Northrop F-5E/F Tiger II in Service with Malaysia

Last revised February 25, 2017

Malaysia became a F-5E/F customer in 1975 when it ordered a total of 16 aircraft (14 E's and 2 F's) . Three attrition replacements were later required. The Tentara Udara Diraja Malaysia (Royal Malaysian Air Force) operated a single squadron (No. 12 "Lightning") of F-5E fighters. . In 1982, 4 F-5Fs were received and the two F-5Bs already in Malaysian service were transferred to the Royal Thai AF..

The TUDM was the launch customer for the RF-5E Tigereye reconnaissance aircraft, with two examples being acquired in 1983. These operate with No 11 "Cobra" Squadron.

Both squadrons operate in the air defense role from the former Australian base at Butterworth. They carry the air force designation M29. They are armed with AIM-9s and have a PGM delivery capability in their secondary ground attack role. Training duties were initially carried out by a pair of F-5Bs, but these were passed along to Thailand when the TUDM acquired four F-5F two-seaters.

Malaysia had initially considered ordering a second batch of F-5s to equip another air defense squadron, but turned instead to the consideration of more advanced aircraft such as the Panavia Tornado and the F-16. After a long competition, the TUDM ordered a mix of MiG-29Ns for air defense and F/A-18Ds for ground attack. MiG-29N deliveries have begun and two new squadrons have been formed. Consequently, the days of the F-5E with the TUDM may be numbered.

Out of 17 F-5Es, four F-5F, and two RF-5Es delivered, about six are believed to remain in service. Although it had been planned to retire the remaining TUDM F-5E/Fs following delivery of 18 MiG-29Ns, Malaysia may now retain them in service. Discussions are now underway with Bristal Aerospace about a proposed upgrade with FIAR Grifo F/X Plus multi-mode radars.

In 2015, the Malaysian AF F-5s were taken out of service, but some were kept in storage.

Discussions are now underway to seek a replacement for the MiG-29 and F-5 fighters that are scheduled to be retired by the end of 2015. Aircraft under consideration are the Eurofighter Typhoon, the Dassault Rafale, the F/A-18E/F Super Hornet, and the SAAB JAS-39 Gripen.


  1. Air International, Airscene, April 1996, p. 197.

  2. Northrop F-5/F-20, Jerry Scutts, Ian Allan Ltd, 1986.

  3. F-5: Warplane for the World, Robbie Shaw, Motorbooks, 1990

  4. Northrop F-5, Jon Lake and Robert Hewson, World Airpower Journal, Vol 25, 1996.

  5. Royal Malaysian Air Force, Wikipedia,

  6. E-mail from Heng Choon How on date of introduction of Malaysian F-5E/Fs.