กองทัพอากาศไทยKongtap Agard Thai - Royal Thai Air Force

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                                        Last update 04-04-2017

Procurement
The most advanced fighter available to the Royal Thai Air Force at the mid of the 1960' were the North American F-86F day and F-86D all-weather fighters, which equipped each one Squadron.
Thailand was not high in the priority of the US Military Assistance Program list for new fighters, but consideration to supply the Freedom Fighter was given from the very planning beginning.


The Northrop F-5A / RF-5A/ F-5B

US Military Assistance Program (MAP)
Thailand was since the 1960s' dependent on US Military Assistance Programm to equip its armed forces.
In 1964 the US
Military Assistance Program had a program to replace one Squadron of North American F-86F with Northrop F-5s.
Delivery was scheduled as follows: US Fiscal Year (
FY, which runs from October 1st of the previous to September 30th of the mentioned year) 1967 2 aircrafts, FY 1968 5 aircrafts, US FY 1969 8 aircrafts for a total of 15 aircrafts at a foreseen cost of USD 13.4 millions. A Mobile Training Unit was to train crews to the new fighter; the team remained at least until 1978.
An additional 3 aircrafts were added for the FY 70 during the FY 1965 and a plan modification was requested
, asking early delivery of 2 two-seater (April 1966) as well as 8 aircrafts in November 1966 and 8 in 1967.

                                        Photo: R.Thai AF
                                                 Unloading of an Northrop F-5B from US carrier USS Breton

Actual MAP deliveries



   
Acceleration of the MAP program enabled the
   
hand-over of the first two Northrop F-5Bs at
   McClellan AFB on 11-02-65;
but they flew in
   USAF colours
for local crew training. They were
   delivered to Thailand by the aircraft carrier USS
   Brenton and first noted at Don Muang Air Force
   Base
in March 1966.


   The second Northrop F-5B 38438 seen in 1967
   at Don Muang AFB without any Thai code.



   Photo: unknown








First
four Northrop F-5A single-seaters were handed over at McClellan AFB in April 1967, followed in 1968 by another 4. Four badly needed reconnaissance Northrop RF-5A were delivered in 1970, while 4 additional Northrop F-5A followed in 1971 and 6 former USAF were handed over at McClellan AFB on 20-12-73 reaching Thailand in 1974.

A former South Vietnamese two-seater was added in April 1975 on collapse of this country; two ex Malaysian AF Northrop F-5B were added to the fleet on 18-09-82.

The end of active Freedom Fighters
acquisition came in 1987; former Jordanian, Republic of China and Ethiopian aircrafts were considered, but not bought. The Ethiopian ones were inspected by a Thai team but described in a very poor status. Only two former USAF Northrop F-5B were eventually bought, reaching a grand total of 18 Northrop F-5A single-seaters (plus the 5 former Republic of China for spare retrieval only), 4 Northrop RF-5A, 7 Northrop F-5B; deliveries of US aircrafts were made by ship.

Withdrawal from active use of the remaining aircrafts came, according to information, during 2000.

However, this was not the end of airframes acquisition. Five single-seaters were bought at an unknown date from the Republic of China AF (Taiwan) for retrieval of spares only; they were noted for the first time at the Bangkok Air Force museum in November 2008. Spares were also obtained in 2008 from the Philippines as a swap with parts of the withdrawn from use Thai OV-10 Bronco.

Losses
Losses due to various reasons (training, collisions, war operations) were high. Known are: 14 Northrop F-5A (at least 2 due to war operations), 3 Northrop RF-5A, 3 Northrop F-5B. One additional Northrop F-5A might have been lost.

The Northrop F-5E / F-5E
Air defence of US bases and Thai sky was taken care by USAF units during the Vietnam war, but with the end of the Vietnam Thailand was confronted wirh a new task: air space defence.

Initially an objective
of two Northrop F-5 Squadrons for the Fiscal Years 1978 to 1985 was set, but this acquisition was opposed by the USA and given a very low priority. In May 1975 the US objective was reduced to one Squadron (the one already operational on Freedom Fighters).

