The Grumman F-14 Tomcat is an American supersonic, twin-engine, two-seat, variable-sweep wing fighter aircraft. The Tomcat was developed for the United States Navy's Naval Fighter Experimental (VFX) program after the collapse of the F-111B project. The F-14 was the first of the American teen-series fighters, which were designed incorporating air combat experience against MiG fighters during the Vietnam War.
The F-14 first flew in December 1970 and made its first deployment in 1974 with the U.S. Navy aboard USS Enterprise (CVN-65), replacing the McDonnell Douglas F-4 Phantom II. The F-14 served as the U.S. Navy's primary maritime air superiority fighter, fleet defense interceptor, and tactical aerial reconnaissance platform into the 1990s. The Low Altitude Navigation and Targeting Infrared for Night (LANTIRN) pod system was added in the 1990s and the Tomcat began performing precision ground-attack missions.
In the 1980s F-14s were used as land-based interceptors by the Islamic Republic of Iran Air Force during the Iran–Iraq War, where they saw combat against Iraqi warplanes. Iranian F-14s reportedly shot down at least 160 Iraqi aircraft during the war, while only 12 to 16 Tomcats were lost; at least half of these losses were due to accidents.
The Tomcat was retired from the U.S. Navy's active fleet on 22 September 2006, having been supplanted by the Boeing F/A-18E/F Super Hornet. The F-14 remains in service with the Islamic Republic of Iran Air Force, having been exported to Iran in 1976.
The F-111B was designed to fulfill the carrier-based interceptor role, but was found to have weight and performance problems, and was not suited to the aerial combat then becoming apparent in Vietnam
Beginning in the late 1950s, the U.S. Navy sought a long-range, high-endurance interceptor to defend its carrier battle groups against long-range anti-ship missiles launched from the jet bombers and submarines of the Soviet Union. The U.S. Navy needed a Fleet Air Defense (FAD) aircraft with a more powerful radar, and longer range missiles than the F-4 Phantom II to intercept both enemy bombers and missiles. The Navy was directed to participate in the Tactical Fighter Experimental (TFX) program with the U.S. Air Force by Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara. McNamara wanted "joint" solutions to service aircraft needs to reduce development costs, and had already directed the Air Force to buy the F-4 Phantom II, which was developed for the Navy and Marine Corps. The Navy strenuously opposed the TFX as it feared compromises necessary for the Air Force's need for a low-level attack aircraft would adversely impact the aircraft's performance as a fighter.
Weight and performance issues plagued the U.S. Navy F-111B variant for TFX and would not be resolved to the Navy's satisfaction. The F-111 manufacturer General Dynamics partnered with Grumman on the Navy F-111B. With the F-111B program in distress, Grumman began studying improvements and alternatives. In 1966, the Navy awarded Grumman a contract to begin studying advanced fighter designs. Grumman narrowed down these designs to its 303 design. Vice Admiral Thomas F. Connolly, Deputy Chief of Naval Operations for Air Warfare, took the developmental F-111A variant for a flight and discovered that it had difficulty going supersonic and had poor carrier landing characteristics. He later testified to Congress about his concerns against the official Department of the Navy position and, in May 1968, Congress stopped funding for the F-111B, allowing the Navy to pursue an answer tailored to its requirements. The name "Tomcat" was partially chosen to pay tribute to Admiral Connolly, as the nickname "Tom's Cat" had already been widely used by the manufacturer, although the name also followed the Grumman tradition of naming its fighter aircraft after felines.
The F-111B had been designed for the long-range Fleet Air Defense (FAD) interceptor role, but not for new requirements for air combat based on experience of American aircraft against agile MiG fighters over Vietnam. The Navy studied the need for VFAX, an additional fighter that was more agile than the F-4 Phantom for air-combat and ground-attack roles. Grumman continued work on its 303 design and offered it to the Navy in 1967, which led to fighter studies by the Navy. The company continued to refine the design into 1968.
In July 1968, the Naval Air Systems Command (NAVAIR) issued a request for proposals (RFP) for the Naval Fighter Experimental (VFX) program. VFX called for a tandem two-seat, twin-engined air-to-air fighter with a maximum speed of Mach 2.2. It would also have a built-in M61 Vulcan cannon and a secondary close air support role. The VFX's air-to-air missiles would be either six AIM-54 Phoenix or a combination of six AIM-7 Sparrow and four AIM-9 Sidewinder missiles. Bids were received from General Dynamics, Grumman, Ling-Temco-Vought, McDonnell Douglas and North American Rockwell; four bids incorporated variable-geometry wings.[N 1]
Grumman's VFX entry was designed around the TF30 engines, AWG-9 radar and AIM-54 missile intended for the F-111B; this eventually became the F-14A
McDonnell Douglas and Grumman were selected as finalists in December 1968. Grumman was selected for the contract award in January 1969. Grumman's design reused the TF30 engines from the F-111B, though the Navy planned on replacing them with the Pratt & Whitney F401-400 engines under development for the Navy, along with the related Pratt & Whitney F100 for the USAF. Though lighter than the F-111B, it was still the largest and heaviest U.S. fighter to fly from an aircraft carrier, a consequence of the requirement to carry the large AWG-9 radar and AIM-54 Phoenix missiles (from the F-111B) and an internal fuel load of 16,000 lb (7,300 kg).
