F-5E/F Tiger II's Use of Precision Guided Weapons

A preliminary look at Kitty Hawk's upcoming F-5E/F in 1/32 scale

Several weeks ago, Kitty Hawk announced their intentions to release a large scale Tiger after sharing several CAD images on their Facebook page. It usually isn't prudent to jump all over CAD images with criticism so early on because many things change through the course of a model's production timeline. It would be like saying your child looks nothing like you after catching a glimpse of the ultrasound.
Never the less, the image gives us an idea of part placement, engineering and features like open panels and weapons that will be included. Since as you know I have a distinct fascination with aircraft weaponry, that will be the main point of interest here. So, let's explore the world of the F-5 Tiger II and see if we can't figure out what to expect from Kitty Hawk.

The Kit so far...

Northrop F-5E with Mavericks and AIM-9Bs

Northrop F-5F two seat variant also with Mavericks and AIM-9Bs

Northrop RF-5E reconnaissance version with the same loadout 
Northrop F-5E/F showing the weapons presumably included in the kit such as GBU-10 and GBU-12 Paveway series bombs, along with AIM-9L/Ms
These are a few of the images released by Kitty Hawk that show the weaponry apparently included in the kit. The first three pictures are of all three variants - F-5E, two seat F-5F and the square nosed RF-5E - and each image shows all three bearing the same weapons load configuration (though there really shouldn't be anything but AIM-9s on the RF-5E). The forth image is a view from underneath showing several sets of Paveway series laser guided bombs and two different types of Sidewinder missiles on the wingtips.
The laser guided bombs is what first caught my attention. I had never seen a USAF F-5E/F carrying GBU-10s or GBU-12s. The Tiger II was a popular export aircraft, serving as front line fighters on a nearly every continent, yet I still could not recall having seen such a load on even a foreign F-5. So, the hunt for references begins.
This post is the result of two weeks worth of research in the hopes of finding credible references to support Kitty Hawk's inclusion of the GBU-10/12 laser guided bomb and the AGM-65 Maverick in their upcoming kit.

The F-5E/F in USAF service

The story of the F-5 is lengthy and complex. I will not be writing a definitive history on the life and times of the little fighter that had become the workhorse of well over a dozen nations. It is a tale interwoven with politics and economics, two topics which I care nothing about. The F-5's capability has been made even more complicated by a series of upgrades that has been able to extend the fighter's life into the 21st Century. It is these upgrades that have made tracing the appropriate weapon configurations particularly difficult. Couple that with an incredible lack of visual references and suddenly I have become mired in a bog of too much and too little information to work with.

As it is, I must start some where. The F-5E/F began life with the United States Air Force, so that is where I looked first. 


Foremost, let's examine the technical capabilities of the F-5E. Above is a page from a USAF technical order detailing the legal weapons load configuration on F-5E/F aircraft servicing in the Air Force. It lists a series of munitions and the stations of the aircraft that can support them. No where on the list is the option to load any of the munitions included in the Kitty Hawk renderings. If Kitty Hawk is releasing an option for an F-5 in US Air Force markings, the modeler will need to know based on the station requirements shown above that neither the Maverick nor the LGBs can be supported.
Even with that evidence, I wanted to do some more digging. It has been a headache just to find photos of F-5Es with more than a couple of air-to-air missiles loaded, and near impossible to find much else, especially in regards to a USAF version.

F-5E with target drone

The only decent photo I can find of F-5Es in USAF livery loaded with air to ground munitions. In this case, BLU fire bomb canisters

The only images I have found of USAF F-5Fs carrying AGM-65 Mavericks were taken during the weapons evaluation test phase over Edwards AFB in 1976 and not on any operational aircraft.

