Belsimtek has recently released their fifth DCS module in early access form, the classic fighter F-5E. It is the little roadster sportscar of fighter jets for many: It is small, pilot friendly, and very agile. The F-5 has served many nations as a combat aircraft, and still serves many in various upgraded, or even vanilla forms. It also has became kind of a pop culture icon in form of fictional MiG-28 of TOPGUN fame…
F-5 was a result of various fighter design studies by Northrop. Soviet Union, Warsaw Pact and client states of them equipped their air forces with cheap, simple, light and agile fighters, most ubiquitiously the MiG-21. While state of the art aircraft of USAF were more sophisticated and overall better, they were laborous and expensive to design, produce and operate. They also often required long and clean paved runways. Not every nations were able to create a whole airforce out of them to be large enough to face onslaught of MiGs or WP armour. Therefore, Northrop’s design studies for a simple light but capable fighter would be ideal to arm such allied nations. F-5A, named Freedom Fighter, was able to carry a pretty decent payload for such a small fighter, it was very agile, was simple to operate, could even operate from grass fields if need be, and much cheaper than more sophisticated options offered to NATO nations. During 1965, It served in Vietnam in evaluation squadrons of USAF, with small modifications, and named F-5C Skoshi Tiger in that guise. It performed very well in operational testing and soon international orders began. Some of the export customers built their own versions, sometimes significantly differing from F-5A or B with larger wing root extensions, full span leading edge slats, more powerful engines, chaff and flare dispenser etc. It was obvious the aircraft had more upgrade potential, and was frankly needing it in some areas. For example, F-5A and B did not have a radar. Soon in 1970, a competition for “International Fighter Aircraft” was held to replace the F-5 and… Northrop won with F-5E. F-5 became one of those aircraft which sucessfuly replaced itself. It had incorporated, and improved upon, most of additions NF-5 featured over baseline F-5s. Although, early F-5Es still had APQ-153 radar, which was still lacking compared to competition, eventually much improved APQ-159 replaced it.
Just like the MiG-21Bis, which is an early 70s upgrade of 2nd generation MiG-21 to 3rd generation, F-5E is also an early 70s update of 2nd generation F-5A into 3rd generation features.
As mentioned above, F-5E added a radar, better engines, leading edge slats and redesigned enlarged LERX. After this short F-5 history, we came to F-5E, which the module depicts. Specifically, DCS F-5E is one of the later F-5E blocks with additional features such as :
- APQ-159 radar, which is much better than APQ-153 it replaced.
- Automatic maneuvering flaps system, which automatically deflects flaps for optimal lift to provide best maneuvering performance if enabled by pilot.
- AN/ALR-87 RWR
- “Shark nose” type radome
Now let’s have our initial looks on F-5E as it is in DCS module available to us in Early Access
It is one of those “remarkably complete for an early access” cases with full manual, a still very detailed quick start manual, an enjoyable flight model (even if it will change with fixes later on) as well as some missions. DCS : F-5E by Belsimtek will not feature a freely included campaign, but a payware campaign is being worked on by Maple Flag Missions of A-10 training & qualification mission set fame.
For air combat, only wingtip pylons are wired to carry AIM-9 Sidewinder missiles. Types of Sidewinder available are AIM-9B (GAR-8), AIM-9P (rear aspect only, analogous to R-13M1 in MiG-
21Bis), and AIM-9P5 with improved all aspect seeker, based on AIM-9M’s seeker but simplified and is a bit less advanced. Missiles are WIP at this point, but with AIM-9P5 available, F-5 will have an air to air missile with all aspect fire and forget capability, and with relatively decent range as well as more reliable warhead compared to MiG’s R-60M. R-60M though, will have more agility and therefore a shorter minimum range. Other two options are direct analogues to R-3S and R-13M1 in MiG’s arsenal.
People often seem to ask “will radar guided missiles be added in future”. To be honest, F-5E never had any radar guided missiles in it’s arsenal. Later upgrades in 90s or 2000s gave BVR capabilities to some countries’ F-5s, mostly Israeli DERBY missile, but one of them does have AMRAAM as far as I know. However, these are essentially another aircraft at that point, and no longer F-5E. They are the same thing to F-5E, as LanceR’s are to MiG-21MF or Bison is to MiG-21Bis.
