The Navy said on Sept. 20 the Specialized and Proven Aircraft program office (PMA-226) delivered the first upgraded Northrop Grumman [NOC] F-5N tactical adversary fighter.

The new aircraft was delivered to Naval Air Station Patuxent River, Md., to start ground and flight tests as part of the project to upgrade recently acquired F-5s. The Navy noted while the F-5 has acted as a high altitude, high-speed tactical fighter used as an adversary aggressor by the Navy and Marine Corps, it lacks modern safety systems, avionics, and common tactical capabilities in modern aircraft.

This delivered aircraft is the first of three F-5Ns to be used as prototypes with a modernized cockpit, avionics and supporting architecture to improve safety, capability and reliability as well as resolve increasing obsolescence issues.

After completing these tests, PMA-226 will use the upgrades as part of the conversion of the 16 F-5E and six F-5F aircraft the Navy recently acquired from the Swiss Air Force for adversary purposes.

The Navy aims to convert the 22 new aircraft under the Avionics Reconfiguration and Tactical Enhancement/Modernization for Inventory Standardization (ARTEMIS) program. The service said PMA-226 already completed the independent logistics assessment for the ARTEMIS Program in June and expects to reach a Milestone C decision by early fiscal year 2022.

In July, Navy officials said these F-5s bought from Switzerland are planned to help close the current strike fighter shortfall faster than previously planned. This plan will use the F-5s as well as F-16s acquired from the Air Force and Air National Guard to replace Boeing [BA] F/A-18E/F Super Hornets reserve fighters used as opposition forces in training so they could move to the active fleet (Defense Daily, July 19).

F-5 aircraft receiving the block upgrade prototype modifications will be designated as F-5N+/F+. The Navy added the upgrades will add instrumentation providing air-to-ground warning, severe weather protection, and fuel level warnings as well as tactical capabilities aiming to improve air-to-air training with friendly forces.

The Navy said the product support strategy will be organizational level to the original equipment manufacturer due to “significant use of commercial off the shelf components with well-defined maintenance and support equipment requirements” for the prototype upgraded aircraft.

“This program will provide modernized aircraft with exceptional avionics and tactical capabilities which are needed to allow pilots to practice the tactics and techniques employed against a near-peer threat. Delivery of these improvements will ensure realistic and relevant tactical training the pilots need to win in combat,” Capt. Ramiro Flores, PMA-226 program manager, said in a statement.

“Constructive collaboration with our partners, the fleet, and the PMA-226 team drove mission success despite the technical, schedule and management challenges of integrating 21st century technology into a 1970’s airframe during the pandemic,” Boyd Forsythe, PMA-226 adversary team lead, added.

The F-5 was first developed by Northrop Grumman in 1965 and first offered as a candidate as a U.S. lightweight fighter, later becoming popular as an export in the overseas market, including with the Swiss Air Force. The Navy previously purchased low-hour F-5E/F aircraft from the Swiss Air Force surplus in 2006 for use as adversary training aircraft. More recently, the Navy purchased the latest batch of Swiss F-5E/Fs bound for adversary training use in 2020.