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中 華民國空軍
  /  Chung-Hua Kong Jun    
Republic of China Air Force  /  Taiwan

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                                        Last update 08-05-2013


PROCUREMENT

In 1963 the Republic of China (Taiwan) placed an order for 60 F-5A Freedom fighters, though it was originally envisaged to buy 115 aircrafts; delivery began in 1965 and was completed in 1968. These aircrafts were foreseen to replace F-86F, widely used in the battles against People's Republic of China Air Force Mikoyan-Gurevitch MiG-15s and MiG-17s in air-battles over the Taiwan Straits during the year 1958.

The first Northrop F-5A and F-5B equipped Squadron was officially accepted by the AIr Force Commander on 09-12-65 at Tainan AB. The unit was at the time still in training status with 19 F-5As and 2 F-5B. Later deliveries enabled to equip the three Squadrons of the 1st Wing at Tainan AB. AN USAF Mobile Training Team supervised the introduction of the Freedom Fighters.


Line-up of Northrop F-5As of all three Squadrons attached to the 1st Wing.        Photo: RoC AF

Under pressure from the USA government 48 Northrop F-5As and spare parts were put at disposal by 10-11-72 for the transfer to the Republic of Vietnam Air Force under the "Enhance" and "Enhance Plus" programs; originally the USA requested the transfer of all (94) F-5As received by the Republic of China; this was not accepted by the Republic of China government. As a compromise, it was agreed to station two Squadrons of USAF McDonnel F-4C at Ching Chuan Kang AB to fill the gap till the return of the F-5As, to supply 28 Northrop T-38As to keep pilots proficent and to examine the possibility of a Northrop F-5E co-production scheme.

Twenty Northrop F-5A were to be returned directly from South Vietnam, 28 additional eventually replaced by Northrop F-5Es; the first USAF F-4C Squadron was to return to USA upon arrival of the first 20, the second F-4C Squadron and the T-38As when the remaining 28 F-5As would be replaced. In addition, 15 new Northrop F-5B were to be directly purchased in USA under the code name Peace Ox.
Finally it was agreed to co-produce
, mainly under Foreign Military Funds, 100 Northrop F-5Es in the Republic of China.

According to official US Military Assistance Program files, Taiwan has received by 1970 72 Northrop F-5A and 11 F-5B under MAP, supplied as follows: 1964: 7 F-5A, 2 F-5B; 1965: 10 F-5A; 1966 26 F-5A, 4 F-5B; 1967: 22 F-5A, 5 F-5B; 1968: 5 F-5A; 1970 2 F-5A.

The exact number of Freedom Fighters supplied to the Republic of China AF is not known. Twenty two Fiscal Year 1969 F-5As and 10 Fiscal Year 1974 F-5Bs are missing from the list; they might have been paid in full by the Republic of China, not going through the Military Aid Program.

           
            Northrop F-5B 00782 at McClellan AFB before delivery in July 1975                 Photo: D J Fisher
            This is one of 10 additional 1974 Fiscal Year F-5B bought directly from the Republic of China.

By mid 1973 47 Vietnamese F-5As were withdrawn from use for repairs and treatment of heavy corrosion and stored at Bien Hoa AFB. As they were in poor conditions, beyond Vietnamese technical capacity, they were tranferred to the Republic of China Ping Tung AB (under code name Project Peace Basket ) for rework, together with 17 General Electric J85-13; 20 of these Freedom Fighters were to be remain in Taiwan to satisfy the first clause of US/Republic of China agreement (return of 20 F-5A by July 31, 1974). The first two F-5A were delivered from Vietnam on November 7, 1973.  By the end of April 1974, the first reconditioned F-5As were ready to be painted.

