Attrition: The Forever Fighter


November 24, 2011: The Spanish Air Force is having another five of its F-5 fighters refurbished. This work will strengthen the fuselage of the elderly F-5s. The four decade old SF-5s were assembled in Spain and only a quarter of the original 70 aircraft remain in service, mainly for ground attack missions and training F-18 pilots.

The F-5 is another Cold War relic that still manages to find work. Over 2,200 were built between the late 1950s and 1987. Now, there's money to be made rebuilding the several hundred that are still in service. Brazil, for example, is paying $85 million to refurbish and upgrade eleven of its F-5 jet fighters. An F-5 flight simulator is included in the package. Brazil bought the eleven F-5 fighters from Jordan, and the upgrades will bring the Jordanian F-5s up to the same standards of the refurbished F-5s Brazil already has.

The F-5s is a 12 ton fighter roughly similar to the 1950s era MiG-21, and is a contemporary of the Russian fighter. The F-5 was built mainly for export to nations that could not afford the top-line Western fighters, but did not want the MiG-21s. The F-5 is normally armed with two 20mm cannon, and three tons of missiles and bombs.

The upgraded Brazilian aircraft is called the F-5EM and has modern electronics, making it capable to using long range air-to-air missile (the Israeli radar guided Derby, in addition to the heat-seeking Derby). A look-and-shoot helmet is also part of the upgrade. There is only one 20mm cannon, but lots of missiles and smart bombs.

Brazil bought 42 F-5Bs in 1975 and 22 F-5Es in 1988. Starting six years ago, 34 of the 46 surviving aircraft were upgraded to F-5EMs, which are good for at least another decade of service. Brazil was so satisfied with the way this turned out, that they expanded the program to the Jordanian F-5s they got cheap on the second-hand market.

Switzerland was once a major user (with over a hundred of them) and has found many customers for its well cared for fleet of used, but still capable F-5s.



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