Tentera Udara Diraja Malaysia / Royal Malaysian Air Force

                    Fin flash
Credit:  Roundels of the world

                                        Last update 04-04-2024

ROUNDELS The square national marking was used till 1982, when the round/pointed star insigna was introduced,
In 1986 it was changed to a smaller roundel (no stars) and in 2006 back to the square one, though in smaller size; now both the square and the round (no stars) roundels are in use.



An evaluation team went March 1969 to Canada to evaluate the Canadair CF-5, in competition with GADM Mirage, Saab J-35, Hunter as well as Harriers in order to equip the first Malaysian fighter Squadron. The
problem was solved with the receipt in October 1969 of 10 former Australian Commonwealth CA-27 Sabre Mk.32, followed later by an additional six. Its air-defence was shared at the time with the R. AustralianAF
Mirage IIO.

The year 1971 saw the evaluation of a new fighter to replace the Sabre, including the GAMD Mirage 5; the purchase of 14 Northrop F-5E Tiger and 2 Northop F-5B (code named "Peace Strike") through the US
Government Foreign Sales Programm, at a total cost of USD 35m was announced mid-1972, delivery was expected to start during the second half of 1973, but actually started in June 1975 using Lockheed C-5A
directly from USA; air-to-air AIM-9J Sidewinder were also ordered to arm these aircrafts. The 
CA-27 Sabre Mk.32 were transferred to Indonesia in July 1976.


  One Northrop F-5B and three Northrop F-5Es being assembled after delivery.                           Sitting between its predecessor,  CAC F-86 Mk32 and an Canadair CL-41 is Northrop F-5E 01445.
  still in USAF serial, at Butterworth AB in 1975 . 
                                 Photo: unknown                                                                                                             Photo: Wolodymir Netowkin

Three Northrop F-5F double-seaters were purchased in 1978, enabling to operate similar aircrafts as the single-seaters; the double-seaters were sold to Thailand and delivered on 18-09-82.

In 1981 the Australian Government withdraw the 75 Squadron from Butterwoth in April 1988 and Malaysia took over responsability for the air defence of the country.

Some Northrop F-5s were air-delivered to Butterworth on 18-03-81 by USAF C-5A, assembled and test-flown by Norhrop personnel.

Additional aircrafts followed to make good attrition: on F-5E in 1979, one F-5F in 1981 and 2 F-5E in 1985 in flight delivered via the Atlantic/Midde East. Total acquisition was 17 single- and 5 double
seaters. No details are known about an additionally F-5E reported (serial M29-23).

                                           Early Malaysia (Northrop F-5E)/Australian collaboration (Mirage IIIO 75 Squadron), both aircrafts based a Butterworth AB

An ambitious Air Force 1980 to 1985 expansion plan (called Perista Plan) foresaw the creation of a new Squadron with 14 additional Northrop F-5E and 2 Northrop F-5F to be based at a new base to
be built at Gong Kedak (Northern Malaysia, along the East coast); on 15-04-82 a letter or request was sent to the USA, but insufficent Foreign Military Sales funds precluded the acquisition of new
built aircrafts.
Saudi Arabian had aircrafts available but US FMS funds could not be used to buy them. This led to the abandon of the plan by October 1982.

A new role was added to the Air Force with the acquisition of 2 Northrop RF-5E in September 1980 at a cost of USD 8.20m. These were the first production examples of the Tiger pure reconnaissance
version. First flight of the first example (serial M29-20) was on 15-12-82; delivery to Malaysia followed at the end of 1983.
Due to country security clearing only three different pallets were supplied:
1) medium hights panoramic camera KA-95B, low hights KA-56E coupled to RS-710E infra-red Linescan; 2) camera
KA-56E, panoramic camera KA-93B6 3) camera KS-174A for Long Range Oblique Photos

           Air-to-air overfuselage picture of a Malaysian AF Northrop RF-5E in USA before delivery        Northrop RF-5E M29-20 taking off with a full load of tanks and Sidewinder J on a test flight, 03-03-83
                                                     Photo:  Northrop                                                                                                        Photo: unknown  

                                                                               Northrop F-5E M29-22 passing Prestwick on delivery 22-03-85.

