Combat history of the F-14

Combat history of the F-14

Since its inception, the F-14 has been widely used in action by both the US Navy and the Iranian Air Force, although knowledge about the combat service with the Iranians is disputed. Even though the F-14 did not see a lot of aerial combat as it was first envisioned to do by the Navy and Grumman (due to lack of opportunities), the F-14 morphed into a long range strike fighter in the 1990s due to budget cuts and the early retirement of the A-6 Intruder, the F-14 saw an upswing of action, and were used successfully as a strike platform over the skies of Afghanistan, the Balkans and Iraq right up to its final deployment in 2006.

In air to air combat, the F-14 (with the US Navy) have shot down five enemy aircraft for no losses, and one has been lost to a surface-to-air missile.

In U.S. Navy Service

The 1970s

Operation Frequent Wind

The F-14 made its first combat debut flying cover during Operation Frequent Wind in April 1975. VF-1 and VF-2 deployed on board USS Enterprise (CVN-65) with Carrier Air Wing 14. The cruise began on September 17, 1974 and ended May 20, 1975. The two squadrons flew combat air patrols over South Vietnam during the operation but did not encounter any North Vietnamese MiGs, though they were fired upon by enemy anti-aircraft guns.

Soviet Intercepts and American Hostages In Iran

During the rest of the 1970’s the F-14 did not see any combat, F-14s primarily intercepted Soviet aircraft coming too close to the carrier groups, and VF-142 was the first Atlantic Fleet F-14 squadron to intercept a Soviet Tu-95 Bear bomber on April 23, 1976. In 1979, VF-111 and VF-51 participated in efforts to free the American hostages in Iran. VF-41 and VF-84 were on station during the crisis in 1980 as well.

The 1980s

First Kill

It was not until 1981 that the F-14 would be part of actual combat. In the 1970s, Libya had claimed a 12-mile extension of its territorial waters in the Gulf of Sidra, which had prompted US naval forces to conduct Freedom of Navigation operations in that area. These operations increased when Ronald Reagan came to office; he authorized a large naval force, consisting of three aircraft carriers, to conduct naval operations in the area in the summer of 1981. The Libyan Air Force responded to this by sending its aircraft out over the Gulf to monitor American activity; there were several intercepts over the Gulf, in which both sides maneuvered aggressively, but fired no weapons. But this was to end just a few days later, on August 18, 1981. This time two VF-41 F-14s intercepted two Libyan Su-22’s. Only few seconds before the crossing, at an estimated distance of 300 m one of the two Lybians fired an AA-2 "Atoll" at one of the F-14s, which missed. The short range (well inside the gun's range) and the inability of AA-2 to engage in frontal engagements seems to indicate that this weapon was accidentally fired. Then the two Sukhois tried to escape. The American pilots fired AIM-9L Sidewinders, hitting both targets. Both Libyans ejected. [ [ An audio recording of the engagement is available here] .]

Less than an hour later, while the Libyans were conducting a Search and Rescue operation of their downed pilots, two fully armed MiG-25s entered the airspace over the Gulf and headed towards the US carriers at Mach 1.5 and conducted a mock attack in the direction of USS Nimitz. Two VF-41 Tomcats and one VF-84 Tomcat headed towards the Libyans, who then turned around. The Tomcats turned home but had to turn around again when the Libyans headed towards the US carriers once more. After being tracked by the F-14's radars, once again the MiGs finally headed home. One more Libyan formation ventured out into the Gulf towards the US forces later that day. [ [ Libyan Wars, 1980-1989, Part 2 By Tom Cooper] ]

Libyan Fighters and Somali anti-aircraft artillery fire

In April 1983, two Tomcats operating from the carrier USS America (CV-66) were fired upon by Somali troops while flying over the port of Berbera on the Gulf of Aden. The F-14's were on a prearranged mission, but the Somali forces apparently mistook the Tomcats for Ethiopian attackers. No Tomcats were hit.

