Paul lewis/Singapore

The Royal Thai Air Force (RTAF) is to finalise a contract with Elbit Systems to upgrade its fleet of Northrop F-5E/Fs, in anticipation that funding for the programme will now become available following the recent cancellation of a planned Boeing F/A-18C/D purchase.

Thailand selected the Israeli company as the prime contractor for its F-5 avionics upgrade just before the start of the country's recent economic crisis. It is understood that the RTAF committee overseeing the programme wants to complete contract negotiations now so it can implement the upgrade as soon as future funding can be made available.

Cuts in defence spending and the devaluation of the Thai baht has effectively undermined any new equipment acquisitions, including the $392 million purchase of eight F/A-18s. A US Government decision to relieve Thailand of its F/A-18 foreign military sales contractual obligations will give the RTAF greater flexibility to upgrade the first 18 of the RTAF's 35 strong F-5E/F fleet.

The F-5 package will focus primarily on improvements to the F-5's weapons and navigation systems. Work will include installing a replacement Elbit mission computer, new electronic countermeasure systems, radar warning receiver and improved identification friend or foe system. The improvements build on an earlier upgrade of Thailand's F-5, which included a GEC-Marconi HUDWAC head-up display and Litton inertial navigation system (INS).

The aircraft were also modified to carry the Rafael Python 3 air to air missile, and providing additional funds can be found, it is suggested the Python 4 missile will also be procured. It had originally been hoped to fit a new multi-mode radar to the F-5. Because of budgetary constraints, the RTAF will instead refurbish its Emerson APG-153/157/159 radars.

Singapore Technologies Aerospace (ST Aero), with partner Israel Aircraft Industries, had also been competing for the Thai contract. The Singapore company, in the meantime, is continuing to pursue a possible follow-on avionics upgrade of six Venezuelan air force CF-5A/Bs.

ST Aero has already upgraded eight CF-5As and a single two-seat B, now redesignated VF-5A/Bs, with a new mission computer, Litton INS, Honeywell radar altimeter and digital communications bus.

As with the first batch, Venezuela is believed to want to finance any follow-on work with government-issued bonds, whereas Singapore is pressing for cash.

Source: Flight International