A Kfir/ 01-10-89 12 Northrop F-5E, 1 Northrop F-5F attached to Marine Air Wing 4. The equipment remained the same till 01-10-98 as well as (at least) till January 2002.

A change of command happend on 01-10-97 when the unit was attached to Marine Air Group 46, always at Yuma.

Its role has been advanced training of fixed and rotary-wing Marines crews as a threats replicator, supporting fighter/attack Marine Corps Aviation Squadrons in air combat training and combat against attack helicopters. Missions have been mainly flown in the sparsely populated ranges near Yuma NAS, but the unit often deploys to other Marines Stations; in 1990 to MCAS Beaufort and Cherry Point already. This year was an very active one, preparing other units for the pending Persian Gulf war.

June 30th, 2004 saw the arrival of the first modified ex Swiss AF Northrop F-5N; it was foreseen to have a strength of 13 Northrop F-5N and keep them operational till 2020.

By 1995 it had accumulated 35'000 flight hours and 31'000 sorties without accidents, an 74 percent mission capable rate was reached in 1996; between 05-10-95 and 2006 it had flown another 47'000 sorties and 40'000 sorties accident free; by 2002 the Squadron deployed to other bases 3 to 6 times a year and participated to 16 to 20 individual training exercises, logging about 3'900 flight hours during approximately 4'700 sorties; 50'000 flight hours, accident free, were reached by July 2010.

As an additional activity by two VMFT-401 crews has been excerciting with Moroccan pilots, teaching them air-refuelling between September 10th and 21st 2007 during exercises "African Lion" .

                     Sand brown/tiger coloured serial 73885 NAS Yuma 19-11-03.
The aircrafts are painted in a wide variety of paint schemes; about 20 pilots include active duty, active and part-time reservists.

Main problem with the Northrop F-5 is that the aircraft is inferior to modern-day fighters; it is often at a disadvantage in maneuverability and onboard systems capability, making pilots' experience paramount. These try to force trainee to make mistakes and learn to fight from the mistake. 

The first of former Swiss Northrop F-5N was delivered on 30-06-04, (2 in 2003) totalling 9 aircrcrafts by 2005; one Northrop F-5F and 11 Northrop F-5N were foreseen to be in service during Fiscal Year 2013 (replacing old aircrafts one-by-one) to partially improve the situation, keeping the new aircrafts in service till 2020. The earlier version Northrop F-5E was retired to various museums.

By the end of 2009 a unit strength of 13 aircrafts and twenty pilots was authorised.

    Photo: unknown
Northrop F-5F 761586/00 with special tail colours and inscription Squadron call sign
"SNIPERS" on fuselage in February 2012, seen for the first time on 04-10-11.

                         Photo: Daniel Bader

                  First Northrop F-5N serial 761546 code 04 seen at MCAS Yuma on 02-03-16.