NORTHROP GRUMMAN has submitted a bid to Saudi Arabia for proposed upgrade packages to the country's fleet of Northrop F-5s, while Lockheed Martin is pursuing selling the Royal Saudi Air Force (RSAF) up to 100 F-16C/Ds as a replacement aircraft.

Originally, the RSAF was looking to replace its F-5s, used in the fighter and reconnaissance roles, beginning in 1997. Financial constraints, however, may force it seriously to consider an upgrade.

The Lockheed Martin proposal for new F-16C/Ds is, however, predicated on the Saudi F-5s being used as a partial counter-trade to reduce the cost of the purchase.

This would have to done within the framework of a US Foreign Military Sales agreement. US manufacturers are not allowed to own combat aircraft after building them even by buying them back from former users.

Northrop Grumman confirms that it has proposed an upgrade programme for the RSAF, but declines to give any details. Sources suggest that, among the options, there is one covering a partial upgrade programme, with some of the remaining F-5s being withdrawn from service.

Northrop Grumman admits that it has included several F-5 upgrade options, ranging from a basic airframe life-extension to new cockpit avionics, upgraded radar and improved weapons package.

Other potential contenders for the RSAF F-5 replacement project include the Saab JAS39X Gripen. This aircraft is being offered by British Aerospace following its marketing and manufacturing tie-up with Saab on the Gripen.

Source: Flight International