An F-5F with two Mavericks under evaluation 

The first F-5E took to the air in August, 1972 and delivery of the first Tiger II to the 425th TFTS was in April the following year. Given that the images above were taken four years after the F-5E/F became operational, I would assume the Maverick was never considered as a primary weapon for Tiger II's in the US inventory.
As a matter of fact, after the war ended in Vietnam, the F-5E/F was never accepted as a front line fighter for the United States. Instead, it became the premier dissimilar combat trainer of the day and also formed the basis of USAF squadrons established in order to train foreign nations that had acquired it. The F-5 took on the roll of aggressor thereby nullifying its use as a ground attack aircraft.

What about the laser guided bombs?
The fact that the technical order makes no mention of the use of LGBs on F-5E/Fs into the late 1970's leads me to the same conclusion as with the AGM-65 Mavericks. They were unnecessary for the operational aircraft. That is not to say, however, that it was impossible or that they were not tested.

Here is an F-5E with a GBU-12 on each of its four available pylons being tested at Edwards AFB
In the early 1970's, Northrop had developed the AN/AVQ-27 Laser Target Designation System, a cockpit mounted site that would have allowed an F-5F aircrew to manually illuminate a target for destruction with the GBU-12s. The system was similar to the AN/AVQ-9 Paveway ALD mounted to the canopy of F-4D during the fledgling days of Paveway employment. The AVQ-27 was even used by Navy Intruders and TA-4Fs in 1972 over South East Asia. It would also be put to use by foreign countries.

AN/AVQ-27 LTDS
But I have no visual proof beyond that. In cross referencing the load capabilities from the technical order above, you will notice that the outboard pylon is approved to carry up to 750 lbs (the M117 GP bomb is 750 lbs), while the inboard pylon can hold up to 1,000 lbs (Mk 83). The only station capable of supporting the weight of a 2,000 lb bomb is the centerline pylon, which the chart shows as the Mk 84. The GBU-12 is only 500 lbs, light enough for both pylons, proven by the photo above. The GBU-10 has a 2,000 lb Mk 84 bomb body making the centerline the only compatible station. Kitty Hawk's placement of  the GBU-10 on a wing pylon would be incorrect.
Why?
A weapon is restricted to certain hardpoints for several reasons such as the weight of the munition is beyond the limitation of the air frame at that position, high drag index, or an issue with the safe release of the bomb. Just because there is a pylon there does not mean the aircraft can carry any bomb you put on it. If the laser guided bombs were never approved to load on a USAF F-5E/F and the technical order remained unchanged, then its unlikely a USAF version of the Tiger II will qualify for Kitty Hawk's load configuration.

What about the air-to-air missiles?
By the looks of it, Kitty Hawk intends to include two versions of the Sidewinder, the AIM-9B and AIM-9L. For inclusion with a USAF F-5E/F, the B is far too early a variant in my opinion. While the L might have found its way onto some later aggressors, I think the model would be better served to include the AIM-9E as well as the AIM-9J/N/P.

F-5E with AIM-9E

AIM-9J on F-5E

The usefulness of the USAF technical order governing the weapons capability of the F-5E/F pretty much stops there. Vietnam had shown the world that precision weapons were the wave of the future. Dozens of nations had stock in the Tiger II, an affordable, easily maintained aircraft with the ability to receive upgrades that were immediately beneficial and cost effective. While the United States was content to let the F-5E live out its life as a trainer of men, the rest of its operators trained their finances on making it a killer. New avionics and weapons would keep the Tiger II relevant well into the future. Maybe the Kitty Hawk weapons have a place after all.

The F-5E/F around the world

Despite the Tiger II's popularity around the world the number of photos depicting it with any worth while weaponry is seriously low. Much of what I know comes from anecdotal statements or online news sources. Never the less, lets see if we can piece together some information.

The Republic of China Air Force

Taiwan began locally manufacturing F-5Es in 1973 through their Aero Industry Development Center and by the 1980's, it had upgraded the Tiger II with new radar warning receivers, chaff and flare dispensers and, notably, the fore mentioned AVQ-27 LTDS along with a compliment of laser guided bombs and AGM-65B Mavericks.

