Imperial Ethiopian Air Force
Ye Ithopya Ayer Hail /
Ethiopian Air Force
Credit: Roundels of the world
Last update 19-01-2019
The Ethiopian AF received considerable military assistance from the Government of the USA during the 1960s, including
ageing North American F-86F fighters. Evaluation of the Northrop F-5A to supplement/supplant these aircrcrafts
started at the end of 1962, when a team went to Washington.
Approval to supply the Freedom Fighter was only given
during mid-June 1964, following the November 1963 armament aid
between the Republic of Somalia (which claimed the Ethiopian part of the Ogaden region as own) and the Soviet Union. The
agreement included the delivery of numerous MiG-15 and MiG-17, giving air superiority to Somalia.
of 10 Northrop F-5A, 2 Northrop F-5B was promised by the USA under
Military Aid Programm and highly experienced
North American F-86F pilots started training in
1965 with the 4441st Combat Crew Training
Squadron at Williams AFB in 1965; they
received around 15 hours on the two-seater Northrop F-5B and 25 hours
on the single-seater Northrop F-5A in all combat specialities.
Two instuctors were also trained, together with maintenance personnel. An USAF Mobile Training Team was sent to Debre Zeit AB.
Delivery was according one source as follows: handover
of the first 2 single-seaters on the 20-04-66 at Mc Clellan
AFB, followed by 3 on
18-05-66, 2 on 24-07-66 and 1 on 25-07-66, for a
total of 8 F-5As; these were followed in 1967 and in 1968 each by 2 single-seaters.
single-seater was lost shortly after delivery, replaced by one handed
over at McConnel AFB on 17-06-68. Two double-seaters
were handed over in 1966.
Slightly different is the USAF Historican Office version: 7 single/double seaters were
delivered during Fiscal Year 1966, 3 single during 1967
same during 1968, always during the last quarter of the year.
Imperor Haile Selassiť inspected one Northrop F-A in
1966, delivered to Debre Zeit AB; a patch confirms the pilot's
Northrop F-5 at Debre Zeit AB on 15-06-67.
Second lot Northrop
F-5A 10511 awaiting, together with 10510, 10512, delivery at McClellan AFB
Photo: Archive The Northrop F-5
aircrafts were assigned to the Harar-Debre Zeit AB based 5th Fighter
Squadron, formerly operating North American F-86Fs. No Sidewinder
air-to-air missiles were supplied.
activities had started in the Eritrean region in 1961 but evolved to a
full war only around 1970, when Northrop F-5As were transferred to
Asmara, together with F-86Fs, armed T-28As and English Electric
Canberra B.Mk.52, to operate agains the Eritrean People's Liberation
Continous requests for additional Freedom Fighters resulted
in the delivery of 4 additional F-5As, handed over at Mc Clellan AFB on
04-10-71. These were ferried from California to Ethiopia in USAF
markings, accompanied by an North American T-39 pathfinder aircraft for
the last part of the journey, between Ramstein AFB (Germany) to Harar
Debre AB via Rimini, Athens, Incirklik, Teheran, Dhahran, Jeddah, Addis
Ababa. A long way.
There was no change in the F-5 fleet till a
military revolution overthrow the Emperor Haile Selassiť in
April 1974. US military aid continued almost without interruption,
even after the new government (DERG) officially declared itself Marxist on 20-12-74, due
to the strategic importance of the country, even authorising the
transfer of 4 Northrop F-5A from Iran in 1974. Another source mentions
that Iran delivered, under a Military Aid Programm, 1973/1974 at least 7 Northrop F-5A (another source mentions only 5) and 1 Northrop F-5B, while the USA supplied 3 newly built Northrop F-5A and 2 Northrop F-5B.
In flight delivery of the
last three Northrop F-5A, escorted by an North American T-39
1974 Somalia signed a Treaty of Friendship and Cooperation with the
Soviet Union which started to deliver MiG-21s shortly afterwards,
completely changing the armament balance. Intensive Somali guerrilla
operations began contemporaneously in the Ogaden region.
DERG requested McDonnell F-4s to counter the new threat, later scaled
down to 16 Northrop F-5E and 8 Cessna A-37s plus AN/TPS43 radars, but the US government was
initially not inclined to fully accept the request, suggesting to
transfer in 1975 a mix of 8 Northrop F-5A (former Vietnamese
aircrafts) and 4 new F-5Es plus 8 A-37s. The Ethiopians expressed their
unsatisfaction and a second offer was submitted beginning 1975 for the
sale, under an USD 25m Foreign Military Sales credit, of 16 new
Northrop F-5E (formerly foreseen for Egypt) plus AIM-9B Sidewinder
missiles, delivery scheduled to start in November 1975. This offer was
accepted and the first 8 Tigers were hurriedly transferred to Ethiopia end 1975 (one source states the arrival at Addis Ababa on 14-04-76 which seems exact). The
first two Northrop F-5E pilots started conversion end of 1975 at
Williams AFB for
a 48 hours combat course and completed their conversion in 1976.
Conversion air combat manovering was included in the training totalling
48 hours, while
the first two pilots in-house were formed at
Debre Zeit AFB in 1976; later enough pilots converted to the aircraft
form the 9th Fighter Interceptor Sqn at the same basis.
A substantial US aid for arms transfer (in
form of credit and cash) was granted early July 1976 to the country. It
included the transfer of two Squadrons of Northrop F-5Es, an early warning radar, Lockheed C-130s and tanks. Most probably not exact!