The other air to air weapon is the internal gun weaponry. F-5E has two 20mm M39 cannons positioned on the nose. Their combined rate of fire more or less same with MiG’s GSh-23L, but they seem to have more spread. However, their muzzle velocity is much better, therefore they shoot much flatter and further than MiG’s gun. With 280 rounds per gun, they also have considerably more ammo available than MiG’s 250 rounds total. Against a radar locked maneuvering target, F-5’s gunsight provides a better firing solution than similar case for MiG, which often needs to resort to warbird aiming methods against maneuvering targets. F-5 is really sensitive to stick input, and as mentioned twin M39s seem to have more spread than GSh-23, despite their better range. These makes strafing attacks a bit more adventurous in F-5, with either guns or rockets.
Just like the MiG-21Bis, which is an early 70s upgrade of 2nd generation MiG-21 to 3rd generation, F-5E is also an early 70s update of 2nd generation F-5A into 3rd generation features. Though, in some flight regimes, F-5 can turn with a rate in excesss of 20 degrees per second, which is more or less 4th generation territory! It’s APQ-159 radar also has a quick dogfight acquision mode, which too is a feature more common with 4th generation fighters, though MiG’s fixed beam mode locking of air targets can almost be considered a close in acquision aid too, F-5’s implementation is much more automated and helpful.
When one looks at F-5 first time, tiny wings won’t make them think of a great turning fighter. However, thanks to aerodynamic features novel for it’s time, F-5 is well known for it’s turning ability. It incorporates many high lift devices like full span leading edge slats, and leading edge root extensions (LERX), yet more features that are typified with 4th generation of fighter aircraft. F-5 features a nice clear canopy, offering pretty good visibility out of cockpit, including in front of the nose for ground attacks. Single piece windshield can be added to list of 4th generation features in this old bird, forward visibility in F-5 is quite good, and certainly much better than it’s archrival in DCS, the MiG-21Bis. When it comes to backwards visibility though, it isn’t amazing to be honest. However, it is still aprreciably better than MiG’s almost non existant rear visibility.
Even though F-5E is a 3rd generation fighter jet, and a simple and low cost one among them too, it has multiple features that are more common in 4th generation jets rather than 3rd gen ones, including heavy focus on agility.
ALR-87 is good old Western style RWR, which can give indication of multiple emitters easily, shows active threats, identify them, and give their direction quite precisely, and can even give a rough range estimation. It is miles away from SPO-10 Sirena the MiG has. Unlike the MiG, F-5E also has internal counter measure dispensers, and does not need pods or bolt on containers for them.
Like the MiG-21, F-5 is also a small fighter, which is hard to spot visually, easy lose track of, and features a relatively small frontal RCS.
When it comes to air to ground options, F-5 interestingly pulls apart from MiG, at least as far as total ordnance it can carry. That is, of course, ignoring MiG’s nukes…
F-5 has many types of free fall bombs available. Ubiquitous Mk-82 is of similar class with FAB-250. Unlike the MiG though, F-5 can carry a whole load of them. Four underwing pylons can carry a single bomb each, of either low drag type or Snake Eye high drag type. Centreline pylon though, can carry 5 of them with a Multiple Ejector Rack (MER). Centre line can also carry Mk-84, which is almost a whole ton of bomb… Other free fall bombs include Mk-83, a 1000lb bomb, roughly between a FAB-250 and FAB-500, and old M117 which is 750lb, still heavier than a FAB-250 but a bit less powerful than Mk-83. Inboard wing pylons can carry Mk83, outboard ones can carry M117 maximum. For such a tiny plane, F-5 can lug around a huge bombload. Also, unlike the MiG-21, F-5 pilot can choose a combination of hardpoints, or even an individual hardpoint to release, and can even choose ripple releasing with 3 ripple frequency options. Final type of free fall bomb available is CBU-52B cluster bomb, of which a single one can be carried per hardpoint for a maximum of 5.
Though, this isn’t the end of bombs! F-5E can also carry up to 4 GBU-12 LGBs. However, like it is in Mirage 2000C, F-5 can’t designate them, and target needs to painted either by a JTAC or another aircraft with a targeting pod, which, at least currently, means only A-10C.
Apart from bombs, either 7 or 19 tube 70 mm rocket pods can be mounted under wing pylons. This means, F-5 can carry up to 76 rockets of 70mm caliber, compared to MiG’s 96 rockets of 55mm caliber, or 4 rockets of 240mm caliber. 70mm rockets are certainly much better than 55mm S-5 rockets, which are barely more powerful than most guns in sim. S-24s do make a mess of things on ground, but only 4 of them can be carried, and having to fire in pairs, it means two sorties only. So, I think rocket armament is more flexible for F-5. Also, unlike the MiG, centreline pylon can be fitted with bombs in addition to rockets under wings, MiG can only mount the nukes there, which most often isn’t an option. Finally, a very heavily air to ground loaded F-5 can still carry it’s normal air to air load on wing tip pylons, MiG has to choose between heavy-ish air to ground or air to air.
