Sunday, February 14, 2016

F-5 Airframe - Doubts and Rumors

These jets are once the workhorse of an air force like those of Taiwan, South Korea, Thailand, Indonesia, and the Philippines. There were rumors that raises an eyebrow in the aviation industry, especially on the over-extended flight hours the air frames can cope of.

With Notes from Tan Tian Cai [link]
Philippine Air Force F-5A/B Freedom Fighter.
Source: Defense-Studies Blog Site
**PAF refers to the Philippine Air Force**

So i've been seeing alot of comments on recent posts about the PAF's decomissioned Northrop F-5A's being put on display. Among the most common comments seen is that if it's possible to bring those F-5's back to service despite them having long reached their airframe life limit. The other question often encountered is if it's possible to upgrade the F-5A to the equalvalent of a F-5E or even a F-20. Here, I try to give a balanced perspective.
In practice, it's indeed possible to bring them back to service. It's also quite possible to upgrade them to a standard equal to the latest F-5E variants in service today. BUT. Before you guys get excited over the prospect of the F-5A flying over Philippines skies again, keep in mind the requirements needed to be met before the PAF's F-5's will fly again.
First, let me explain why i said all the above.
1. Yes. The F-5A is a very old 1960's design. But so is the T-38 Talon. The Northrop T-38 Talon is, in simple terms, the unarmed trainer variant of the F-5A Freedom Fighter. It was developed at the same time and also entered service around the same time as the F-5.
2. The T-38 has been constantly updated. Current in service units bare little resemblance to the original that came off the production line.
3. The main operator of the T-38 Talon, the USAF, has hundreds of time expired airframes in storage. These mostly serve as a source of spares to keep the active fleet flying. BUT, once in a while, a airframe is withdrawn from storage and restored to service standards.
4. As for how it's possible to turn an F-5A into the equal of an F-20, the point is, taking the T-38's example, the current in service T-38 fleet has underwent a number of refurbishments and major upgrades under the Pacer Classic sustainment program. Currently, the USAF is embarking on Pacer Classic III. PCIII is a last major airframe rebuilt and avionics upgrade that supposed to keep the Talon viable until the new T-X enters service around 10 years down the line. As a result of these upgrades, the Talon's current suite of avionics bares no relation to that of the original aircraft as built. The T-38 now has a full glass cockpit and navigation suite that the designers of the original aircraft could barely dream off.
5. The point of the above is, a major avionics update and reconfiguration as well as zero timing an expired airframe to as new condition, while no walk in the park, is not impossible either. If they can fit a glass cockpit to the Talon which wasn't even designed to take it in the first place, fitting new avionics and even a proper radar on the F-5A is not impossible either. It just takes careful planning and hard work.

After all this said, we must come back to reality. Looking the condition of the PAF's current state, any upgrade plan for the F-5 is a pipe dream. The reason why the USAF was able to accomplish such magic with the T-38 Talon is because they have large numbers in service. Economies of scale means that any major upgrade is worth it when balanced against operational requirements. The US has the resources to pull off what the Philippines can only dream of doing because they have the industrial capability and MONEY to fund it. To expect the PAF to braing back the F-5, to say nothing about upgrading them, is a fanboy's wet dream. Always has been, always will be. Given the resources the Philippines government is able to spend on defense as a whole spread out over the 3 services, the PAF is better spending it's money on modern assets like the F/A-50.


  1. The F5s were not the workhorses of the PAF, but the Hueys are, these helis bore the brunt of all the work

    1. Indeed. Since those Hueys are a common sight in this country as PAF's workhorses, it is shown that PAF is heavily reliant to those helis that is capable of an effective troop support/utility/logistics thing.

  2. I agree. As much as I love the F-5, we are simply better off with the F/A-50.

    But just think about it, the Blue Diamonds flying F-5's again.

    That's gotta be something to look forward to.


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