Warplanes: F-5E And Beyond


September 15, 2017: An Israeli firm (Elbit) announced it had received a $93 million contract to upgrade F-5E fighters with modern cockpits, radar, fire control and navigation systems as well as DASH “smart” helmets that enable pilots to look at the target through the visor, on which is displayed fire control data, and press a button (or give a verbal command) to launch a missile or smart bomb. Elbit didn’t mention the name of the country but Thailand is likely the one because Thailand has been hiring Israeli firms (especially Elbit) to upgrade its F-5Es since 2000. The last major upgrade for the Thai F-5s was in 2004 and since 2016 Thailand has been discussing further upgrades with Israeli firms.

The U.S. F-5 fighter was designed (in the late 1950s) and built (until 1972) largely to compete with the Russian MiG-21 in the export market. F-5s were sold to many U.S. allies as a low cost alternative to the more expensive fighters used by the Americans. Thailand received its 31 F-5Es in 1978 and has kept them in service ever since. The only F-5s used by the United States were for training. F-5s had many of the same flight characteristics of Russian and Chinese aircraft. While over 2,200 F-5s were built, most have now been scrapped. Spare parts are often obtained by buying F-5s from someone who is replacing them with more modern aircraft.

The F-5E is an 11 ton aircraft, with a max speed of 1,700 kilometers an hour, and a range of some 1,400 kilometers. It was armed with two 20mm cannon, and could carry about three tons of missiles and bombs. Some of the Thai F-5s are already equipped to handle some of the modern Israeli missiles and another upgrade would turn the Thai F-5Es into very effective fighter-bombers. This latest upgrade will take three years to complete and it was not mentioned how many F-5Es would be upgraded on this contract. In the past F-15 upgrades were done in batches, apparently to see how well the changes turned out to be. The Thais have been satisfied because their F-5Es are the most modern and frequently used ones still in service.

Israel also offers similar upgrades for MiG-21s, which turn these aircraft into something far more effective than anything the Russians could ever come up with.


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