As we covered in 2019, starting in 1978, the Swiss Air Force bought 110 late-model F-5E/F Tigers to augment their locally made F+W Emmen Mirage IIIs and replace their older Hawker Hunter aircraft (and a few downright obsolete De Havilland Venoms), becoming the country’s primary fighter until license-produced F-18s were ordered from Emmen in 1996.
The F-5s served the Swiss well but, with the production line ending in 1987 and the parts supply dwindling in part due to strict U.S. sanctions on anything F-5-related as Iran still flies the type, the Swiss phased out their Tigers from front line operations by 2018.
In 2019, the U.S. Navy bought the 23 most advanced Swiss F-5s with the fewest hours, along with most of the spare parts the country had left, for $39.7 million with the intention of feeding them into Navy Air’s aggressor squadrons.
The Swiss were reportedly happy to see them go at the time:
“If the Americans want to take over the scrap iron, they should do it,” Beat Flach, a Green Liberal lawmaker, told SonntagsZeitung, which reported on the planned sale in late 2019. “It’s better than having the Tigers rot in a parking lot.”
With the Tigers now in the U.S., Tactical Air Support just picked up a fat (up to $265 million) contract to rework 22 of the 23 1970s-vintage F-5s and support them into 2027. The contract includes a big chunk of work going back to Emmen in Switzerland as well. Of course, it also includes some work to eight F-5s already in the Navy’s fleet, but still…
Tactical Air Support Inc., Jacksonville, Florida, is awarded a $265,300,000 firm-fixed-price, cost-reimbursable, indefinite-delivery/indefinite-quantity contract. This contract provides non-recurring engineering, inspection, modification, and block upgrade efforts for 16 F-5E and six F-5F Tiger II aircraft from a Swiss Confederation configuration to a Navy/Marine Corps N+/F+ configuration. Additionally, this contract procures eight block upgrade retrofits to existing fleet aircraft. Work will be performed in Jacksonville, Florida (32%); Emen, Switzerland (16%); Carlsbad, California (8%); Clarksburg, Maryland (7%); Grand Rapids, Michigan (6%); Woodland Hills, California (5%); Olathe, Kansas (5%); Stead, Nevada (5%); Salt Lake City, Utah (3%); Minneapolis, Minnesota (2%); Waco, Texas (2%); Auburn, Alabama (1%); Deerfield, Illinois (1%); Fairborn, Ohio (1%); Avenel, New Jersey (1%); Jupiter, Florida (1%); Camarillo, California (1%); Warner Robbins, Georgia (1%); Franklin, North Carolina (1%); and Nashville, Tennessee (1%), and is expected to be completed in June 2027. No funds will be obligated at the time of award; funds will be obligated on individual orders as they are issued. This contract was not competitively procured pursuant to U.S. Code 2304(c)(1). The Naval Air Warfare Aviation Division, Patuxent River, Maryland, is the contracting activity (N0042122D0095).
All told, this puts the sticker price on these aircraft to almost $14 million a pop if all options are used, which seems kinda high for what they are, especially when there are eight squadrons worth of very supportable F-16Cs already in storage in the desert at Davis-Monthan. Open-source databases list no less than 106 F-16C airframes at AMARG. It should be noted that the Navy formerly flew dedicated Block 30 F-16Ns as aggressors between 1988 and 1998— because they were better than the F-5s— and still fly 14 old F16A/B models they’ve had since 2002, so it’s not a dumb idea.
Seems like someone in the aggressor biz just like to keep some “MiG-28s” around or at least may have some sort of concern about the Iranian HESA Kowsar, a reworked fourth-gen(ish) F-5.