Northrop F-20 TIGERSHARK gallery

The main reason for the beginning of the FX program was to provide Taiwan with a new cheap and efficient aircraft, but without having very advanced avionics so as not to upset China. Taiwan already had a large fleet of F-5Es and it was thought that the new aircraft could be an upgrade to this one. In addition, the military export policy of the Carter Administration was harming clients and allies of the United States who saw how the allies of the Soviets could access very advanced aircrafts with practically no restrictions.
Only two aircraft were presented to the FX program, the General Dynamics F-16/79, which was a variant with a less powerful engine and less avionics than the F-16A and the Northrop F-5G. This last aircraft had a new single General Electric F404 engine that improved power by 60% compared to the F-5E, a fly-by-wire control system and modified leading edge extensions that allowed it excellent air maneuverability. Although the external appearance was very similar to the F-5E Tiger II, the performance was far superior, even better than the F-16/79.
Although the F-5G was a design requested from Northrop in 1973, as an alternative to equipping Taiwan with a fighter capable of using the AIM-7 Sparrow air-to-air missile, in 1979 President Carter prevented its sales to Taiwan in the wake of Chinese pressures. At that time, not only Taiwan had begun to study an indigenous fighter to improve its defensive situation, but other allied countries of the United States were beginning to have contacts with other countries such as France, which could offer excellent fighters such as the modern Mirage-2000, or even the older Mirage F-1 in advantageous conditions.
Unfortunately for Northrop, time was passing, but the FX program was not taking off. The FX program set tough limitations. Among them, the avionics installed were not the newest installed by the USAF, the project would be privately financed and sales would be regulated exclusively by the Department of Defense. Despite conforming to all of them, the aircraft was still not commercialized and in 1982 Northrop requested the name change from F-5G to F-20, and in 1983 asked to add the nickname “Tigershark“. This was intended to unlink its aircraft from the FX program, which was known in aeronautical circles as a “cheap fighter for second-rate Air Forces”.
The F-20 Tigershark turned out to be a totally new aircraft full of improvements. It carried a new General Electric AN/APG-67 radar with acquisition and downward firing capability, a hands-on-throttle-and-stick (HOTAS) control system and a new HUD and multifunction displays were installed. As for the armament, it could use practically any of the available within the USAF like Sidewinder and Sparrow air-to-air missiles or the Maverick air-to-surface missile, along with unguided rockets and all kinds of bombs. The fixed armament consisted of two M-39 20mm guns installed in the nose and seven hardpoints for a payload of about 3,770 kg.
While its capabilities had been vastly improved since its inception, the F-20 was unbeatable in acquisition and maintenance costs. It was about $ 300,000 cheaper than the F-16/79, but it was calculated that in the average life cycle the F-20 would be up to 50% cheaper to operate. It was also stated that Tigershark was up to 4 times more reliable than any of the fighters of its generation and had the ability to fire the beyond-visual-range AIM-7 Sparrow missile, a capability that the F-16s would not acquire until 1989. In addition, it consumed half the fuel and required half the maintenance hours, which reduced operating costs by up to 60% compared to other fighters of the time.
In August 1982, the F-20 made its maiden flight and from the beginning it was clear that the aircraft was excellent. The capabilities of the F-20 were certified by the USAF in May 1983, after more than 200 flights, many of them of evaluation before potential clients. Despite the aircraft’s excellent capabilities, the limitation that the F-20 could only be offered by the State Department prevented Northrop from maneuvering to sell its aircraft. Meanwhile, the F-16 was being sold to numerous customers with the express support of the United States Government and the USAF. This behavior prompted Northrop to file an official complaint, as the F-20 had been financed exclusively with company funds and was now not receiving even the slightest support for its sale.
Following an investigation by Congress, which reflected the lack of support from the Department of Defense and the State Department, the USAF was urged to promote the “FX aircraft”, this was the F-20. Although the USAF recognized the excellent qualities of the fighter, it showed no interest in acquiring it. In 1984 Congress asked the Agressor training units of the US Navy and the USAF to study the feasibility of acquiring the same model of aircraft for this role, with sights on the F-20, but eventually the US Navy would acquire the F-16. This acquisition sparked rumors that General Dynamics had lost money in this transaction as long as Northrop did not sell its F-20.
In 1985 another sales possibility was opened for the F-20 Tigershark, this time in the United States. The Air National Guard needed to modernize and around 300 fighters were required for it. Northrop again offered its aircraft, which was superior in several aspects to the F-16, but once again, and it would be the last, it was defeated in the competition. At the end of 1986, the F-20 was canceled, leaving a bitter taste in Northrop, (and a loss of 1,200 million dollars), demonstrating that without a minimum Government support the sale of weapons is extremely difficult, even with a very high level product, as was the case with the F-20 Tigershark fighter, an aircraft that did not take flight due to lack of official support.

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