In the meantime the Republic of China had requested the supply of McDonnel F-4 or additional Northrop F-5E instead of the worn out Northrop F-5A, but this requested was rejected by the US government.
The second clause of the agreement, the withdrawal of one Squadron of McDonnell F-4C to Clark AFB (Philippines), was completed by the end of July 1974.
A Memorandum of Understanding, signed in on 09-02-73 with the government of the United States, granted fulfilment of another clause: providing 28 Northrop F-5E, aircraft locally named "Chung Cheng", the nickname for the late President Chang Kai Shek,
as replacement of the second batch of 28 Northrop F-5A by the end of May 1975. The IAI Kfir C2 had been earlier taken also in consideration, up to the technical evaluation phase.
 
The Memorandum foresaw establishment, under the codename Hu An (Peace Tiger),
of production facilities in Taiwan for approximately 100 F-5E/F. The initial phase was final assembly and flight test at the Aero Industry Development Center at Taichung (AIDC), followed by an increasing amount of assembly and production of elements as soon as know-how and facilities were available; General Electric J-85-GE21 engines were to be supplied directly by the USAF. A later request for licensed production of these engines was turned down.
Roll-out of the first locally assembled aircraft took place on 30-10-74, the last of the initial 100 airframes being completed in November 1977.

Delivery of US built airfames was on board  of Lochkeed C-5A Galaxy in 8-pack, starting in August 1975.

The Republic of China requested in April 1976 an Letter of Offer to co-produce an second batch of 42 additional Northrop F-5E and 18 F-5F with an option to extend local production with an additional 20 single-/two-seaters, if finance permitted. This was granted; 2 more single-seaters were built, for a total of 44.

On 01-12-74 a task force called "Sung Shan" was established at Tainan to prepare conversion of the Wing to the new aircraft model. First unit to receive the second generation Northrop F-5 aircraft was the 443rd (1st) Tactical Fighter Wing at Tainan in December 1974 enabling the withdrawal to Kadena (Japan) of the second USAF Mc Donnel F-4 Squadron by April 1975. By mid-April of this year AIDC had delivered 33 F-5Es, increasing production output to 4 per month. First Northrop F-5F was delivered 01-11-78.

           
Line-up of newly delivered Northrop F-5E with SEA camouflage, also showing early six numbers
tail serial presentation.
Remaining F-5As and F-5Bs Freedom Fighters were relegated by the mid-70s to the training role with the 828th Tactical Fighter Wing at Hualien AB, replacing North American F-86Fs, until withdrawn from use on 30-06-87, the F-5Bs remained longer in service, till mid '90s.

Some single- and two-seaters Freedom Fighters were preserved at bases and museums after withdrawal, three F-5As were supplied in 1993 to the Philippine AF, one in exchange of a North American F-51D for a museum.
 
     
  Northrop F-5A 1270 97098 preserved in the latest camouflage at the AF Academy Kangshan 18-08-00
  In the background F-5B 1104 69237 erronously marked as 69257                             Photo: unknown

Repeated requests for Mach 2 fighters, Mc Donnel F-4s, Lockheed-Martin F-16As, F-16/79s or 
Mc Donnel F-18s, were constantly refused by the US governement. Even an attempt to buy the latest generation F-5 (Northrop's F-20) was blocked by President Carter's veto in October 1978. The year 1978 saw also the offer by the People's Republic of China of a reward of USD 1.8 million for an F-5A, 2.1 million for a Tiger defecting to the continent.

Formal diplomatic relationship with the People's Republic of Chinas was established by the USA on Jabuary 1st, 1979 recognising this as the only governement for the whole of China - including Taiwan. This recognition had dramatic consequences for the Republic of China (Taiwan) and its Air Force.
Military aid was suspended but outstanding orders could be fulfilled, inclusive co-production of the Northrop F-5E/F, ordes totalling at the time 185 single- and 21 double-seaters.















 On July 1979 approval was also given
 by the US Congress for the sale of
 39  single- and 6 two-seater F-5s,
 wired for Hughes AIGM-58A Maverick
 pre cision  guided missiles, costing
 USD 108.8 millions; 29 laser target
 designator sets and 48  modification
 kits for the aircrafts (USD 61.8 m),
 500 Mavericks and 100 single rail
 launchers (USD 25 m) were part of
 the deal on offer at the end of 1978.