In late summer 1983, due to the Chadian-Libyan conflict, the USS Dwight D. Eisenhower (CVN-69) had entered the Gulf of Sidra. On August 1, two VF-142 F-14As encountered two MiG-23s heading towards the carrier group which were quickly intercepted and forced away. Four days later VF-143 intercepted five MiG-23s some 220 kilometers south of the battlegroup. No weapons were ever fired during these encounters but the situation was "very tense". [ [ Libyan Wars, 1980-1989, Part 3 - Operation "Manta" By Tom Cooper] ]

Operations In Grenada and Lebanon

Later that year, F-14s were heavily involved in combat once again. VF-14 and VF-32 flew TARPS-missions and combat air patrols in support of Operation Urgent Fury in Grenada. The US and a few Caribbean nations invaded the island due the execution of the islands Prime Minister, the US wanted to evacuate American tourists from the island after the communists took control and toppled the Marxist government. F-14s aided the effort by providing reconnaissance imagery as well as providing cover in the event Cuba decided to interfere, because communist forces on the island had ties with Cuba. In December USS Independence (CV-62) along with its air wing moved to the Mediterranean Sea to support the multinational peacekeeping force in Lebanon, a country shaken by civil war, VF-14 and VF-32 once again flew combat air patrols over Lebanon. The USS Dwight D. Eisenhower (CVN-69) with VF-142 and VF-143, and USS John F. Kennedy (CV-67) with VF-11 and VF-31 also participated in the operation.

The multi-national peacekeeping force was threatened by both Lebanese military groups as well as Syrian forces resulted in the deployment of these carrier groups. During these missions US aircraft, including F-14s, were under fire from Syrian Surface-to-air missiles and anti-aircraft artillery. VF-11 even engaged eight MiGs over Lebanon. The section flew cover for a TARPS F-14 and was ready to open fire at four MiGs but the MiGs did a split S and ran for Syria. Four more MiGs emerged and blew through without engaging. These incidents resulted in US air strikes against Syrian positions near Hammana. During the attacks one A-7 Corsair and one A-6 Intruder were shot down. The A-6 pilot was killed and his Bombardier/Navigator taken prisoner and released a year later. The A-7 pilot ejected and was recovered by friendly forces.

The Achille Lauro Incident

In 1985, F-14s once again made the headlines of newspapers around the world. On October 7, 1985 the Italian cruise liner "Achille Lauro", with some 100 passengers on board, was hijacked off the coast of Egypt by terrorists from the Palestine Liberation Front. The ship’s captain was ordered to sail for Tartus in Syria and soon the hijackers informed Egyptian authorities of their action by radio and stated their demand for release of 50 Palestinian prisoners held by Israel. The ship was eventually denied docking in Syria, so the terrorists responded by killing one of their hostages. They pushed the elderly, wheelchair-bound, Jewish-American passenger Leon Klinghoffer to the side of the ship and the terrorist leader then shot him in the head and chest, and threw his body overboard. The Syrians still denied the ship to dock in Tartus; the terrorists intended to execute a second passenger, but the terrorists received a radio message from PLF leaders instructing them to leave the passengers unharmed and head to Port Said in Egypt. Once there the Egyptian government, unaware that Klinghoffer had been murdered, provided the hijackers with safe passage in exchange for freeing the ship and its passengers.

Soon the murder was discovered and the US Ambassador to Egypt demanded that the Egyptian government prosecute the terrorists, but the Egyptians stated that it was too late as the hijackers had already left the country. But through clever intelligence work the National Security Council determined that the terrorists were still in Egypt and were about to be flown to Tunisia on an Egypt Air 737. A plan was devised where USS "Saratoga" would launch F-14s to intercept the 737 before it would reach Tunisia. The carrier group was steaming northward through the Adriatic Sea for a port call at Dubrovnik, Yugoslavia, on the afternoon of October 10, 1985 after the completion of a major NATO exercise in the central Mediterranean. The carrier received orders from Sixth Fleet headquarters to reverse course and to launch alert combat air patrols. F-14s from VF-74 and VF-103 along with an E-2C Hawkeye were airborne and it was soon known that they were after the hijackers, although the 737’s exact takeoff time from Egypt, its route and altitude were unknown. The plan was for F-14’s to make night intercepts and identifications of air contacts in the skies crisscrossing the central Mediterranean as they flew east toward a common airway intersection point south of Crete. After four interceptions, following two hair-raising, lights-out intercepts of darkened transport planes, the F-14s found the correct aircraft. At about 2230, 30 miles southeast of Crete the formed up on a 737 airliner with the tail number 2843. A Navy air controller aboard the E-2C spoke with the airliner’s pilot; the F-14s' presence and the controller's implied threat of a shoot-down convinced the 737's pilot to land at the NATO base in Sigonella, Sicily. Upon landing, the airliner was quickly surrounded by American soldiers. The terrorists were ultimately taken into Italian custody.