A TGM-65B Maverick on the pylon of an F-5E. The F-5E in RoCAF service is only capable of flying with the Scene Mag version of the Maverick. Also note the inert AIM-9P

This F-5E has two live AGM-65Bs on each of its pylons and AIM-9P

Two more AGM-65Bs on the other wing gives RoCAF F-5Es the ability to field four Mavericks

A single TGM-65 on a RoCAF F-5E along with a wingtip mounted AIM-9P
Unfortunately, I am unable to find any photos currently of a RoCAF F-5F with Mavericks. One must always be careful with air show references as well. Though several of the above photos show the F-5s with two Mavericks on both wings, I have only been able to find RoCAF Tigers in flight with one Maverick per wing. So, it is unknown to me whether all four stations are wired to accept AGM-65s or just stations two and six.

RoCAF F-5E in flight with AGM-65B

RoCAF F-5E in flight with two TGM-65s

In regards to the ever elusive Paveway series bombs, I was only able to find one source with useful photos. Credit goes to Alan Lopez who messaged me on my Facebook page and sent me these photos from a Chinese publication titled "F-5E/F Tiger Family in RoCAF Chinese Version".



While it isn't easy for most of us to read, the evidence is fairly straight forward. The top photo shows the clear use of GBU-12s on both pylons of an F-5E. Notice the caption makes no mention of the F-5F. Presumably, the F-5F could be the target designator, illuminating targets for the F-5E with the AVQ-27. But then I found a YouTube video that yielded this screen shot of an F-5F with four GBU-12s.

RoCAF F-5F with GBU-12s

There is no real image of the F-5E/F carrying the GBU-10 but the second photo has a graphic, similar to the one included in USAF technical orders, that shows the GBU-10 is approved to load on the centerline station. Again, this would create a discrepancy if the Kitty Hawk kit calls for GBU-10 placement on the wing pylons. Further more, the GBU-10 in Kitty Hawk's rendering is an early Paveway I version while the RoCAF version is a Paveway II, distinguished by the spring loaded rear fins.
Whatever your opinion on Kitty Hawk's weapons, there are a number of different munitions you can put on a RoCAF F-5E/F. Here is a substantial list taken from the Taiwan Air Power website.


The presence of Mk 20 Rockeyes on the list is the most intriguing inclusion. Here are some more possible load configurations for RoCAF F-5s.

Not flashy but not controversial either. A RoCAF F-5E stands on the ramp with four inert Mk 82s and AIM-9Ps on the wing tips

RoCAF F-5F with LAU-51 19 tube 2.75" rocket launchers and inert AIM-9Ps on the wing tips

Republic of Korea

When I started this escapade, I felt certain that the F-5s used by the RoKAF would have employed at the very least the AGM-65 considering their aging F-4s and new TA-50s utilize them.

RoKAF F-4 with AGM-65 in front of a GBU-12

RoKAF TA-50 launches a Maverick
But I came up short. There are no sources that suggest either the Paveway series or the Maverick were used on upgraded F-5E/Fs. If we will be capable of building a RoKAF version of Kitty Hawk's new model, I found a few load configurations that are more basic.

Dual loading operations on a RoKAF F-5E. Each wing is getting two Mk 82 500 lb bombs. The wing tips have AIM-9Ps loaded

RoKAF F-5E with an interesting load of cluster bomb units in what appear to be SUU-30 dispensers

Seems to be the most typical loadout for these little fighters. RoKAF F-5 with two AIM-9Ps on the wingtips

Royal Thai Air Force

The RTAF operated F-5Es and have set about upgrading them and redesignating them as F-5Ts. Whether or not this would effect Kitty Hawk's potential model remains to be seen. 
I am fairly certain the RTAF F-5s do not operate the AGM-65 or the GBU-10. I cannot say the same for the GBU-12. Though I have not uncovered a photo of the aircraft carrying the bomb with the RTAF, I have found some circumstantial evidence pointing to its likelihood. Below are two photos taken during a Royal Thai Air Force display.

