The esteemed Israeli firm, IAI, through its Spanish representative Silon Aviación, has been entrusted by the Air Force with the significant task of modernizing the Northrop F-5B fighter jets, a project valued at a substantial 40 million euros. The aircraft in focus belong to the 23rd Wing [Talavera la Real] squadron, responsible for the vital role of training fighter pilots. The strategic objective of this contract is to extend the service life of these seasoned aircraft, which currently have no viable replacement, for another ten years until 2030.
Following approval from the Council of Ministers earlier this year, the Ministry of Defense announced in May that the comprehensive contract includes a variety of services and procurement necessary for the said modernization. These encompass 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 various subsystems that make up the system.
IAI, known for its expertise in similar projects, had previously undertaken a comprehensive modernization of the fleet in the early 2000s. The firm is now tasked with executing several software upgrades and maintaining equipment installed two decades ago. The program is capped at a budget of €40 million, although it is likely that actual spending may not reach this limit. The primary goal of the program is to address the obsolescence of avionics and extend the operational lifespan of the aircraft until 2030.
The upgrade of avionics components is expected to be completed within three years. Each fighter is expected to receive scheduled upgrades by November 2026 according to Air Force timelines. These aircraft had already undergone an initial update two decades ago when avionics were replaced in the early 2000s. As time progresses, various subsystems require another update as stated by the Spanish ministry regarding the upcoming upgrade.
Currently stationed at Wing 23 in Talavera la Real [Badajos], there are 19 F-5Ms in service with service records spanning over half a century. These military aircraft underwent a modernization process at the beginning of this century aimed at extending their lifecycle. Two decades after this modernization, there is an increasing need to replace these venerable sky warriors as emphasized repeatedly by Chief of Air Staff [JEMA], Air General Javier Salto.
The original software of Northrop F-5B was primarily analog-based as part of its core flight management system using AN/APQ-153 radar system for primary navigation and target acquisition. This system needed modernization to keep up with evolving dynamics of contemporary aerial warfare. IAI made significant upgrades to Northrop F-5B integrating advanced software into this classic fighter jet to make it more efficient, reliable and compatible with modern warfare technologies thereby enhancing its overall performance.