Operations Against Libya

1986 was also a very busy year for the F-14. On March 24, 1986, F-14s came under fire from Libyan SA-5’s over the Gulf of Sidra but the missiles fell harmlessly into the water. Later the same day, F-14’s from VF-33 encountered Libyan MiG-25's, who were ordered to shoot down at least one of the F-14s. The Libyans were outmaneuvred by the Tomcats who ended behind the Libyan fighters, but the Americans did not have permission to open fire. [ [ According to a post from author Tom Cooper] ] .

These and other incidents prompted the US Navy in the region to conduct air strikes under Operation Attain Document against Libyan air defences and naval vessels. F-14 Tomcats from VF-33 and VF-102 on board USS America (CV-66) provided air cover during these strikes.

On April 15, 1986, VF-33 and VF-102, along with VF-74 and VF-103, participated in Operation El Dorado Canyon, a series of air strikes against Libyan targets due to their support of terrorism.

Blue on Blue Engagement

According to the magazine AIR International, the F-14 have not just shot down Libyan and Iraqi aircraft, but also an USAF F-4 Phantom over the Mediterranean Sea in 1987. Former F-14 pilot, Dave "Hey Joe" Parsons, gives an account of the incident, [ [ According to posts at the Tomcat Sunset forum] ] that during an exercise a young F-14 pilot from VF-74 The Bedevilers received the call "Warning Red, Weapons Free", the young pilot was alarmed and asked his seasoned RIO if he was supposed to shoot, and the RIO replied "Yeah, go ahead and shoot 'em". The RIO of course meant to do a simulated attack, but the pilot misunderstood, armed an AIM-9 Sidewinder and fired at the RF-4C Phantom. The USAF crew did not know what hit them because there was no explosion when the Sidewinder hit the Phantom. The F-4 crew was picked up, and was quite demoralized before they were told what had actually happened as now they would not have the burden of losing a jet to unknown causes.

Joke cartoons quickly emerged such as, "USN 1 USAF 0" being faxed to the USAF. There was some retribution for the Navy because a few years earlier, a USAF exchange pilot flying with the same squadron that shot down the RF-4C in 1987 shot down his flight leader with a Sidewinder, so fax responses back to the USAF started "Now, we're even!"

F-14s And The Tanker War

During the Tanker War between 1987 and 1989, several US Navy carrier groups deployed to the Persian Gulf to protect international shipping. On several occasions, F-14’s intercepted Iranian fighters over the Persian Gulf. In August 1987, an Iranian F-4 Phantom II engaged an US P-3 Orion, which provoked a VF-21 F-14 to open fire with AIM-7 Sparrow missiles, although these launches were all well out of parameters and scored no kills. [ [ According to a post from author Tom Cooper] ]

On April 18, 1988, the United States retaliated against Iran following the April 14, 1988 incident where USS Samuel B. Roberts (FFG-58) struck an Iranian mine in international waters. Air strikes was conducted by Carrier Air Wing 11 against Iranian oil platforms that had been identified as support bases for Iranian attacks on shipping in the Persian Gulf, VF-114 and VF-213 provided air cover and F-14s scared away an F-4 formation during the strike. [ [ According to a post from author Tom Cooper] ]