A total of 308 aircrafts were produced by AIDC under 6 Peace Tiger programs:
Peace Tiger 1 included 100 F-5E; Peace Tiger 2 44 F-5E; Peace Tiger 3 
20 F-5E, 3 F-5F; Peace Tiger 4 15 F-5E, 15 F-5F; Peace Tiger 5 30 F-5E, 18 F-5F; Peace Tiger 6 30 F-5E and 30 F-5F; the last of these was rolled out on 09-12-86. Global total was for 242 single- and 66 double-seaters.

OPERATIONS / TRAINING
Little is known about early use of the Northrop F-5A. Air-superiority above the Taiwanese skies was assured by Lockheed F-104s Starfighters in the various versions from 1960; Freedom Fighter were in charge for air-to-ground support and, as secondary duty, for air-combat; no encounters by Freedom fighters with People's Republic of China fighters are known.

Northrop F-5Bs participated, together with Fairchild C-119s, Lockheed T-33As, North American F-100s and Lockheed F-104s to trials for emergency use of highways on 19th and 20th October 1978.
Northrop F-5E units had ground-attack as main duty as well as air-interception duties. Ground-attack was performed against land and sea targets with Mk.82 500 lbs freefall bombs, 7.15 in (19cm) unguided rockets and AIGM-65A guided missiles, 48 single-seaters incorporating a cathode-ray tube with scan converter which allowed the pilot to view the TV picture produced by the missile.

Twenty nine of the F-5Fs have been fitted with the Northrop AVQ-27 manual laser target designator to provide an atonomous designation capability for the GBU-12 laser version of the Mk.82 bomb.

 In the air-interception task all F-5 equipped Squadrons
 performed 4-5 combat patrols a day across the Strait
 of Taiwan armed with locally modified AIM-9J Side-
 winders, flying close to the coast,in addition to escort
 of transport aircrafts flying to Kinmen (Quemoy), the
 largest island of a cluster under ROC control. Fighters
 were ready for an 3-minutes scramble, one Squadron
 of the 4th TFW being based from April till October on
 the forward base at Makung, on the Pescadores
 Islands.
 Routine patrols over the Strait of Taiwan, up to a
 maximum of 15 miles to the Chinese mainland, encoun-
 tered MiG-19s and MiG-21s flying parallel to the coast.
 Up to once or twice a week, PLAAF aircrafts entered
 Republic of China airspace, retreating when F-5s
 appeared. No F-5E Tiger air-combat is known.

 Soviet reconnaissance Tupolev Tu-95 Bear and
 Ilyushin IL-62 trasports, flying every year closer to
 to Taiwan, have been escorted along the coasts but
 ending with the wound-up of The Soviet Union.

Northrop F-5E of the 5th Group in formation flight.  Photo: Republic of China AF

Ground-attack
was also an important task, training being effectuated against land and sea targets with bombs, unguided rockets and guided missiles.

  Meeting a friend.
  Aircrafts from transiting US Navy fleet were
  "shadowed" by Republic of China aircrafts. Here
  an F-5E from 443th Wing, possibly serial 5371
  from the 443rd Wing, flying alongside an US
  Navy F-14 from VF-31 probably in the mid-90s.

  Photo: VF-31 homepage











To keep pilots up to the highest fighting level an Tactical Training and Development Manoeuvering Instrumentation (TACTS/AMI) at Taitung AB, similat to the US Top Gun, was created in 1976. It was upgraded to Tactical Aircrew Training  System/Air Combat Manoeuvering Instrumentation (TACTS/ACMI) range on July 1st, 1988. In mid-90s, the ROC AF decided to upgrade again it, expanding the airspace, as the People's Republic of China introduced avanced fighters such as the Sukhoi Su-27. Additional improvements took place in July 2002, when the installation of a Cubic Corporation system, based on the Nellis AFB Air Combat Training System, was completed; this supported F-5, F-16, Mirage 2000 and IDF pilot training. The system was further improved with new weapons simulation devices by March 2004.
The range has been used by all fighter units, dissimilar training given initially by the 46th Tactical Fighter Squadron's F-5Es and F-5F, which gained a high ratio of scores against the latter generation fighters.
Simulated firings of AGM-65C/E Mavercks laser guided missiles from F-5Es
have also taken place on the range during 2007 with full success. These missiles might be local updates of the original AGM-65A television guided missiles.

