กองทัพอากาศไทย - Kongtap Agard Thai - Royal Thai Air
Credit: Roundels of the world
Last update 24-05-2018
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
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
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.
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.
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.
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
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
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.
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. 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.
Second batch Northrop F-5E 91681 seen on a test flight before delivery; of note the shark-mouth nose.
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!
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.
Northrop F-5F 61613 at McClellan AFB on 28-04-78, ready for
Photo: archive The Northrop F-5 Enthusiast
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
Decline and upgrades
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
(partially) ground attack role. Additional 12 General Dynamics F-16A and 6 F-16B followed from September 1995. These equipped two former Tiger Squadrons.
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.
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.
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 the old Emerson
APG-159 radars were to be refurbished only.
This upgrade was to wait till 2003 to be finalized due to lack of funds; 18 were foreseen, only 12 single- and 3 double-seaters (all of the last batch) have been modifid and identified. Elbit supplied kits to upgrade the airframes locally; these were designated F-5T Tigris.
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.
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.
A follow request was made in August 2017 for USD
96.1 millions to update additional 4 Tigers to Northrop F-5T, in
the ten already upgraded. It will include structural improvements
that will prolongue service life by 15 years, as
well as installation of
a Link-T tactical data link to enable them to communicate to the
command-and control. A new multi-mode radar will allow
beyond-visual-rang capability (possibily an Elta ELM-2032 from
Israel). Rafael Python-4 and Elbit DASH IV helmet-mounted sight are
already mounted in first batch, Rafael Lightening 3 targeting
and Skyshield ECM
pods will be added to the aircrafts. The present communication suite
will be replaced by
jam-resistant Have Quick sets. Rafael Advanced Defence Systems
(Elbit) leads the upgrade but work is executed by state-owned Thai Aviation Industries (TAI) in Thailand.
upgraded Northrop F-5FT was delivered in May 2018; four have full
upgrade, ten single-seaters will only receive radar upgrade. Two are
modified as pattern aircrafts by Rafae, prototy being officially .
An 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.
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 Gripen, Sukhoi Su-30. 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.
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
Remaining, upgraded Northrop F-5T are foreseen to remain in use to at least the early 2020s.
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
Photo: V. Bertschi
Northrop F-5A 70143/38371 and RF-5A 70104/97158 at the Don Muang AFB
seen on 10-01-07.
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 Do Muang AB and
three ex Republic of China AF airframes in store at the Air Force museum at Don Muang AFB.