The Libyans Once Again

On January 4, 1989, two F-14As from VF-32 Swordsmen assigned to USS John F. Kennedy (CV-67) shot down two Libyan MiG-23’s with two AIM-7M "Sparrows", that failed at distances of less than 30 km, then one other was fired by the second F-14 and this time shot down the MiG. The other was pursued and shot down by a AIM-9L or M Sidewinder. The MiG-23s were pursuing the F-14s in an attempt to get into a missile firing position for several minutes before the F-14s concluded that they were under attack and outmaneuvered the Floggers. Both of the Flogger pilots were seen to have ejected. The AIM-7s which failed was probably either a failure to track the target or a failure for the rocket motor to ignite, since the failure was noted almost immediately after launch and the second AIM-7 was launched about seven seconds later. A missile was launched at the F-14s just before the AIM-7 hit its target but they managed to avoid it. [ An audio recording of the engagement is available here]

The 1990s

Operation Desert Storm

When Iraq invaded neighbouring Kuwait in early August 1990, the carriers USS Dwight D. Eisenhower (CVN-69) and USS Independence (CV-62) was the first carriers on station to support Operation Desert Shield. When Operation Desert Storm started, VF-1, VF-2, VF-14, VF-21, VF-32, VF-33, VF-41, VF-74, VF-84, VF-102, VF-103, VF-142, VF-143 and VF-154 all participated in either the build up to the war and/or the war itself. A total of 4,125 sorties were flown by the 99 F-14s present in the Gulf and during the war, F-14s provided escort protection for attack aircraft, long-range air defence of ships and combat air patrol missions. TARPS-capable F-14’s also flew photo intelligence missions. The Tomcat’s contribution to the war was quite minimal compared to other aircraft.

The F-14 did not have the needed systems and procedures required to integrate Navy aircraft as part of a joint air component as the Cold War tactics stated that the Navy would operate on its own, they did not expect to have allies fighting alongside any conflict with the Soviet Union. F-14’s were unable to solve the strict rules of engagement that would allow them to engage aerial targets using their onboard sensors, instead they relied on USAF E-3 Sentry to give them clearance to fire. Conversely, F-15 pilots could solve all the required ROE criteria for identifying an enemy aircraft.

On January 21, 1991 an F-14B from VF-103 was shot down, piloted by pilot Lt. Devon Jones and Radar Intercept Officer Lt. Lawrence Slade, possibly by an SA-2 surface-to-air missile. Lt. Jones was recovered the following day. Lt. Slade was captured and held as a prisoner of war until released on March 4, 1991.

The only air-to-air kill during the war credited to the F-14 was an Iraqi Mil Mi-8 helicopter by VF-1, using an AIM-9 Sidewinder.

The years after Desert Storm were bleak for the F-14. It was on the verge on early retirement due to budget cuts, and ten F-14 units were decommissioned due to its limited ground-attack capabilities. But due to the accelerated retirement of the A-6 Intruder, the US Navy noted that they lacked long-range strike capabilities, and the F-14 was soon converted into a long-range multi-role strike fighter.

Operation Deliberate Force

In August and September 1995, NATO launched Operation Deliberate Force, and the USS Theodore Roosevelt (CVN-71) and its airwing supported the operation. F-14s from VF-14 and VF-41 participated in strikes. VF-41 is credited with being the first F-14 unit to drop laser guided bombs in anger when on September 5, 1995, two F-14As attacked an ammunition dump in eastern Bosnia. The bombs were buddy lased by F/A-18s because the F-14 was not yet cleared to carry the LANTIRN pod. VF-41 alone logged 600 combat hours and 530 sorties during this cruise.

Operation Desert Fox and a Close Kill

With Iraq’s failure to cooperate with United Nations inspections, Operation Desert Fox was launched on December 16, 1998. F-14Bs from VF-32 took part in a 33-aircraft strike package on December 16. The first night of the four day operation was conducted by the US Navy only. VF-32 dropped 111,054 pounds of munitions during 16 strike missions and 38 sorties. During Desert Fox many Tomcat firsts were achieved which included the first GBU-24s dropped in combat by the US Navy, the first multiple GBU-24 drop by any platform in combat, the first combat use of the LANTIRN, the first autonomous F-14 delivery of a GBU-10/16/24 and the first use of Night Vision Devices in combat. On December 19, 1998, the last day of the operation, the USS Carl Vinson (CVN-70) arrived in the Persian Gulf, and VF-213 joined the air strikes, taking the F-14D into combat for the first time. During the 1998-1999 cruise, VF-213 executed 19 strikes, dropping 20 laser-guided bombs with a 64% success rate, supporting 11 combined strikes, flying 70 missions, logging 230 sorties and over 615 combat hours, as well as 45 reconnaissance missions imaging more than 580 targets. On January 5, 1999, two F-14Ds on patrol over Iraq encountered two Iraqi MiG-25s. The Tomcats fired two AIM-54 Phoenix missiles (one each), the first ever combat Phoenix launch by the US Navy. The Iraqi jets turned back north and the missiles failed to hit their targets. [ [ Vinson/CVW-11 Report - VF-213 Highlights Wings of Gold] ] .