Film actors
Two Northrop F-5Es (including M29-04) participated in 1987 to the film Bat*21 together with two Sikorsky S-61 Nuri in Sabah.


                 No.12 Skuadon (Squadron) "Kilau" (Lightning) was established on  31-05-75 at No.6 Air Base, RMAF Butterworth, to operate the new Northrop F-5s.
Squadron Badge       Badge on tail

An USAF Mobile Training Team (including two US instructors) supervised the transition of the pilots, the F-5Bs were delivered beginning August 1975. The unit was declared operational mid 1976; It iwas under control
of the 1st Wing.

                                                                       Northrop F-5B FM-2201 at RMAF Butterworth in August 1975.              Photo: JM Guhl

Northrop F-5E FM-2206, No.12 Squadron with silver camouflage, old serial and big square 
                 Northrop F-5F FM-2253, No.12 Squadron, with silver camouflage, old serial and big square                              
insignia August 1983.                                                                         Photo: unknown                   insignia, August 1983.                                                                         Photo: unknown

                                                                                                       Photo: unknown
                                                                                     Northrop F-5F, new serial,  M29-18 and overall grey colours

This was the main Tiger unit, first having operational duties only, later lead-in training duties to pilots moving to more advanced fighters.
The Squadron emerged on numerous occasions as champion in the local "Top Gun" exercise locally known as "Ex Jaguh" before the introduction of more advanced Mikoyan Mig-29 and McDonnell A/F-18 Hornets.

Freedom Fighters were withdrawn from use on 10-11-00 but the Squadron was reactivated  in 2003 as 12th Tactical Air reconnaissance Squadron with 2 Northrop RF-5E as principal equipment, the four
Northrop F-5E as escort and 4 Northrop F-5F as new pilots trainers.

          A second unit, No.11 Skuadron (Squadron) "Scorpions" formerly  equipped with CAC F-86 Mk.32 and disbanded in 1975.

Squadron Badge  Badge on tail

It was reformed  at RMAF Butterworth in June
1983 with an ample spectre of duties:  conversion training, with 4 F-5Es and 3 F-5Fs received from No.12  Squadron, reconnaissance duties with the two RF-5Es,
in addition to an operational commitment in case of conflict. The number of aircrafts available varied according to training needs.

                                                                                       Photo: Northrop
                                                                                          In-flight view of Northrop RF-5E M29-19 with No.11 Squadron on tail,
in 1986.

Its aircrafts were used also for Dissimilar Combat Training, some aircrafts having been painted in several shades of blue. Unfortunately there is only a photo of a plastic model in these colours confirming this.
No.11 Squadron was disbanded 1993
and its aircrafts passed on to No.12 Squadron. Many of its (and No.12 Squadron) pilots converted to the new Mikoyan MiG-29 equipping No.17 Squadron.
The Squadron was re-established in 2007 re-equipped with Sukhoi SU-30MKM at RMAF Gong Kedak.


Strike mission against communists camps were operated early after introduction in conjunction with Canadair CL-41G, Alouette III helicopter acting as FAC.
On 16-04-76 Northrop F-5E from No 12 Squadron participated to "Ops Kubi Gubir" operation conducting air strikes against communist camps.

Both Squadrons operated in a regional air defence context named Integrated Air Defence System, comprising two Republic of Singapore AF Northrop F-5E/F Squadrons based at Tengah AB (Singapore) plus a
detachment of Royal Australian AF F/A-18As based at RAMF Butterworth. This last was withdrawn in 1986, replaced by a "quick deployment" system from Australia.