The Thai Air Force anyhow had become active in April 1975 requesting a Letter of Offer for 16 Northrop F-5E/F-5F to the US government
to increase the number of fighters. On its side, the Thai government negotiated one month later, in May 1975, directly with Northrop Corporation the purchase of 15 Northrop F-5E and 3 F-5F for a total cost of approximately USD 67.8 million.  None of these requests were supported by the USA, discouraging a Thai purchase. The Letter of Offer and Acceptance expired on 30-11-75 without being accepted by the Thai government, possibly due to its hope of obtaining the fighter through US grant aid, not having to recur to Foreign Military Sales.

A second, under the Foreign Military Sale program Peace Eternal, attempt (due to the tension in the area) was started and a Letter of Offer and Acceptance was signed by the government on 12-03-76 for the purchase of 13 Northrop F-5E and 3 F-5F at a cost of approximately USD 75m, including support equipment and spares. These were to equip a Tiger unit, to be activated in June 1978 primarly for the air superiority/defence roles, with a secondary mission of ground support and interdiction. Payment took place between 1976 and 1979.
Planned delivery/assembly of 5 Northrop F-5E and 3 F-5F was in May1978 to Don Muang AB (successively flown to their base, Khorat AB), then in August 1978 8 single-seaters by Douglas C-5, via McClellan AB. First official acceptance of 6 Northrop F-5E/F-5F for the 102th Squadron actually took place on 25-09-78 at Don Muang AFB. Actual delivery took place between 1978 and 1979. Initial armament were only AIM-9J Sidewinder.

In June of 1978 the Thai government had already requested four more Northrop F-5E at the cost of USD 15m to increase the Squadron's strength, augmenting its ground-attack capacity. The request was approved and delivery was scheduled in July and August 1979.

       Photo: Northrop
Second batch Northrop F-5E 91681 seen on a test flight before delivery; of note the shark-mouth nose.

A request request for details regarding the purchase on additional 18 Northrop F-5E and 3 F-5F to be delivered not later then 1980 was handed over to the USA on 08-03-78. Strangely these were thought as partial replacement for two North American T-28 ground-attack Squadrons!
A positive answer for the request of this second batch of Tigers was given on 21-04-78 under the name of
project Peace Rama . There were three delivery/costs options: the first was for delivery in 1980 at a cost of USD 108.3m, the others had later delivery and higher payment schedules. Definitive approval was given by the US Government by the end of 1978 with delivery/costs according to the first option mentioned above. 

              Photo: J.R.Owen
              Northrop F-5F 61613
at McClellan AFB on 28-04-78, ready for delivery.
               
                                        Photo: archive The Northrop F-5 Enthusiast

All above mentioned deliveries were accompanied by US training teams, both military and civilians. The aircrafts were flown into Bangkok-Don Muang AB by Lockheed C-5A.

  Photo: Keith Heywood
  Northrop F-5F 91681 at McClellan AFB on -10-80, ready for delivery in new camouflage.

Following Vietnamese and Cambodian incursions in 1979 and 1980 Thailand requested on 28-02-80 laser guided bombs and Maverick missiles (these last had already been requested in 1977, but negated) to arm the ground attack dedicated Tigers. The request was approved by March and an offer was issued including cockpit modification of 20 Northrop F-5E/F-5F, 300 Mavericks at the total cost of USD 39.5m, including spares, support equipment, training. Training was to be provided by the USAF in December 1980.

                        Photo: USAF

Initail upperfuselage/wings colours view of a Northrop F-5E with the shadow of an USAF McDonnell F-15 in the background.

Thailand purchased
from the USAF in 1987 a final batch of 8 former 26th Squadron Northrop F-5Es (plus two for spares retrieval only) to make good various losses.

Total Thai purchase of Northrop F-5E, F-5F was according to official USA documents (as reported above) 41 (plus one for spares) single- and 6 double-seaters. A check of serials shows 40 single- and 6 double-seaters, plus one for spare retrieval only which has no local serial.

According to an official US document there were by 01-04-99 8 Northrop F-5A and F-5B (almost certainly 5 and 3), 1 Northrop RF-5A and 39 Northrop F-5E/F (though another point of the document 37 are mentioned) in the Air Force inventory.







   Hectic pre-flight activity on
   February 16th, 1984 at Clark AFB;
   aircrafts of the first and second lot
   (in the background, sharkmouth
   nose) are visible.







