Israel extends Spanish Northrop F-5Bs life with new software

The prestigious honor of refurbishing the Northrop F-5B fighter jets, a task worth a formidable 40 million euros, has been bestowed upon the renowned Israeli company, IAI, via its delegate, Silon Aviación in Spain, by the Air Force. 

Israel upgrades Spanish Northrop F-5Bs life with new software
Photo credit: Reddit

The aircraft in question is an integral part of the 23rd Wing [Talavera la Real] cadre, charged with the crucial mission of training fighter pilots. The intent of this strategically vital contract is to prolong the operational lifespan of these veteran workhorses, which presently lack any conceivable replacement, for an additional decade until 2030. 

In the wake of receiving the green light from the Council of Ministers earlier this year, the Ministry of Defense publicized in May that the comprehensive agreement incorporates “an assortment of services and procurement requisite for the said modernization. These include, but are not limited to, analysis, design, prototyping, testing, and maintenance during experiments, support for aeronautical certification, mass production, receipt or alteration of serial equipment, its assembly and upkeep, and engineering aid for the sundry subsystems constituting the system.”

Modernization for the second time by IAI

The Israeli firm IAI, renowned for its proficiency in similar undertakings, previously undertook an extensive modernization of the fleet in the early 2000s. Presently, the firm is allotted the task of executing numerous software upgrades, in addition to maintenance of the equipment, which was installed two decades ago. 

The program is constrained by a budgetary upper limit of €40 million, though it seems plausible that the actual expenditure may not reach this bound. The program’s primary objective, as stated in the resolution attainable from, is to address the obsolescence of the avionics, thereby extending the operational lifespan of the aircraft till 2030. 

The upgrade of the avionics components has been mandated to be accomplished within three years. Each fighter is anticipated to receive the scheduled upgrades by November 2026, as per the timelines established by the Air Force. 

These aircraft have already been subjected to an initial update two decades ago, as the Defense pointed out that the avionics on these apparatuses were replaced in the early 2000s. 

With the inevitable progression of time, the various subsystems necessitate another update, insisted the Spanish ministry about the impending upgrade.

19 F-5Ms in service

Currently stationed at Wing 23 in Talavera la Real [Badajos], the Air Force has a cadre of 19 F-5Ms, whose service records stretch back over half a century. These military aircraft have undergone a process of modernization at the dawn of this century, an endeavor aimed at augmenting their lifecycle. 

Two decades after this modernization, the need to replace these venerable warriors of the sky has ascended in importance. A fact underscored by the repeated emphasis from the Chief of the Air Staff [JEMA], Air General Javier Salto.

From analog to digital software

As part of its core flight management system, the original software of the Northrop F-5B was primarily analog-based, utilizing the AN/APQ-153 radar system for primary navigation and target acquisition.

This rudimentary system, while technologically innovative during its inception, needed modernization to keep up with the evolving dynamics of contemporary aerial warfare.

IAI made significant upgrades to the Northrop F-5B, integrating advanced software into this classic fighter jet. These improvements were intended to make the aircraft more efficient, reliable, and compatible with modern warfare technologies, thereby enhancing its overall performance. 


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