Airmen in front of a RTAF F-5F. You can see the tail kit of a GBU-12 on display in the upper left hand corner of the shot

Here in the foreground of the same display is the computer control group of a GBU-12. It sits behind a Mk 82 Snakeye and a 7 tube rocket launcher
There is also further anecdotal evidence that suggests the RTAF F-5s are capable of operating with the GBU-12 and have even started testing updated versions of the Paveway for their new F-16s. Unfortunately, I cannot find photos.
For a few load configurations beyond what may or may not be included in Kitty Hawk's kit, see the photos below.

A RTAF F-5 flanks an array of Mk 80 series bombs and several rocket launchers

An RTAF F-5E and F-5F on display. The F-5F has a MER with 5 Mk 81/82 bombs on the centerline. The F-5E appears to have a 2,000 lb Mk 84 on the centerline

RTAF F-5F with inert AIM-9L/M on the wing tip. This would correspond with what Kitty Hawk has included in the kit
The RTAF F-5s are even capable of supporting the large GPU-5 gun pod from the centerline.

Singapore Air Force

Singapore has been operating the F-5E/F for quite some time and have been steadily upgrading them since the early 1990's, their most current version being designated F-5S/T. They apparently received AGM-65s for their aircraft in the 1980s and continue to use them today.

Singapore F-5 on display in front of two inert AGM-65s

Singapore F-5 with a MER full of Mk 80 series bombs on the centerline and the aft end of an inert AGM-65 just visible on the right
While there seems to be some speculation over the possible employment of laser guided bombs by the Singapore Air Force, I have not seen much evidence for it as yet. However, they do seem to make use of other conventional weapons, much like what we've seen already.

This Singapore Air Force F-5 has two "display only" Mk 82 bombs on the pylons. There also appears to be a SUU practice bomb dispenser on the centerline and a display AIM-9P as well

You can make out the distinct shape and color of the Rockeye on this Singapore Air Force F-5. Also note a Mk 82 on the centerline

Swiss Air Force

The F-5 is operated mostly by reservists in the Swiss Air Force and is used primarily as an air defense fighter. Though its seen some upgrades over the years, there is nothing to indicate that it ever adopted laser guided bombs as a weapon of choice. After the Hunter was retired from service, it seems that a few F-5Fs were upgraded to support the AGM-65.

Swiss Air Force F-5F with two TGM-65s during an exercise in Sweden, 1991
Aside from that, there is nothing much that points to further use of air-to-ground weapons by the Swiss F-5s. It is more typical to see them bearing several AIM-9P missiles and a fuel tank.

Swiss Air Force F-5E with a colorful AIM-9P
A Swiss F-5, however, does afford you the opportunity to create some brightly colored and interesting dioramas.

Day-glow orange fuel tank and AIM-9P typical of Swiss aggressors

Royal Moroccan Air Force

For the Moroccan Air Force I had to rely text sources rather than photographs. Apparently, they received AGM-65Bs in the early 1980s for use on their Tigers. The GBU-12 is also listed among the ordnance used by the RMAF, and their use with the F-5 fleet looks promising considering their Tigers have been upgraded to use the LITENING targeting pod.

Moroccan F-5F with LITENING pod on centerline
Aside from that, there is no further information I can offer at this time as the Moroccan F-5s seem more than happy to fly around with no weapons at all. 

RMAF F-5E with ELT 555 ECM pod

RMAF F-5E with a pair of inert AIM-9Ps

Royal Saudi Air Force

Of the three munitions in question here, I can tell only for certain that the Saudi F-5s were capable of wielding the AGM-65 Maverick as shown by this photo taken shortly after Desert Storm.

RSAF F-5E shown with an assortment of ordnance, including a Maverick. Notice the absence of any laser guided munition here
In case you had questions as to whether it could be loaded on an operational RSAF F-5F, fear no more.

