Marines Buy 22 F-5s From Switzerland


The U.S. Marine Corps’ latest airplane acquisition is a supersonic interceptor that first flew off the drawing board 65 years ago. The Marines are buying 22 Northrop F-5 Tigers from the Swiss air force. The first one was loaded on a C-130 on March 18 for the trip back to the U.S. where it will live out the rest of its service life as an adversarial training aircraft along with the others in the sale. The Marines paid a little less than $1.5 million each for the Cold War speedsters, which are still being used by 17 countries and have been retired by 21 others. More than 2,500 were built.

Switzerland got its F-5s in the 1970s and 1980s and has flown them ever since. It sold some to the U.S. Navy for its adversarial program and even with the Marines sale it will keep 25 Tigers for training, targets and test flights and to supply the jets for the Swiss air force’s air demonstration team, the Patrouille Suisse. It’s not clear where the Marines will base their new acquisitions.

Russ Niles
Russ Niles is Editor-in-Chief of AVweb. He has been a pilot for 30 years and joined AVweb 22 years ago. He and his wife Marni live in southern British Columbia where they also operate a small winery.


  1. This is not new news. This has been going on for a long time … 25 years that I know of. The scope of the sale is larger is the only news here. All of the Swiss airplanes were specially built for the Swiss and therefore have to be modified back to US specs. This work will likely be done by Northrop Grumman. The Swiss airplanes are low time ‘creme puffs’ so the US got a great deal. By contrast, the aggressor airplanes used by both the US Navy and USMC have been flown hard and put away wet many times and are therefore beyond economical rehab.

    BTW: NorthrUp is a seed company; NorthrOp Grumman is a very large aerospace company.

  2. Never heard of a Northrup aircraft company. You would think that a media company that claims to know about aviation would get the spelling of one of the most famous makers of aircraft of all time correct. Modern Journalism is Not. For sure though these F-5s will be in great condition, based on my experiences with the Swiss Air Force and Swiss aircraft industry. Thanks to their excellent apprenticeship system (Duale Bildung), the normal skill set of Swiss technicians is outstanding, as is their maturity and work ethic.

  3. Can Switzerland buy them back if their F-35As scheduled for 2027 delivery operate at, oh, say, 55% readiness? Asking for a friend.

  4. Geez, it’s one typo. No need to weep for modern journalism over one typo in an online article. Can we dial back the dramatics?

  5. Northrup Special 1952 = 1pClwM; 85hp Continental C-85. Inverted gull-wing midget racer competed into 1955, then was sold [N33N]. Sometimes credited to Northrop Aviation, but there was no connection, and the spelling of Russell’s name is sometimes seen as Northrop (probably in error).

  6. “A little less than $1.5M!?!” Ask them how much they’re spending to install the Garmin cockpit suite into each aircraft! Follow-up: what’s the cost per flight hour (i.e. what’s the true cost of the platform over the life of the airframe) and how does that compare to more capable platforms like the F-16?

    • How to demonstrate you didn’t read the article and/or didn’t understand it at all. These aircraft are used by the Navy and Marines as aggressor aircraft for air to air combat training. They currently use F-5s and have for a long time. The aggressor squadron pilots are qualified in the plane, the support folks (contractors) know how to fix them, they already have spare parts. Why on earth would they want to have to start all over with F-16s? It would cost a fortune and not really add any extra value. The F-5 is perfect for this job.

      The only exception is that NAWDC (TOPGUN) has a bunch of F-16 ordered by Pakistan that we cancelled.

      • Nope, definitely read and understood the article – was highlighting a point that the author failed to address, and many fail to understand. The true acquisition cost of these aircraft is significantly higher than the advertised $1.5M, and the operating cost (cost / flight hour) is significantly higher than other platforms more suitable for the aggressor role. The F-5 WAS an inexpensive and reliable platform for years, but reduced part availability on this aging platform have rendered them less reliable and rising contract costs / reduced flight hours (increasing numerator and decreasing denominator) have made continued acquisition a wasteful endeavor – even when you factor in the cost of training each of the pilots and maintainers on a new platform.

  7. I hate to see this continue. The F-5 is a grape and has been since the F-15/16/18 were introduced. We flew against the KFIRs out of Yuma (when they could get airborne) and even B-Course studs could pound them unmercifully, even though they never really made it to the merge. We knew then that it was cheaper to spend money on more hours to support each other than to buy and pay for dedicated adversaries. Why not let a Navy RAG instructors teach USAF RTU students and vice-versa. Proven that instructors can watch real time on the ground just as if they were in the stud’s pit. Still living in the 70s.

  8. This brought to mind a recent article about the T7 trainers facing another delivery delay. I then read that Canada is retiring its HAWK trainers and sending its pilots to Italy for qualification. Seems like the U.S. could make good use of the Canadian aircraft as a stop gap trainer and potential aggressor force.

  9. Viper and Jester approve, though now more dejected than ever not to be true fighting men aka Marines.