Operation Allied Force and a Second Close Kill

VF-14 and VF-41 took part in Operation Allied Force, NATO’s aerial campaign against Serbia due to the Serbs' massive displacement of the population in Kosovo, between April 9, 1999 and June 9, 1999. F-14s of VF-14 dropped 350 laser-guided 1000 pound (454 kg) bombs in addition to other air-to-ground ordnance. F-14s flew combat air patrol, escort, strike, acted as Forward Air Controllers, and performed TARPS missions. VF-41 dropped the last bombs of the war on an SA-9 inside the Kosovo border near the peace-signing site on June 9, 1999.

On September 9, 1999, a VF-2 F-14 engaged an Iraqi MiG-23 with an AIM-54 Phoenix missile. Neither aircraft was damaged.

The 2000s

Operation Enduring Freedom

After the September 11, 2001 Attacks, no less then eight F-14 squadrons participated in Operation Enduring Freedom. Flying long-range missions from the Indian Ocean to strike targets around Afghanistan, conducting reconnaissance missions and supporting ground troops. From the start of OEF to the end of Operation Anaconda, F-14s from VF-14, VF-41, VF-102, VF-211 and VF-213 dropped more then 1,334,000 pounds of ordnance on targets. VF-11 and VF-143, alongside CVW-7, dropped 64,000 pounds of ordnance, both the Red Rippers and the Pukin’ Dogs made history as they dropped JDAM bombs from the F-14 for the first time during the war. VF-103 arrived in Afghanistan in June of 2002 when combat was scarce and the Jolly Rogers didn’t get the opportunity to drop any bombs during OEF.

During the war, VF-213 logged over 500 combat sorties, 2600 combat hours and dropped 435, 000 lbs of ordnance (452 bombs) during their ten weeks over Afghanistan [Tony Holmes (2008). "F-14 Tomcat Units of Operation Enduring Freedom, Osprey Publishing Limited - Chapter Three – Ground War, page 66] , the Black Lions also had the distinct honor of dropping the first bombs of OEF [Tony Holmes (2008). "F-14 Tomcat Units of Operation Enduring Freedom, Osprey Publishing Limited - Chapter Two – OEF Begins, page 27] . VF-102 dropped more bombs (680 of them, totalling 420, 000 lbs) and logged more combat hours (5000+) then any other F-14 unit that took part in OEF, and the unit lased an additional 50, 000 lbs of ordnance for other aircraft [Tony Holmes (2008). "F-14 Tomcat Units of Operation Enduring Freedom, Osprey Publishing Limited - Chapter Two – OEF Begins, page 45] [Tony Holmes (2008). "F-14 Tomcat Units of Operation Enduring Freedom, Osprey Publishing Limited - Chapter Three – Ground War, page 60] . VF-211 flew 1250 combat sorties, logging 4200 combat hours and dropped 100, 000 lbs of ordnance [Tony Holmes (2008). "F-14 Tomcat Units of Operation Enduring Freedom, Osprey Publishing Limited - Chapter Five – Tomcat Finale, page 89] . VF-14 led more strikes then any other squadron in CVW-8 and dropped 174 laser guided bombs, totalling 179, 324 lbs and buddy-lased 28 AGM-65 Maverick-missiles and 23 laser guided bombs [Tony Holmes (2008). "F-14 Tomcat Units of Operation Enduring Freedom, Osprey Publishing Limited - Chapter Three – Ground War, page 53] , and like their sister squadron, VF-41, they flew the oldest jets in the fleet. VF-41 dropped more than 200, 000 lbs of bombs (202 laser guided bombs) with an 82% hit rate, which was a level of accuracy that had never previously been achieved in the US Navy [Tony Holmes (2008). "F-14 Tomcat Units of Operation Enduring Freedom, Osprey Publishing Limited - Chapter Three – Ground War, page 52] .

