Taiwan is ‘abandoning’ the F-5E/F fighter by the end of 2023

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By the close of 2023, Taipei has announced its plans to retire the Northrop F-5E/F, a locally manufactured aircraft that has been central to the training programs of the Republic of China Air Force [ROC or Taiwan]. In its place, they will introduce the indigenous T-5 Brave Eagle aircraft. 

Photo by Lance Cpl. Ashley Phillips

The T-5 Brave Eagle has held a longstanding reputation as a reliable training facilitator for Taiwan’s top pilots. It has also played a pivotal role in the nation’s air defense initiatives. Taiwan’s Youth Daily News reports, “With the increased reliance on the second-generation aircraft and Brave Eagle trainers, the F-5E/F fighter jet is on its way for a much-awaited retirement from its training duties.” 

A statement from Taiwan’s Defense Ministry to the same newspaper, however, clarified that the “RF-5E – a variant of the F-5E fighter jet tailored for reconnaissance, will continue in its active service.” This particular aircraft holds a unique position within Taiwan’s aviation landscape. Not only does it offer military intelligence training through its sophisticated camera technology, but it also provides crucial civilian protection during natural disasters.

Photo by HSU Tsun-hsu/AFP

The F-5E/F is history

During the early 1950s, Taiwan found itself on the brink of invasion by the Chinese Communist Party. Not only this, but they also faced significant obstacles in procuring high-performance fighter jets. In response, they decided to use a combination of international cooperation and domestic production to help bolster their defenses. 

In 1962, a concerted effort was made to expand Taiwan’s self-defense capabilities. They teamed up with Northrop Corporation from the US to produce F-5E/F fighters. Both the Taiwanese and American governments reached a mutual understanding, signing a memorandum of agreement to facilitate this alliance. Northrop generously provided key technologies, vital personnel training, and various other elements for aircraft production. History was made on October 30, 1963, when the first F-5E fighter, christened ‘Zhongzheng’, was rolled out from its Taiwanese production facility. 

The F-5E/F possesses an impressively aerodynamic design. A notable feature of the plane is its specialized auxiliary air intakes on both sides. These can be opened during takeoff or when the plane is traveling at low speeds, thus augmenting the volume of the exhaust gases produced. 

Although the F-5E/F has some similarities with the preceding F-5A/B models, it also comes with distinct advancements. For instance, the producers highlighted certain areas for improvement and revamped the plane’s ailerons. They also increased the wing leading-edge baseplate and expanded the wing area by an impressive 16 square feet. As a result, the plane’s maximum lift capacity grew by nearly 50%. This extensive overhaul thus transformed the F-5E/F into a highly maneuverable fighter jet, with capabilities unmatched by its predecessors.

Participation in a lot of drills

During its prime, it held the prestigious position as the core aircraft for the Taiwanese Air Force’s five flying wings. 

This aircraft model played a key role in numerous Hanguang, Qiaotai, and Huatong drills, and was actively involved in combating presumed enemy squadrons, analyzing the strategies of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army. 

As the F-16, Mirage 2000, and other aircraft types took their places in the service lineup, the F-5E/F fighter saw itself transition to a training role within the ministry. As the time comes for this aircraft to retire from its active duties, we must recognize that its contributions to Taiwan’s defense are unmatched and simply irreplaceable.


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