TacAir's Adversary F-5s Are Getting A Cutting-Edge Cockpit

The upgrade will offer greater situational awareness, ease of integration for future upgrades, synthetic vision, and night vision compatibility.

Garmin

This is such an exciting time for commercial adversary support providers. Developments from multiple firms are coming fast and furious as they ready their 4th generation threat simulation aircraft to satisfy exploding demand from the USAF, the Navy and Marine Corps, and foreign air arms. Tactical Air Support Inc., better known as TacAir, chose the F-5E/F as their platform, procuring 21 of the jets from abroad, which are now going through a deep refurbishment and upgrade process. Part of this includes the installation of an entirely new set of cockpit interfaces and avionics to support new sensors and to satisfy this emerging and challenging mission set. 

In a press release, avionics giant Garmin announced that they will be providing a version of their Garmin 3000 and integrated flight-deck suite for TacAir's remodeled F-5s. This will provide these older jets—the last F-5 was produced 31 years ago—with a proven, easily supportable, and highly adaptable avionics suite. 

Garmin states:

This configuration, which consists of a G3000™ flight display and dual Garmin touchscreen controllers (GTCs), boasts an open architecture design that seamlessly integrates with typical mission equipment and hardware so pilots experience a single integrated cockpit system. Utilizing this rapidly deployable solution, the first flight of the Garmin-equipped F-5 is expected later this year.

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The modular G3000 integrated flight deck boasts a large and vibrant, high-resolution flight display that seamlessly interfaces to the F-5’s existing mission computer, enabling advanced mapping, tactical radio capabilities, radar display and more. The bezel keys, GTCs and L3 ForceX mission system serve as the pilot interface to the flight display, and the touchscreen controllers incorporate infrared technology so pilots can use gloves in the cockpit. The G3000 has an open architecture that enables seamless mission computer, sensors and systems integration and easily facilitates future upgrades without impacting the avionics.

The NVG-compatible G3000 contains modern, state-of-the-art synthetic vision technology (SVT™) that blends an “out-the-window” view of surroundings on the primary flight display, which is particularly helpful during nighttime operations or in terrain-prone environments. The G3000 also has worldwide communication, navigation, surveillance and air traffic management (CNS/ATM) capabilities. Additional features within the G3000 integrated flight deck on the F-5 include Terrain Awareness and Warning System (TAWS), global Automatic Dependent Surveillance-Broadcast (ADS-B) traffic and weather, as well as a video input.

Commercial-off-the-shelf (COTS) Garmin hardware and software allows TacAir to take advantage of technological advances, cost savings and rapid procurement. These COTS solutions offer significant opportunities in reduced development time, faster integration of new technology and lower life-cycle costs. The G3000, along with many other Garmin solutions, also interface with a wide range of third-party products using industry standard protocols, reducing cost and streamlining installation complexity.

Garmin

Clearly, this outfit brings a ton of capability and technological agility to TacAir's adversary support offering, it also will make flight operations much safer, but it doesn't come cheap. Investing in this type of money into the company's burgeoning fleet of F-5s is a serious commitment. But considering how competitive this once cottage industry is quickly becoming, up-front investments like this can pay off not only in contract awards but also in supportability and upgradability down the line. 

Modern pulse-doppler radars, radar warning receivers, and electronic warfare capabilities may be the threshold requirements for 4th generation threat simulation support now, but in the future, advanced data-links, infrared search and track systems, AESA radars and other sensors are likely to become sought-after resources. Having a solid open-architecture and integrated avionics foundation for which to efficiently integrate these new capabilities will be certainly beneficial. In fact, the lack of such a setup even on some of America's front-line fighters has become a challenge, to say the least.

TacAir

One of TacAir's recently refurbished F-5Es.

We reached out to Mick Guthals, senior manager of business development over at TacAir, about this impressive upgrade. Although he couldn't share a lot about it just yet, he noted that the picture Garmin published doesn't represent the exact final configuration for the company's F-5s. He did state that they are really excited to get the Garmin 3000 and the integrate flight-deck architecture because of all the expandability and supportability it brings to the table. 

As for exactly what sensors TacAir F-5s will eventually sport—namely what radar—he couldn't disclose just yet, but he said he would let us know as soon as he can. This may not be too far into the future either, as Guthals noted that TacAir is looking to officially roll-out their fully equipped F-5 adversary jet this fall. 

It's worth noting that the Navy and Marine Corps' own fleet of around 44 F-5N/F aggressors still fly with their gunsights and 'steam' gauges dating back decades. Their air-to-air radars are based on 1960s vintage technology and have only rudimentary capabilities. But they did recently receive a navigation system upgrade that came with a color multi-function display. Yet this enhancement pales in comparison to the powerful avionics suite TacAir is acquiring for their F-5s. 

USN

The current center stack n the Navy's F-5N.

A handful of air arms around the globe fly highly upgraded F-5s that have glass cockpits, but those don't feature the open architecture, integrated feature set, or supportability that the Garmin system offers.

We will be sure to keep you up to date as TacAir's reborn F-5 unveiling draws near.

Contact the author: Tyler@thedrive.com