                                                                                  Northrop F-5E M29-08 with smaller sized square national insignia and new camouflage,
                                                                                    Butterworth 06-12-92.
                                                                     Photo: unknown

Many exercises has been held, both with the participation of domestic and external Squadrons; some are listed hereunder:

Northrop F-5s defended (together with RAF Tornado F.3) the sky over Butterworth during the "Flying Fish 1/97" excercise against RAF Tornado GR.1s between the 12th and the 26th April 1997.

During execise "Jaguh 1/86" a three-day bombing and gunnery competion was held over between 16th and 19th June 1986 by 
F-5 (both), Douglas A-4PTM and MB.339 equipped Squadrons for the title of best fighter
Squadron, each participating with 4 aircrafts (plus a spare one).

Exercise "Lima Bersatsu 88" (Together United 88), held at RMAF Butterworth in September 1988, saw the partecipation of No.12 Squadron with Malaysian and Singaporean McDonnell/Douglas A-4s together with RAF
Tornado GR1s/F.3s, Australian F-111Cs and A/F-18As, Singaporean F-5E/Fs and Sea Harriers of the Royal Navy. This exercise was held in the light of continued tension with Vietnam and the growing Soviet naval activity
in the Straits of Malaya.

Rather an unusual exercise in 1988 was the participation of two Northrop F-5E to the film US Bat-21 with low passages.

                                                                                        Northrop F-5F M29-15 with round insignia and new camouflage, February 1986

                                                                                                                                                                                        Photo: unknown

Northrop F-5s belonging to Squadrons 11 and 12 participated to exercise "Vanguard" in 1989 together with Singapore AF Northrop F-5s, Douglas A-4s, Hawker Hunters; Australian Dynamics F-111s, McDonnell-
Douglas F-18s; R. Malaysian AF F-5s, Aermacchi MB-339s and New 
Zealand AF Douglas A-4.

"ADEX 90-2" in January 1990 saw cross-deployment of Malaysian and Singaporean Northrop F-5Es between RMAF Kuantan and Singapore as well as the participation of RAF Tornado GR.1/F.3s, RAAF F-11C,
A/F-18As, Malaysian and Singaporean A-4s.

Another big exercise, "Flying Fish 1/97" took place 12-16 April 1997, when Tigers defended RMAF Butterworth together with RAF 6 Tornado F.3s against 6 Tornado FGR.1s. Additionally Aircraft Early Warning,
transport, maritime patrol, light attack aircrafts of the R. Malaysian AF, Royal AF, R. New Zealand, R. Australian AF participated to the exercise.
Earlier, between April 1st and 14th, Malaysian Tigers and Hawks 
transport, patrol, light attack exercised Dissimilar Combat against 6 Royal AF Harriers GR.7 of No. 1 Squadron.

Another important Air Defence, Counter Air, Air Interdiction, CSAR exercise is "Air Thamal" which has taken place both at Kuantan and Butterworth in Malaysia and at Khorat in Thailand. Apart from Tigers, Malaysia
has participated with MiG-29N and McDonnell F/A-18D, BAe Hawk 108/208, Thailand with
General Dynamics F-16A, F-16B.
The first edition took place in 1982, three Northrop F-5E participated in March 1996, the 2003 editon at Khorat, in 2005 (15th-23rd June) at Kuantan AB (15th-23rd June).


Late delivery aircrafts were equipped with "sharkmouth" noses to improve their handling characterists, while the whole Tiger fleet had undergone a structural fuselage-longeron replacement programme by 1994;
avionics had not been updated.

An unsolicitated offer during 1995 to upgrade the F-5s by local company MAS Aerotechnology, in collaboration with Bristol Aerospace, was rejected in May 1996; the Air Force preferred to focus on buying new
aircrafts. The plan was to modify the aircrafts as lead-in fighter trainer by fitting new avionics and extending the structural life.
by January 1996, on receipt of the new Mikoyan MiG-29N, of the remaining aircrafts was planned earlier; Thailand and Chile were considered as pontential buyers of part or all of the fleet.