DEFECTIONS
A new chapter in the Republic of China F-5 history was opened on August 8th, 1981: defection towards mainland China. Major Huang Zhi Cheng, an instructor pilot, defected on this day to the People's Republic of China with its Northrop F-5F serial 5361; the aircraft landed at an air-base near Fouchou City (Fukien region). The defector  obtained a reward of USD 370'000 (sum immediatey returned) and was nominated Deputy Commander of a pilot training school.
The aircraft has been possibly tested locally.



 Going the other way
 was 
a defecting
 Shenyang J-5 (Chinese
 built MiG-17F)
on 14
 November, 1983 escor-
 ted by 2 Northrop F-5E
 to the landing at Chiang
 Kai Shek International
 Airport.
 This was one of several
 cases of defections from
 mailand China, including
 
Shenjang J-6 (MiG-19)
 and J-7 (Mig-21) fighters.


An 46th Squadron F-5F chasing an 
Chinese People's AF J-6 (MiG-19) while being tested by an RoC AF pilot.

A second
RoC AF F-5 Tiger defection happened on 11-02-89, when the pilot of Northrop F-5E serial 5120 ejected 80 km inside the Guangdong province, the pilotless aircraft being destroyed and the remains put on show at the Chinese People's Revolution Museum at Xiaotangshan (Datangshan).

OPERATIONS ABROAD
The Republic of China AF has no possibilities to participate to excercises abroad due to the diplomatic isolation of the country, but another form of sevice abroad, never officially confirmed, has been rumoured. This service involved pilots and technicians being engaged in countries unable, for various reasons, to operate their F-5s.

Following skirmishes between North and South Yemen in March 1979 the US governement rushed into Northern Yemen 12 Northrop F-5Es and Saudi Arabia 2 Northrop F-5Bs.
Taiwan media reported that some (sources state 12) Taiwan pilots plus ground technicians (mainly reservists) arrived in North Yemen as counsellors/pilots as no Yemeni was trained to fly and maintain the aircrafts, Saudi Arabia paying for the operation.
Change in political alliance brought the country to oppose the 1993 Desert Storm war, Yemen secretly planning to let the Taiwanese pilots bomb Saudi targets! The plan was reported to Taipei with the result that the pilots were immediately called back.


Patch for the Yemeni contingent


Another country which might have received Republic of China Air Force help in operating the aircrafts might have been Macedonia when it was offered in 2001 20 Northrop F-5As by Turkey, offer turned down by Macedonia.

MODIFICATIONS / UPGRADES
Noted at Mojave airport between October 1987 and July 1988 were four F-5As that had found their way back to the USA; their exact use and final destination is not known. Some sources mention they were converted to drones by
Flight Systems, Inc and returned to the Republic of China, others mention they were used by a civilian test-pilots school while there are rumours that they were transferred to the Philippine AF. The first assumption  might be valid as there is no trace of their use by the civilian test-pilots school at Mojave and they have never been reported in the Philippines.

                
                 Northrop F-5A 69188 coded "1" at Mojave 13-02-88                                   Photo: D E Sloviak

       
        Northrop F-5A 97117 code "4" and 01397 code "3" at Mojave in 1988                             Photo: unknown

During the 1980s combat capacity of some Northrop F-5E and Northrop F-5F was improved with the addition of Litton ALR-46(V) radar warning receivers, Northrop AVQ-27 radar designators and Tracor ALE-401(V7) chaff/flare dispenser; 500 AGM-65A Maverick TV guided air-to-surface missiles as well as Paveway II laser-guided bombs were also bought to improve the attack capability; aircraft aerodynamic was refined to some late built aircrafts with the addition of the Tigershark nose. Modified aircrafts were designated F-5E module C and F-5F module F.