   
Photo: USAF









D
ecline of the Northrop fighter
The decline of Northrop F-5 operation as most advanced fighter started with the receipt of the first on an initial batch of 8 General Dynamics F-16A and 4 F-16B in May 1988, followed by a second batch of 7 single-seaters, taking over the air defence and (partially) ground attack role. Additional 12 General Dynamics F-16A and 6 F-16B followed from September 1995. These equipped two former Tiger Squadrons.

Partial upgrade
Northrop F-5E/ F-5F, Northrop F-5A/ F-5B were still useful in the fighter and ground attack role, receiving a first avionics upgrade in 1987 under the supervision of the USAF; it included a GEC-Marconi head-up display and Litton LN-39 Inertial Navigation System and mission computer.

First upgrade (F-5T/F-5TF Tigris)
Initial discussions for a second Tigers upgrade started in 1996; installation of a pulse-Doppler radar programme was considered; Northrop Grumman was contacted for a similar upgrade as its Tiger IV (Westinghouse APG-66 radar), Elbit/Singapore Aerospace Technologies for a Grifo F retrofit (as for Singapore), Lockheed Martin for its APG-67 radar and Israel Aircraft Industries for the Elta 2034. A structural life-extension programme was also foreseen. Unfortunately this ambitous plan had to be postponed due to budgetary problems.

The upgrade request was again included in an Air Force development plan that was presented
for approval to the Thai cabinet in April 2000, including a contract for the value of USD 66m to locally upgrade 27 Northrop F-5E and 4 F-5F with the assistance of the Israeli company Elbit Systems, selected in preference to Singapore Technologies Aerospace. Payment included a 30% share of barter trade arrangements. Foreseen was the installation of an Elbit mission computer, a new fire-control radar, new Electronic Countermeasures Systems, improved identification Friend or Foe system, plus Python 3/Python 4 air-to-air missiles with DASH helmet. Extension of service life of the engine and structure allowed an extension of service life till 2018/20. All this at a cost of approximately USD 2.5/3.0m per aircraft.

           
   Photo: unknown
             Northrop F-5F 40301/91708 rolls to the runway with Python 3 for tests over the Gulf of Siam.

It was planned originally to install a new multi-mode radar, but due to budgetary constraints the radar upgrade was cancelled and only the old Emerson APG-159 radars were refurbished
.

This upgrade was to wait till 2003 to be finalized due to lack of funds; 18 were foreseen, only 12 single- and 3 (or 2) double-seaters (all of the last batch) have been modified and identified. Elbit supplied kits to upgrade the airframes locally; the modified aircrafts were designated F-5T and F-5TF Tigris.

     Photo: unknown
Northrop F-5T 21128/91702 seen over Don Muang AB on 14-01-12; clearly
visible the new RWR on the tail and the antenna behind the cockpit.


There were 39 aircrafts in service in 2004 according to an official US source.

The last Freedom Fighter flight era was performed on 18-12-07 at Don Muang AFB by Northrop F-5B 70101/38436. An official retirement ceremony took place next day before being transferred to the National Aviation Museume  where it still is exhibited.


A new modification program for the remaining aircrafts, particularly regarding a new radar system; Elbit Systems has announced on 22-10-14 the signature of a contract valued at USD 85m mainly for the avionics upgrade to be performed over 3 years of Northrop F-5s belonging to an unmentioned Asian Air Force. This is an follow-on contract for the earlier upgraded Thai Northrop F-5T Tigris, limited by funding cuts.

Again a follow-on request was made in August 2017 for USD 96.1 millions to update additional 4 Tigers to Northrop F-5T, in addition to the ten already upgraded. It included structural improvements that  prolongue service life by 15 years, as well as installation of a Link-T tactical  data link to enable them to communicate to the air command-and control. A new multi-mode radar allowed beyond-visual-rang capability (possibily an Elta ELM-2032 from Israel). Rafael Python-4 and Elbit DASH IV helmet-mounted sight as already mounted in first batch, Rafael Lightening 3 targeting and Skyshield ECM pods to be added to the aircrafts; the communication was suite replaced by jam-resistant Have Quick sets.  Rafael Advanced Defence Systems (Elbit) leaded the upgrade but work was executed by state-owned Thai Aviation Industries (TAI) in Thailand. One upgraded Northrop F-5FT was delivered in May 2018; four have full upgrade, while ten single-seaters only received radar upgrade. Two prototype arcraft
s were modified as pattern aircrafts by Rafael.

