The Turkish air force's first upgraded Northrop F-5A/B fighter is expected to begin flight testing 18 months after the service concludes a contract with the recently selected Israel Aircraft Industries (IAI)-led consortium.

IAI and its partners, Elbit and Singapore Technologies Aerospace (ST Aero), will begin contractual negotiations with Ankara shortly.

The $75 million deal calls for the avionics upgrade of 48 F-5s, which Turkey plans to use as lead-in fighter-trainers for its locally built Lockheed Martin F-16C/Ds.

The 1553B-standard avionics package has still to be finalised, but is expected to consist of a Litton LN-93 inertial-navigation system, either a GEC-Marconi or El-Op head-up display, Elbit mission computer and multi-function displays.

The cockpit will also be reconfigured for hands-on-throttle-and-stick operations. It is understood that the aircraft will be similarly configured to Venezuela's nine Canadian-built CF-5A/Bs, recently upgraded by ST Aero.

The Turkish aircraft to be upgraded will be from a stock of Dutch-built NF-5A/Bs, which are structurally similar to the CF-5. A follow-on structural life-extension programme is planned.

Under the previously agreed teaming arrangement, the partners will each have a one-third share of the programme. IAI is to be the lead contractor and act as an integrator, with Elbit as the prime system-supplier, while ST Aero will take responsibility for installation of the equipment.

It is planned to produce four flight-test prototypes - two single-seat F-5As and a two tandem-seat Bs - all of which are expected to be flown within 26-28 months of work starting. The bulk of the upgrade will be performed in Turkey, which also has an option to produce A-kit installation fixtures, which ST Aero will develop.

Source: Flight International