Enough spares had been delivered to keep all these fighters operational
for several years. The Ethiopians had learned how to keep them
operational as to deploy them in combat and how to obtain additional
spares on the black market. Most Tigers were transferred to Dire Dawa
for a period at the beginning of the Ogaden War. One of these aircrafts
was damaged beyond repair in early 1977 during an Somali attack on the
base after which all were withdrawn to Debre Zeit AB (Addis Ababa), shuttling between
the two bases every morning and returning in the evening, together with Northrop F-5A.
By july 1977 the 5th Squadron had 2 Northrop F-5B, 15 Northrop F-5A
plus one modified to carry camers and 15 pilots. The Freedom Fighters
were flown during the war only as fighter-bombers while the Tigers were
flown for air rsupremancy.
between the USA and Ethiopia increased in 1976; it culminated in the
signature of an arms supply agreement for over USD 100 millions with the Soviet Union in December
1976, which included Mikoyan-Gurevitch MiG-17 and MiG-21, and the
termination of military collaboration with the USA in April 1977.
Delivery of spare parts and of additional Tigers was blocked and the
aircrafts were rerouted to Yemen.
Embargoed Northrop F-5E serial 426 stored at Mc Clellan AFB seen on 18-09-77
Photo: Archive The Northrop F-5
Fighters had intervened in Eritrea during 1976 against the local
Liberation Army. By 1977 Ethiopian AF aircrafts, mainly of US
origin, was below 30% due lack of spares, political purges and
defection of Eritrean personnel and aircrews. Two pilots defected to
Kassala (Sudan) with their Northrop F-5As, the aircrafts being returned later to Ethiopia.
felt at this point it had good chances to occupy the Ogaden region and
started on 13-07-77 an, initially, victorious offensive. On
following day three Northrop F-5As attacked the invading troops and one
was shot down by an SA-7 shoulder launched missile. Following this
episode attack profiles were modified into medium altitude attacks,
last minute dives and low attacks with an regress towards the sun in
order to prevent the SA-7 missiles from getting a lock, while Northrop
F-5E were used as fighters. Both fighters, now
based at Dire Dawa, played a critical role in slowing Somalian
offensive; local pilots fought victoriously against Somali MiG-21s.
Israeli unofficial aid, never confirmed or part of it, actually did not
took place; it included a dozen Israeli technicians helping maintaining
the F-5s, pilots (arrived in July 1977) that took part in the air combats (doubtful) and training of 38 pilots (doubtful). Israeli assistance ended suddenly in February 1978.
information state also that Vietnam supplied Northrop F-5As
(improbable) and spare parts (probable) seized upon the fall of Saigon
A reversal of the war situation happend when the Soviet
Union abandoned its Somaly allied in favour of Ethiopia and started an
air-bridge on 25-11-77, bringing the agreed Soviet aircrafts (and much more war material)
into the country. One Squadron each of former Cuban MiG-17 and MiG-21, plus one more of former Soviet Union MiG-21s, started to arrive in December 1977, all supported by Cuban personnell.
ended in April 1978. Losses inflicted were largely exagerated by both
countries, Somalia claiming to have shot down at least 8 F-5A, 1 F-5B
and 3 F-5E; Ethiopia claimed that its F-5s had shot 13 MiG-21s down
(eight confirmed), 1 MiG-17 (confirmed) against the loss of only 2
F-5s. Somalian claims could be contradicted by the later offer for sale
of Northrop fighters. Better training of Ethiopian aircrews, who seemed
to prefer the agile F-5 to the heavier MiGs, had shown its benefits.
Nothrop F-5A pilots had before trained to simulate Nthe MIG-17, and of
Northrop F-5E the MiG-21. The firt type of aircraft was eventually used
only for ground attack, while the second one were used to fight for air
upremacy. The site ejection-history.org.uk lists the loss of 2 Northrop F-5A and 3 Northrop F-5E during the fighting.
More detailed information about the war can be found on the Cuban Side on http://urrib2000.narod.ru/Etiopia-e.html (in Spanish).
Northern region Eritrea was at the time still in a state of war, again
necessitating the basing of Freedom Fighters at Asmara and their
intervention till they were definitely withdrawn from use due to lack
of spare around 1980. One of these aircrafts was claimed to have been
shot down near Barentu (Western Eritrea) on 02-05-78.
RETIREMENT / RESALE
from use F-5s were kept in dumps; early 1984 12 F-5As, 2 F-5Bs and
4 F-5Es were put up for sale. Interest was shown by Thailand which
sent a team to asses if possible to make them flyable, but it reported
this was out of question. They were still unsold in May 1987
Asmara dump in March 1994 showing 1 F-5A, 3 T-33A, 3 F-86F, 1 C-199K and several MiGs;
The Northorp F-5 was still there on 02-06-04.
war between Iraq and Iran in the 1980's brought renewed interest in
these airframes. The USA tried to buy them back for USD 7m and scrap
them in order to avoid falling them in Iranian hands but Iran did
succeed in its efforts to purchase 11 (F-5A, F-5B, F-5E) in June
1985 at an unrealistic price of USD 68m. The aircrafts had flown very
few hours but had been poorly maintained and kept for years in the open
air. They were in such poor conditions that the Iranian AF initially
refused their acceptance, later agreed at half price: USD 34m.
number/type of aircrafts sold to Iran is unknown. Some sources state
that these were F-5As and that the Iranian aircraft industry was
able to make at least one flyable around the year 2000, another source
states that Iran received 8 Northrop F-5A and 2 F-5B plus 4 F-5E and
another one states it received only 10 F-5s unknown mix.
The Northrop F-5s
belonging to the 5th Squadron have been replaced by Sukhoi Su-27
single-seaters and Su-27UB double-seaters, received in December 1988.
Ahmaric name for Imperial Ethiopian Air Force
Corresponding Ethiopian/US serial for Northrop F-5As
and Northrop F-5Bs.
Any earlier or later sighting.
Any additional information/correction.