Our F-5E doesn’t feature AGM-65 mavericks currently, as they require a different screen for radar, however, Belsimtek stated that, if reliable information on AGM-65 symbology and controls on other F-5E variants which have them can be found, they may consider introducing it later.
On the flipside of coin, while air to ground options for F-5 are rich and a potent amount of them can be carried per sortie, F-5 has no assisted aiming options for them whatsoever. Only method for utilizing them is manually de-pressed pipper. MiG currently has CCIP for bombs, as an unrealistic option, but, for guns and rockets it can indeed provide CCIP, unlike the Tiger. Another downside is, while it can carry some serious ordnance, F-5E has a worse T/W ratio and also higher wing loading then MiG-21Bis, therefore those big loads effect it’s flight characteristics much more dramatically. To be honest, I most often do bombings manually on MiG-21 too, but thanks to more practive, and availability of fixed net on gun sight, it is easier to have reference points for “at this speed and altitude with these bombs, I release when target hits that part of fixed net” kind of releases. I’m sure with practice I’ll be better with bombing in F-5E.
One interesting point about rockets is, ripple options for them can only be set on the ground BEFORE engines are started. Options are along the lines of “release 4 rockets per pod per trigger” or “release almost the whole pod per trigger” :). Another feature than can only be adjusted on ground before engine start is counter measure dispenser programs.
Navigation systems are rather simple, with TACAN/VORTAC as radio navigation options. It doesn’t have ILS in this particular block, therefore, it is mainly a day / good weather fighter.
As all Belsimtek modules have been so far, 3D modeling and texturing of both external and cockpit for F-5E are excellent. Currently there are mostly US and Turkey paints are available but I’m sure more will be added in time.
AN/APQ-159 radar features controls more familiar for people who are used to 4th gen fighters in FC3 package than MiG-21 is. Unlike RP-22SMA, it doesn’t have a lot of filters and special modes. Rather, it has a range selector, two axis slewing of target designating cursor like more modern radars, and a close in quick acquisition mode, and finally tilting radar antenna up and down to scan different altitudes. It does seem to have some limited look down capability too. Like the Sapfir, it will also display ground clutter when the antenna is looking down into terrain. One quirk is, target designation cursor will not appear on 40nm range setting at all, and this does make sense. While the radar can scan up to 40nm, this setting is rather optimistic, and is only good for detecting bomber size targets approaching head on. Even against those, locking range is 10nm max, which is about the same as MiG’s 15 km. After a succesful lock, radar display changes to C-Scope just like the MiG’s radar does, and display a “+” symbol showing targets location in relation to aircraft, centering the + on display’s bullseye means flying a pure pursuit course towards target. It doesn’t do air to ground ranging like RP-22’s fixed beam mode either. Overall though, even though it has a few features it lacks compared to RP-22SMA, it has more that the other one is lacking, and APQ-159 is the better radar of two, but difference is not a gigantic one if you ask me. They both have a hard time picking contacts in cluttered, or sometimes even clean conditions, they do not succesfully lock a detected contact every time, and their maximum detection and locking ranges are very similar. APQ-159 pulls ahead with quite useful close in auto acquisition mode, better interface, ability to tilt antenna up and down, not having to turn entire plane to lock someone that isn’t straight in front of plane, and some ability to look down. RP-22 strikes back with being able to
filter against some clutter and jamming, and the ability to range for ground attacks, and IFF interrogate detected contacts, and last but not least, being able to guide radar homing air to air missiles.
Another quirk of the F-5 is, while it has an IFF transponder to say “hey, I’m friendly!” to other IFF interrogators, unlike the MiG-21Bis, it doesn’t have an IFF interrogator of it’s own. This means only way to positively identify a contact being friend or foe, is visual identification. While this is an issue for airquake, team deatmatch type servers, it is less so for other servers like F-5 vs MiG-21 or Blue Flag, where Red and Blue sides field different aircraft. In fact, I’ll go so far as to suggest, in my experience with F-5 vs MiG servers, it may be argued F-5 is better at identifying friend or foe in some situations : RWR in F-5E tells you who is who, if they have their radars on, MiG’s RWR, doesn’t. While MiG’s radar integrated IFF is nice to have, it is often finicky to use when you are looking into a furball. I experinced a case, where there were 3 contacts pretty close by, IFF’d, symbols are hardly different anyway, while trying to sort them radar lost contacts, before I could acquire again, I was already merged and visually identified a Tiger buuutt, just as I was dogfighting it, I blew up. At first I thought F-5 hit me with a Sidewinder but log said otherwise! It was an R-3R from another IFF confused MiG, friendly firing me :). Nothing really surprising with F-5E not being able to IFF. Not even many of the most famous 4th generation fighters like F-16 and F-18 were able to do that until some way into 90s. They weren’t able to IFF interrogate for about first decade of their existance, and they were very active in various parts of world during that period. I really commend and appreciate that Belsimtek is doing it’s modeling to real life documents of chosen variant, and not souping it up for gameplay purposes!