Structural and avionics/armament upgrades to keep the aircrafts operation were taken into consideration in 1990 and an initial request for information was sent to 10 companies, including Bristol Aerospace, Grumman, Israel Aircraft industries, Singapore Aeroapace and Smiths Industries but all decisions were postponed and later cancelled, pending another request for Lockheed-Martin F-16s. Just limited structural modification/upgrades were performed in the mid-90s to keep the aircrafts operational.

Air-to-air missiles AIM-9B Sidewinder were used by the Northrop F-5A, while the Northrop F-5E were mainly equipped with AIM-9P-4 Sidewinders. To diminish the dependance from USA a development programm for similar missiles was launched in the mid 80'. The military-run Chung Shan Institute of Science and Technology (CSIST) started to develop a short range, infra-red guidance missile with similar capabilities to the AIM-9 Sidewinder, called Tien Chen (Sky Word) TC-1 and an Beyond Visual Range missile, called Tien Chen (Sky Word) TC-2, but both of them have not equipped the Northrop fighter, though the first test firing of the TC-1 was made by an F-5E in April 1986, with the Beech target drone successfully destroyed.

Foreseen retirement in May 1998 of the 12th Squadron Lockheed RF-104Gs reconnaissance aircrafts prompted requirement in 1995 for a new aircraft; the Air Force decided to modify 7 low-hours (number reduced from the originally 10 planned) Northrop F-5E fighters into RF-5E reconnaissance aircrafts and favoured Singapore Aerospace for the modification, placing an order for the value of USD 50 million mentioning that AIDC lacked sufficient experience. In the face of overwhelming criticism, however, the Air Force rescinded the deal with Singapore and permitted local AIDC company to participate in an open bidding, but finally awarded the contract to Singapore Aerospace again. Aircrafts conversion started in 1996 and delivery of the first modified aircraft, locally renamed Tigergazer, took place in August 1997.

Another attempt to upgrade the Northrop F-5E fighter failed in the mid-90sas collaboration with Northrop was unsuccesful; Westinghouse could not release, due to US export restrictions, the source code for the foreseen AN/APG-66 radar (similar to the one used by the the Lockheed-Martin F-16), that would have enabled interface with the Sky Word TC-2 Beyond Visual Range missile. A model of the foreseen cockpit was shown at the 1997 Taipei Aerospace Show.
After this, AIDC worked on its own upgrade project, the Tiger 2000. In the year 2000 AIDC borrowed a F-5E configuration C, serial 5308, as prototype from the military. The prototype was first flown on 24-07-02, but the entire program was delayed by technical problems in replacing the plane's complicated wiring systems and fixing the plane's engine.
The upgrade foresaw cockpit improvements (such as HUD, MFDs, HOTAS), avionics (such as MIL-STD-1553B, mission computer ungrade, GPS/INS navigation system, GD-53 radar, IRWR), weapons (Tien Chen TC-2).

       
        F-5E 2000 prototype serialled 5308/10015 at Taichung on 12-01-04    Photo: Cruise Wang

Unfortunately, the  Tiger 2000 project  failed due to high costs for a complete renewal of the plane's avionics and fire-control system, lack of interest by the Air Force (which might have been interested in a less expensive upgrade of the radar only) and the purchase of next generation fighters.

Photo: Wawasun
    Retired F-5E 2000 prototype 5308/10015 on show at Hsiang Yuan AIDC Park in May 2008.


RETIREMENT
People's Republic of China AF signature in 1991 of an initial contract for 20 Su-27SK single- and 4 Su-27UBK double-seaters, marked the beginning of the end of first line use of the Northrop F-5E. Next generation fighters for the Republic of China AF were an absolute necessity to face these extremely powerful fighters.

Supply of the Lockheed-Martin F-16 was at last approved by President George Bush in 1992. The contract foresaw delivery of 120 F-16A Block 20 single- and 30 F-16B Block 20 two-seaters fighter/fighter-bombers and trainers.
Additionally, a contract for 48 Dassault Mirage 2000-5Ei single- and 12 Dassault Mirage 2000-5Di double-seaters air-defence fighters/trainers was signed on 17-11-1992, deliveries starting in 1999.