Officially, not confirmed source, has stated that Singapore during 2018 donated a number of withdrawn F-5s for be used for spare parts; other unofficial sources mention a total of about 10 airframes.

Second upgrade (F-5TH/F-5FTH Super Tigris)
Further improvements and a new camouflage for a total of nearly USD 100millions were part of a total of 14 single-seater (Northrop F-5TH) and double-seater (Northrop F-5FTH), all belonging to the 211th Squadron based at Ubon Ratchathani AB. Funds for the upgrades for 10 Northrop F-5were approvend in 2015, the other 4 on 01-08-17.

An initial Northrop F-5TH (code 21137) and Northrop F-5FTH (code 21105) were upgraded by Elbit Systems (Israel); they were shown in 14-02-19 at Bangkok-Don Muang AB, while the single seater could also be seen at Changi AB (Singapore) on 13-02-20.

  
                Illustration showing all possible configuration                                            Northrop F-5T armed with new air-to-air Derby/Python 4 missiles, aircraft foreseen to remain in use to at least the 2030s.

 
                                                          All photos: R Thai AF
                                                Underfuselage of a new update camouflage colour
; the single-seater armed is armed with Iris-T missiles
                                                Northrop F-5TH 21137/41575 and Northro F-5FTH 21105/91692
Replacements
Review of a replacement for some of the remaining Tigers started in 2003; this included possible purchase of additional Lockheed Martin F-16s or of SAAB Gripens, Sukhoi Su-30s. The Swedish aircraft was selected (together with two SAAB 340 Erieye AEW aircrafts); acquisition of 12 aircrafts at cost of approximately USD 1 billion in October 2007 was approved by the the government, withdrawal of the remaining Tigers by 2009 was foreseen.
Contracts for an initial batch of 4 single- and 2 double-seaters was signed only on 11-02-08
for a second batch of 6 single-seaters on 23-11-10, needing a postponement of the replacement date for the last non-upgraded Tigers belonging to the 701st Squadron at Surat Thani (Southern Thailand), not far from Malaysia. These were to be redistributed to the 211th Squadron, which would be the only Northrop F-5 operating unit, keeping the upgraded and, for some time the non-upgraded, aircrafts in service.

Additionally, a
new air defence system was also built in Southern Thailand around the Gripen, the Erieye and ground command and control systems.

The first 6 SAAB Gripen arrived at Surat Thani on 22-02-11 and on 08-07-11 the new air defence system was declared operational, while the last two Northrop F-5Es and one F-5B were transferred to Ubon Ratchathani AFB on 11-10-12, when the Gripens were fully operational.

 
           ex USAF Northrop F-5E 70134/41575 posing with its successor Saab J-39 70105       Photo: unknown

The 2020 Thai white paper on defence includes studies for a replacement aircraft for both the Northrop's F-5s Tiger and the Geeral Dynamic's F-16s Fighting Falcon.


Spares use only / preserved aircrafts

 
    Photo: unknown
Northrop F-5E 26red at Bangkok-Don Muang; might be serial 74-01562 use for spares retrieval only


Some withdrawn from use
aircrafts were transferred to the Air Force museum at Bangkok (several Northrop F-5A, 1 Northrop RF-5A, 1 Northrop F-5B, 1 Northrop F-5E) as well as preserved at various Air Bases.

                               
  Photo: V. Bertschi
                              Northrop F-5A 70143/38371 and RF-5A 70104/97158 at the Don Muang AFB
                              seen on 10-01-07.

   Photo: unknown
        Northrop F-5E 71113/91695 at the Don Muang AFB museum on 06-07-05.

By 23-01-14 there were F-5A two fuselages only and one full airframe in an hangar at Don Muang AB and three ex Republic of China AF airframes
in store at the Air Force museum at Don Muang AFB.

                                    Photo: Sompong Nondhasa

                          Impressive monument at the ir Force Academy, 24-06-12: Northrop F-5A 23144/ 97159
                         
Northrop F-5E 71112/ 61665, as well as an F-86F and an F-16