Local aircraft industry Airod considered an upgrade possibility in 1998. AIROD was already responsible for support of all R. Malayan AF aircrafts and had modified F-5 powering engines General Electric
J-85-21B to -21C to give higher reliability.

A third, hotly contested, tentative was started by Lagkawi R&D Academy, in partnership with Caledonian Airborne Systems. They were awarded a RM 48m (USD 12.6m) contract on 13-09-01 to upgrade one F-5F
as a prototype, with an option for additional 9 upgrades for a cost of RM 480m.
The contract was terminated in 2002, when Lagkawi R&D Academy retreated and Caledonian tried to find a new local partner. The Air Force was sceptical for such modification and the whole project was stopped
only 5 Northrop F-5E, 1 Northrop F-5F, 1 Northrop RF-5E were upgraded, the aircrafts equipped under the plan with two multifuncional displays, a head-up display, hands-on-throttle, stick controls and a
1553 databus.
Original plans for upgrading about 20 aircrafts were shelved, budget shortage reduced the number, the rrest was to be sold.


Only 3 Northrop F-5E, 2 Northrop F-5F and 2 Northrop RF-5E remained airworthy by beginning 1998, 3 F-5E were used as spare parts source; all Tigers were withdrawn officially fom use on 10-11-00 and placed
in storage as an operational reserve. In 2003 an announcement was made that 3 F-5E, 2 RF-5F and 2 F-5F were to be put in service again with No.12 Squadron for training and surveillance and that their upgrade
was planned. Three stored Tigers flew for the first time in August 2003, another in September 2004 and almost all foreseen aircrafts were reactivated by the end of 2004.

       Northrop F-5E M29-05 at RMAF Butterworth on 28-05-08.               Photo: Hans Rolink               Northrop RF-5E M29-19 at RMAF Butterworth on 28-05-08.           Photo: Hans Rolink                         

During 2004 Malaysian company Airod signed partnership agreements with Caledonian Airborne Systems, Northrop Grumman and Recon Optical Inc to provide equipment for Northrop F-5s upgrade; Northrop was
to support certification, provide structural components and, possibly, the radar.
The already partially modified F-5F was completed but there were no further funds to go on with the programm; budget constraints threatened to limit the project's scope which was to include new ejection seat,
Head-up Display, Radar Warning Receiver and GPS satellite-navigation equipment.  Northrop
F-5F and RF-5Es have received some avionics upgrade in 2007, the reconnaissance aircrafts new digital cameras.

In a statement regarding the number of pilots trained to fly jet fighters, issued on 23-03-09 by the Defence Minister, there is no mention of those able to handle Northrop F-5; F-5Es M29-05, M29-13 (both in
, M29-15, RF-5E M29-19, M29-20, F-5F M29-16, M29-17 and one in primer (all 3 in maintenance) have been seen at Langkawi on 05-12-09. These should be the ones kept operational.

An unusual case is the disappearance (discovered in 2009) from Sungasi Besi AB of two General Electric J-85-21A engine awaiting maintenance, together with their service records. They were later located
in Uruguay and were reduced locally to parts for sale on the black market
. Following this, an official declaration mentions that this engine powers 4 Northrop F-5E an 2 Northrop RF-5E in active duty

Two Northorp F-5, together with other Malaysian AF aircrafts, were seen on the fligh-line in April 2012 at Butterworh AB.

      Fully armed Northrop F-5E M29-05 in front of No 12 Squadron hangar.
Photo: unknown              Northrop F-5F M29-17 at Subang AB in January 2007. Both wear third camouflage: all-grey. Photo: TK

The Malaysian Defence Minister announced on 18-11-14 that all Northrop F-5s would be retired by the end of 2014. Four operational/reserve Northrop F-5E and two RF-5E were retired in December 2014 plus
additional 12 kept in semi-reserve.