The Royal Thai Air Force (RTAF) has inducted upgraded F-5 TH and the RTAF U1 Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) in a ceremony, marking a major upgrade to the capability of the small but potent air arm.
A total of 14 F-5 fighter aircraft have been modified to the F-5 TH standard and will remain operational for another 15 years till 2035.
Thailand’s domestic defence industry in close partnership with the RTAF have produced 17 RTAF U1 UAVs. The RTAF’s new unmanned platform has an endurance of eight hours and an operating radius of 100 km. The U1 meets international airworthiness requirements and also features an automatic landing system. RTAF U1 Airworthiness UAS certification effort was jointly handled by the RTAF, Thai industry and certification authorities.
The upgraded F-5 THs receive structural upgrades and modern avionics, in addition to a new radar, self defence systems and Data Link. The ability to fire Beyond Visual Range Air-to-Air Missiles (BVRAAM), acquire targets at longer distances and an upgraded cockpit with better situational awareness coupled with a datalink, have dramatically upgraded the combat effectiveness of the ageing fighters.
The RTAF’s upgraded F-5 TH aircraft feature an Elbit radar which can detect targets at a distance of not less than 40 nautical miles. It also offers Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR) capability. Elbit was awarded a contract worth approximately US$93 million in August 2017 for a three-year programme to upgrade RTAF F-5s.
F-5 TH aircraft currently make use of Rafael’s Derby BVRAAM and Close Combat Missiles (CCM) that are in the air force inventory such as the Diehl IRIS- T, Raytheon AIM-9M and Rafael Python 4. RTAF Gripens and F-16s carry the InfraRed Imaging System – Tail/Thrust Vector Controlled (IRIS-T) CCM and additional missiles were ordered in June 2018 for the F-5 fleet.
Also supported are Navigation / Targeting Pods such as the Rafael Litening 3 and Rafael Sky Shield jamming pod which are currently in use with the air force. A substantial upgrade to the F-5 is related to the installation of a modern EW system comprised of a Radar Warning Receiver (RWR) and Countermeasure Dispenser System (CMDS).
The F-5 TH cockpit now features two Multi-Function Displays (MFDs), Color Moving Map display, updated Head Up Display (HUD) and Up-Front Control Panel (UFCP) and new radios. The pilots wear Elbit DASH IV Head Mounted Systems (HMS). A new Mission Computer (MC) has been installed. A Digital Video and Data Recorder (DVDR) system, able to record video and audio has also been fitted and it includes a post-flight briefing system (Debriefing System).
The Environment Control System (ECS) has been upgraded and the electricals have been beefed up to cater for future growth needs as well.
Flying into the Future
Prior to the F-5 Super Tigris modernisation and upgrade effort, RTAF F-5Es had a lifespan of 7,200 flying hrs. This has now been increased to up to 9,600 flying hours as a result of structural improvements and obsolescence management. The F-5 TH modernisation was performed in two phases; Phase 1 saw 10 aircraft being upgraded, while Phase 2 saw the remaining four aircraft upgraded. The RTAF has operated the F-5 since 1978.
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