The third new generation fighter component was in the form of the locally developed AIDC F-CK-1A/B Ching Kuo Indigenous Fighter. Development of this aircraft started when the US government refused to sell the Northrop F-20 or Lockheed-Martin F-16. It was developed with help with US companies and resembles the F-16. A total of 250 were originally to be built, but only 102 AIDC F-CK-1A single- and 28 AIDC F-CK-1B double-seaters were ordered following approval of the F-16 deal.

Deliveries of Lockheed-Martin F-16s started in April 1997 and the first, formerly F-5E equipped, 21st Squadron was commissioned in October 1997, last former F-5E Squadron being commissioned in the year 2002; Dassault Mirage 2000-5s went to the 499th Tactical Fighter Wing, replacing Lockheed F-104G aircrafts, last arriving on November 26th, 1998; AIDC F-CK-1A/B Ching Kuo Indigenous Fighter re-equipped the Northrop F-5E equipped 443rd (1st) Tactical Fighter Wing at Tainan beginning from 1997, the full Wing being officially commissioned on the new aircraft on 07-01-99.

At this point, there was no need anymore for Northrop F-5Es as fighter or fighter-bombers, though there were 166 in service in 2004 according to an official US source; they were gradually withdrawn from use and offered to various countries. Mexico, Chile, the Philippines are thought to have been interested. But, due to political issues, there was no follow-up.


 Unable to dispose the aircrafts
 to other countries, older ones
 were used as decoys, instruc-
 tional airframes
, preserved in
 air bases, public parks
as well
 as 
put at disposal of museums
.
 See serial list for full details.

 The remaining active aircrafts
 are used for fighter lead-in trai-
 ning, or are in storage, forming
 a war reserve.
 


F-5E, possibly serial 5243, as decoy at Ching Chuang Kang AB in May 2006

                                                                   Photo: Taiwan Air Blog/unknown

               
                Northrop F-5E 5241 61636 preserved at Chiayi AB on 17-08-00    
                                                                                      Photo: Archive The Northrop F-5 Enthusiast

One Northrop F-5E and one F-5F, to be delivered beginning 2012, have been exchanged with one Douglas B-26 belonging to the Classic Aircrcraft Museum in USA.

Newer F-5Es and, mainly, F-5Fs (altogether approximately 60) were kept for advanced training of young pilots, before their operational conversion to the later generation
General Dynamics F-16 and GAMD Mirage 2000s at the respective Operational Conversion Units; older airframes were put at disposal for preservation,
other active ones were put in storage, forming an emergency-reserve.

The remaining 6 Northrop RF-5Es (one has been lost) were not withdrawn but supplemented from 2004 by General Dynamics F-16As equipped with reconnaissance pods AN/AVDS-5.

Unfortunately reliability of the Northrop Tiger has diminished: seventeen single-/double-seaters have crashed between 1988 and 2007, killing 19 officers and leaving 4 pilots missing

There has been a high number of Northrop F-5F losses; in 32 years of active service as of July 2009, 40 have crashed killing 32 pilots, five accidents were between 2005 and 2009. Only 33 remained in service.


Final retreat of the remaining Northrop aircrafts has bee foreseen for the year 2010, the advanced training role being taken-over by the AIDC F-CK-1A/B Ching Kuo Indigenous Fighter, in its turn replaced by new General Dynamics F-16s. This target date has not been reached as the USA government has not approved the acquisition of the new fighter.
At present  it is clamed to operate about 60 Tigers (of which 4 of the reconnaissance version) but an US government intelligence report mentions that only approximately 30 are possibly operationally capable.

The Indonesian AF Chief of Staff mentioned in March 2012 that they are considering the Republic of China offer for 1 Squadron of Northrop F-5E/Fs.

An information given in May 2013 by the defence minister states that 32 aircrafts are in use, mainly for training, and they will be all retired by 2019.