Now, if we get to flying the F-5E, aircraft is very docile. It doesn’t want to stall almost at all. Though, at high alpha maneuvers with low speed, it develops a noticable wing rock, at that point it is held afloat thanks to slats and maneuver can be continued but it won’t be very tight, and normally crisp responsiveness of F-5 will start to erode. Roll rate is very sharp almost in all conditions, and at higher speeds, F-5 can turn instantaneously very, very sharp and fast. Although, once slowed down, it’s turn performance becomes less stellar. Scissors will be something F-5 will love from what I see so far. In this regard, I kind of found it’s strengths similar to Fw-190 of WW II era, but it doesn’t share Focke Wulf’s weakness of departing easily and wildly when pushed out of it’s flight envelope.F-5, as mentioned earlier, remains quite docile, and even continous the maneuvers, even if a bit sluggishly at that point. MiG on the other hand, can depart suddenly and nastily when pushed over critical AoA, potentiall ending up with being a sitting duck for rival, or even ending up crashing at low altitudes. Since MiG’s party trick is flying near critical AoA, this can be a time bomb waiting to happen unless flown by a very well practiced virtual pilot :). Even at those lower speeds, F-5 can be maneuvered, it will happily drag itself through the sky thanks to it’s multiple high lift features and automatic flap system. While the MiG has good nose authority at low speeds, and can fly at very high alpha at very low speeds, it will not be able to change it’s direction much during those cases, and utilization of this fight envelope requires very careful piloting in it. Overall, flight model is very enjoyable, and “feels right”. There are however, a few inaccuracies regarding turn performance, and exceeding G limitations having no effect currently. These will be adressed with patches in time.
Taking off and landing are very easy, only some care needs to be excercised while adjusting direction of plane at high speeds on ground. Same when braking during high speed portions of ground handling, because F-5 has no anti blockage or anti skidding system. If handled uncaringly at those conditions, it will very happily spin. Taxiing requires nose wheel steering (NWS) button held down, as in the F-86. Neutral rudder, hold NWS, adjustment, neutral rudder, release NWS should be the way to operate it, and if used that way there is no issue with taxiing. It does though, turn very sharply on ground, so pay attention and use small adjustments with rudder while the NWS is held. Differential braking is also possible to turn on ground without using NWS.
Although it’s range is better than MiG-21, it is still fairly short ranged, especially with afterburners on, so care should be taken about fuel status. F-5 can carry 3 pretty large external tanks though.
F-5’s tiny engines don’t produce a whole lot of thrust compared to other fast movers, and even on afterburner it won’t accelerate as fast as other supersonic fighters in sim at most altitudes, nor will it climb like them.
All in all, this is an excellent addition to DCS‘ stable of fighter jets, and 3rd generation, favorite jet fighter generation for many including myself, is getting a foothold now, with MiG-21Bis and F-5E in, and AJS-37 and Mirage F1 on the way, as well as late 2nd generaion jets like Mirage III which are close enough a match in most cases. With it’s early access kinks ironed out in time, F-5 will become even better, and frankly, considering most early access releases, it is already in pretty good shape. Belsimtek had in past, long updating times for modules, and most importantly a protrudingly long period of lack of an English language full manual for some of their modules. They seem to have got the memo, not only updates to modules are coming at an increased pace, F-5 already had it’s full English and pretty long Quick Start manuals released to public even before F-5E becoming available. This will be a great plane both as a strike fighter, and as a MiG-21 opponent.
3rd Generation is favorite jet fighter era for many, and reliable information is ample on jets of that era. It is good seeing DCS : 3rd Gen Fighters is becoming a thing!
It should be noted that, this match up of F-5 vs MiG-21 is also a real life relevant historical one. F-5 and MiG-21 has met one another and fought against each other on both African and Middle Eastern conflicts. Focusing victories against each other. They also fought on famous Vietnam War, though F-5 didn’t see much air to air use in that conflict, and versions used in Vietnam are older than those we have in DCS.
Happy flights everyone!