The first F-5A Freedom Fighter single-seat light-fighter prototype flew in May 1963 and went on to form the basis of a major warplane family. Canadair built the CF-5A/Ds and NF-5A/Bs for the Canadian and Dutch air force respectively; the survivors of these fleets are finding a ready resale market to countries including Botswana, Turkey and Venezuela. In addition, South Korea, Brazil, Greece, Iran, Morocco, Norway, Philippines, Saudi Arabia, Spain, Taiwan, Thailand, Turkey, Venezuela and Yemen all currently operate first generation F-5s. Venezuela's VF-5A/Ds have received a limited upgrade by Singapore Technologies Aerospace.
The improved F-5E/F Tiger II was developed from the F-5A/B as an International Fighter Aircraft for sale to US allies. The F-5E prototype first flew in August 1972 and was followed by some 1 300 production F-5Es and two-seat F-5Fs for sale to 20 air forces. The F-5E was also assembled under license in Taiwan and South Korea. Tiger IIs remain in widespread service with Bahrain, Brazil, Chile, Honduras, Indonesia, Iran, Jordan, Kenya, Malaysia, Mexico, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, Switzerland, Taiwan, Thailand, Tunisia, US Marine Corps and US Navy and Yemen.
Reconnaissance F-5E variants are operated by Malaysia (RF-5E Tigereye), Singapore (RF-5S) and Taiwan (RF-5E Tigergazer).
Numerous update programmes are available to keep this important warplane viable until well into the 21st century. These upgrades offer a mix of new avionics and structural refurbishment of the airframe.
Chile operates F-5Es upgraded with Israeli assistance to Tiger III standard; their advanced avionics - including Elta 2032 radar and hands on stick ant throttle controls - give a level of combat capability matching that of the F-16. The FIAR Grifo F/X Plus multimode radar has been fitted to Singaporean F-5S aircraft and has also been selected for Brazil's F-5Es. US-based TCA is offering to re-manufacture projected demand for cost-effective lead-in fighter trainers.