Northrop F-5E/F in Service with Saudi Arabia

Last revised January 2, 2000

One of the primary users of the F-5A is the air force of Saudi Arabia, the Al Quwwat al Jawwiya as Sa'udiya, or Royal Saudi Air Force. An agreement made with Saudi Arabia in 1972 led to a series of orders for the F-5E, RF-5E, F-5F, and F-5B. The Saudis have financed some developments of the F-5 that are specifically tailored to their own requirements.

In 1971, Saudi Arabia acquired its first batch of F-5s--20 F-5Bs and 30 F-5Es plus training equipment under the Peace Hawk FMS program. The first F-5Es were delivered to Saudi Arabia in 1974, but further deliveries were delayed by the brief oil embargo that was imposed by Arab countries on the USA as retaliation for American support of Israel during the Yom Kippur War. However, deliveries were shortly resumed, and in 1975 Saudi Arabia ordered 40 more F-5Es and 20 F-5Fs under the Peace Hawk II program. In 1976 two additional F-5Fs were acquired, and in 1982, Saudi Arabia became the second customer for the RF-5E Tigereye when it ordered 10 examples. These replaced earlier F-5Es that had been equipped with the early F-5A-type camera nose. At the same time, four F-5Es and one F-5F were ordered as attrition replacements.

The F-5E replaced the Lightning F.Mk 53 in the attack role, and by 1978 was the RSAF's chief multirole fighter. No 3 Squadron based at Taif/Prince Fahd AB was the original RSAF F-5 type conversion unit, with No 15 Squadron at Khamis Mushayt handling initial F-5 training after its first aircraft were delivered. The second batch of F-5E/Fs delivered to the RSAF between 1976 and 1978 went to No 10 Squadron at Taif and to No 17 Squadron at Tabuk/King Faisal AB.

Saudi F-5s are dedicated to army close air support and can carry AGM-45 Shrike ASMs, GBU-10/12 laser-guided bombs, and Rockeye cluster bomb units. The RSAF's F-5s have the capability of carrying and launching the Hughes AGM-65A/B Maverick missile for ground attack and anti-shipping missions. Saudi F-5E/Fs are reportedly capable of carrying the French-built Matra R.550 Magic air to air missile. Royal Saudi Air Force F-5Es were fitted with the Litton LN-33 inertial navigation system and are fitted with inflight refuelling capability for use with the RSAF's KC-130 aerial tankers. They were provided with ALQ-101/119 ECM pods and ALR-46 RWR. The two-seaters were provided with canopy-mounted Northrop AVQ-27 manual laser target designators.

During the Gulf War, Saudi F-5s flew close air support missions during the closing stages of the ground war against Iraqi units in Kuwait. One RSAF F-5 was lost to ground fire on February 13, 1991, the pilot being killed. Approximately 20 RSAF Tigers have been lost to various causes over the years.


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

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

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