The US Navy’s Specialized and Proven Aircraft program office (PMA-226) has delivered the first upgraded F-5N aircraft to Naval Air Station Patuxent River.
Following delivery, the former Swiss fighter turned aggressor aircraft will begin ground and flight test of the F-5 block upgrade prototype project.
Upon successful completion of test, the program office will use these upgrades as a major element in the conversion of the 16 F-5E and six F-5F aircraft the Navy recently acquired from the Swiss Air Force.
The program office will convert these 22 aircraft under the Avionics Reconfiguration and Tactical Enhancement/Modernization for Inventory Standardization (ARTEMIS) program. PMA-226 successfully completed the independent logistics assessment for the ARTEMIS Program in June and anticipates reaching a Milestone C decision in early FY 2022.
The newly redesigned tactical fighters will include features found on modern aircraft that improve both safety and readiness, in line with the Navy’s strategic imperative of increasing capability and enhancing lethality.
The F-5 aircraft, performing for many years as a high altitude, high speed tactical fighter used by the Navy and Marine Corps as an adversary aggressor, lacks modern safety systems, avionics, and common tactical capabilities found in modern aircraft.
This F-5N aircraft is one of three F-5Ns that will be used as prototypes of the modernized cockpit, avionics and supporting aircraft architecture. These upgrades improve safety, capability and reliability, while resolving increasing obsolescence issues.
“Constructive collaboration with our partners, the fleet, and the PMA-226 team drove mission success despite the technical, schedule and management challenges of integrating 21st century technology into a 1970’s airframe during the pandemic,” said Boyd Forsythe, PMA-226 adversary team lead.
The F-5 aircraft receiving the block upgrade prototype modifications will be designated F-5N+/F+. The potential risk of loss of a pilot and/or aircraft will be reduced by adding necessary instrumentation that provides air-to-ground warning, severe weather protection, and fuel level warnings. This upgrade will also add tactical capabilities designed to improve “friendly” force air-to-air training.
Given the significant use of commercial off the shelf components with well-defined maintenance and support equipment requirements for the block upgrade prototype configured aircraft, the product support strategy will be organizational level (O-level) to original equipment manufacturer. The block upgrade O-level preventive maintenance will consist of inspections, cleaning and scheduled maintenance tasks. Additionally, the O-level maintainers will load system software using currently fielded commercial off-the-shelf portable electronic maintenance aids.
“This program will provide modernized aircraft with exceptional avionics and tactical capabilities which are needed to allow pilots to practice the tactics and techniques employed against a near-peer threat. Delivery of these improvements will ensure realistic and relevant tactical training the pilots need to win in combat,” said Capt. Ramiro Flores, PMA-226 program manager.
As a tactical fighter aircraft, the F-5N accommodates a pilot only in a pressurized, heated and air conditioned cockpit and rocket-powered ejection seat while the F-5F is a two-seat combat- capable fighter.
The F-5 was developed by Northrop Grumman for export through the Military Assistance Program (MAP) in February 1965. This aircraft was initially offered as a candidate for a US lightweight fighter, but became extremely popular as an export finding its niche in the overseas market.
In December 1970, Northrop Grumman began development and production on the F-5A-21, an aircraft design that emphasized maneuverability rather than high speed and was officially reclassified as the F-5E. The F-5N/Fs are third-generation F-5 fighter aircraft designed for replacement of the F-5A/B/E production models. These aging aircraft were replaced by low-hour F-5E/F aircraft acquired from the Swiss Air Force surplus by United States Navy (USN) in 2006.