RSAF F-5F with two TGM-65s
 The question of the use of the Paveway series of bombs arises again. I found no photographic evidence pointing to their use. One could even say that the first photo of the RSAF F-5 above that does not contain an LGB in the weapons arrangement is perhaps evidence enough that they were not in use. However, one source makes mention of the Saudi's receiving the AVQ-27 laser designator, though it fails to mention anything regarding its use with the appropriate munitions. Another source corroborates that claim while also mentioning that Saudi F-5Fs utilized the AVQ-27 in conjunction with "GBUs" of some type during Operation Desert Storm.
One online Desert Storm resource mentions that the Saudi F-5Fs were armed with GBU-10s along side fuel tanks on the wing pylons. I have spoken with the admin of that page, and was told he received that information from secondary sources and he, in fact, doubts the GBU-10s were loaded on the wing stations and may not have been used at all.
The use of GBUs with Saudi F-5s remains, at least in my mind, speculative but not improbable. I would, however, rule out GBU-10s on any of the wing pylons especially paired with the added weight of external fuel tanks. If you really want to build a Saudi F-5 and don't want to use Mavericks, you can always load it with two Mk 82 GP bombs and call it a day.

RSAF F-5E with two 500 lb bombs

Royal Jordanian Air Force

Like much of the other air forces operating F-5s, I could not conjure up a photo of a RJAF Tiger II with LGBs or AGM-65s despite one source suggesting they used D model Mavericks. It is far more common to see a Jordanian F-5 carrying nothing at all, which makes for a rather boring model.

This Royal Jordanian Air Force F-5F has used its cannon recently
RJAF F-5E with AIM-9Ps and dirty cannons

Cannon use seems to be a favorite of the Jordanians.

Iran

I thought that the Islamic Republic of Iran Air Force F-5E/Fs would be another potential user of GBU-12s and AGM-65s considering they were already in use with IRIAF F-4s but once again I was wrong. Never the less, their F-5s still have an impressive array of capabilities.

A wide variety of weapons on display in front of an IRIAF F-5E including Mk 82s, 19 tube rocket launchers, and AIM-9Ps

This IRIAF F-5 is showing off an impressive load. In the foreground is a 750 lb M117 and a Mk 82 high drag "Snakeye"

A larger assortment including a Mk 84 2,000 lb bomb. Note the lack of any LGB or AGM

Another fully loaded IRIAF F-5

Brazilian Air Force

The Brazilians have made a great effort to update their fleet of F-5E/Fs. Redesignated as F-5EM/FMs, they are currently capable of delivering GBU-12s and may possibly be able to operate the LITENING targeting pod.

GBU-12 on a Brazilian F-5EM

Possibilities

Kenya operates a fair number of F-5E/Fs and have been working to upgrade them to the EM standard as well. They have even seen combat against elements of Al Shabaab. I have not found any pictures of a KAF F-5 armed with any air-to-ground munitions but I did find one source that suggests the KAF may have Mavericks in their inventory.

KAF airmen pose along side an F-5F, leaning on an AIM-9P
There are also conflicting reports of the Mexican Air Force F-5s being able to employ AGM-65s as well, but I have found no solid evidence to support it.

Mexican Air Force F-5E with several different rocket launchers and an AIM-9B on the wing tip

What do I make of it?

I think that a sure conclusion is going to have to wait until I know what markings will be included in the actual kit. For now, I will hold off judgement of a kit that hasn't even made it passed the CAD stage yet. However, based on what I have found, I am doubtful that the GBU-10 was ever loaded on a wing station as depicted by Kitty Hawk's early images. While the AGM-65 and the GBU-12 are used by the F-5E in some air forces, it is not common, especially in F-5s that have seen little modernization. 
Regardless of your initial impressions of the kit, your intentions for building one, or even your thoughts on Kitty Hawk, I hope you found this post useful should you pursue an F-5 in the future. It certainly taught me a lot but I also realize there is still much I do not know about the Tiger II. So, as always, if any one has any more information that would benefit this post, please feel free to share it with me.

Thanks for reading.

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