Upon winning the contract for the F-14, Grumman greatly expanded its Calverton, Long Island, New York facility for evaluating the aircraft. Much of the testing, including the first of many compressor stalls and multiple ejections, took place over Long Island Sound. In order to save time and forestall interference from Secretary McNamara, the Navy skipped the prototype phase and jumped directly to full-scale development; the Air Force took a similar approach with its F-15. The F-14 first flew on 21 December 1970, just 22 months after Grumman was awarded the contract, and reached initial operational capability (IOC) in 1973. The United States Marine Corps was initially interested in the F-14 as an F-4 Phantom II replacement; going so far as to send officers to Fighter Squadron One Twenty-Four (VF-124) to train as instructors. The Marine Corps pulled out of any procurement when development of the stores management system for ground attack munitions was not pursued. An air-to-ground capability was not developed until the 1990s.
Firing trials involved launches against simulated targets of various types, from cruise missiles to high-flying bombers. AIM-54 Phoenix missile testing from the F-14 began in April 1972. The longest single Phoenix launch was successful against a target at a range of 110 nmi (200 km) in April 1973. Another unusual test was made on 22 November 1973, when six missiles were fired within 38 seconds at Mach 0.78 and 24,800 ft (7,600 m); four scored direct hits.
Improvements and changes
With time, the early versions of all the missiles were replaced by more advanced versions, especially with the move to full solid-state electronics that allowed better reliability, better ECCM and more space for the rocket engine. So the early arrangement of the AIM-54A Phoenix active-radar air-to-air missile, the AIM-7E-2 Sparrow Semi-active radar homing air-to-air missile, and the AIM-9J Sidewinder heat-seeking air-to-air missile was replaced in the 1980s with the B (1983) and C (1986) version of the Phoenix, the F (1977), M (1982), P (1987 or later) for Sparrows, and with the Sidewinder, L (1979) and M (1982). Within these versions there are several improved batches (for example, Phoenix AIM-54C++).
The Tactical Airborne Reconnaissance Pod System (TARPS) was developed in the late 1970s for the F-14. Approximately 65 F-14As and all F-14Ds were modified to carry the pod. TARPS was primarily controlled by the Radar Intercept Officer (RIO) via an extra display for observing reconnaissance data. The "TARPS Digital (TARPS-DI)" was a 1996 upgrade featuring a digital camera. The digital camera was further updated beginning in 1998 with the "TARPS Completely Digital (TARPS-CD)" configuration that also provided real-time transmission of imagery.
Some of the F-14A aircraft underwent engine upgrades to the GE F110-400 in 1987. These upgraded Tomcats were redesignated F-14A+, which was later changed to F-14B in 1991. The F-14D variant was developed at the same time; it included the GE F110-400 engines with newer digital avionics systems such as a glass cockpit, and compatibility with the Link 16 secure datalink. The Digital Flight Control System (DFCS) notably improved the F-14's handling qualities when flying at a high angle of attack or in air combat maneuvering.
While the F-14 had been developed as a lightweight alternative to the 80,000 lb (36,000 kg) F-111B, the F-14 was still the heaviest and most expensive fighter of its time. VFAX was revived in the 1970s as a lower cost solution to replacing the Navy and Marine Corps's fleets of F-4s, and A-7s. VFAX was directed to review the fighters in the USAF Light Weight Fighter competition, which led to the development of the F/A-18 Hornet as roughly a midsize fighter and attack aircraft. In 1994, Congress would reject Grumman proposals to the Navy to upgrade the Tomcat beyond the D model (such as the Super Tomcat 21, the cheaper QuickStrike version, and the more advanced Attack Super Tomcat 21).
Ground attack upgrades
In the 1990s, with the pending retirement of the A-6 Intruder, the F-14 air-to-ground program was resurrected. Trials with live bombs had been carried out in the 1980s; the F-14 was cleared to use basic iron bombs in 1992. In Operation Desert Storm, most air-to-ground missions were left to A-7, A-6 Intruder and F/A-18 Hornet squadrons, the F-14 focused on air defense operations. Following Desert Storm, F-14As and F-14Bs underwent upgrades to avionics and cockpit displays to enable the use of precision munitions, enhance defensive systems, and apply structural improvements. The new avionics were comparable with the F-14D; upgraded aircraft were designated F-14A (Upgrade) and F-14B (Upgrade) respectively.
By 1994, Grumman and the Navy were proposing ambitious plans for Tomcat upgrades to plug the gap between the retirement of the A-6 and the F/A-18E/F Super Hornet entering service. However, the upgrades would have taken too long to implement to meet the gap, and were priced in the billions; Congress considered this too expensive for an interim solution. A quick, inexpensive upgrade using the Low Altitude Navigation and Targeting Infrared for Night (LANTIRN) targeting pod was devised. The LANTIRN pod provided the F-14 with a forward-looking infrared (FLIR) camera for night operations and a laser target designator to direct laser-guided bombs (LGB). Although LANTIRN is traditionally a two-pod system, an AN/AAQ-13 navigation pod with terrain-following radar and a wide-angle FLIR, along with an AN/AAQ-14 targeting pod with a steerable FLIR and a laser target designator, the decision was made to only use the targeting pod. The Tomcat's LANTIRN pod was altered and improved over the baseline configuration, such as a Global Positioning System / Inertial Navigation System (GPS-INS) capability to allow an F-14 to accurately locate itself. The pod was carried on the right wing glove pylon.
An F-14D(R) from VF-213
flying over Iraq
on last Tomcat deployment with LANTIRN pod on starboard wing glove station and LGB