Operation Iraqi Freedom

F-14s from VF-2, VF-31, VF-32, VF-154, and VF-213 participated in Operation Iraqi Freedom with great success. The F-14s flew 2547 combat sorties and dropped 1452 GBU/JDAM/MK-82 bombs with just one lost jet due to engine failure. F-14s led strikes deep into Baghdad attacking targets such as the Iraqi Ministry of Information's Salman Pak radio relay transmitter facility at Al Hurriyah, southwest of central Baghdad with JDAM bombs. Another notable mission involved TARPS equipped F-14Ds dropping four Mark 82 bombs on Saddam Hussein's presidential yacht, Al-Mansur (The Victor). F-14s also supported ground troops during the war and acted as Forward Air Controllers for other aircraft. An aircrew from VF-32 was involved in the worst friendly fire incident in the war when the crew attacked a U.S. Special Forces convoy in northern Iraq, believing they were Iraqi forces.

The Final Years

During the F-14's last three years in service, the remaining units all deployed to the Persian Gulf region in support of US forces in Iraq. The final deployment for the F-14 was between September 2005 and March 2006 with VF-31 and VF-213. These two units collectively completed 1,163 combat sorties totaling 6,876 flight hours. They dropped 9,500 pounds of ordnance during reconnaissance, surveillance, and close air support missions in support of the war in Iraq.

Iranian Service

There is limited information available about the service of F-14s in the Iran–Iraq War. Western intelligence indicates that the Islamic Republic of Iran Air Force (IRIAF) was in decline at the onset of the war in September 1980, and it is rumored that some level of sabotage was committed on the F-14's by either Americans or Iranians loyal to the Shah, during the Iranian Revolution. [ AerospaceWeb: Iranian Air Force F-14] ] Following the overthrow of the Shah, most Iranian F-14 pilots and technicians trained in the U.S. fled from Iran, fearing their association with the Shah's regime, and their time in the U.S. would endanger them. Only two pilots out of the original flight class chose to remain in Iran. Their fears proved correct, and many of the original Iranian F-14 crews and technicians who remained were jailed or murdered by the new regime. Eventually several F-14 pilots who were jailed were released when war broke out with Iraq."Smithsonian Air & Space", Vol. 21 No. 3, September, 2006, "Persian Cats" by Tom Cooper p. 36-39.] It is widely believed in the west that Iranian Tomcats and the AIM-54 Phoenix missiles were sabotaged when the breakdown of US-Iran relations took place. In reality, only 18 AIM-54 missiles stored at Khatami airbase were sabotaged, and the fleet was otherwise fully operational.

The U.S. estimated that the IRIAF was able to keep between 15 and 20 F-14's operational by cannibalizing parts from other planes. The IRIAF claims a higher figure, and was able to assemble 25 aircraft for an 11 February, 1985 fly-over of Tehran. Despite the embargo, Iran was able to acquire parts for its American aircraft, including the F-14, F-4, and F-5. Sources indicate these may have come via the Iran-Contra arms deal, collusion with Israel, or domestic production. Iran has claimed that they have been able to produce all of the parts required, though U.S. intelligence indicates that value is about 70%. Several individuals have been implicated in efforts to smuggle parts to Iran - 2 men were charged in 2000, and Houshang Amir Bagheri is listed on the U.S. Customs Most Wanted list for his efforts to purchase classified F-14 components.

GlobalSecurity indicates that the F-14 was flown in a mini AWACS role. To counter, Iraqi Mirage F1-EQ flew low-altitude profiles, popping up briefly to illuminate and launch missiles against the F-14s; several Tomcats were lost in this manner. GlobalSecurity also reports that less than 20 aircraft were still airworthy as of 2000 and cited one report that only seven can be airborne at one time. [Global Security. [ Iran Air Force] . Accessed August 22, 2006.]

It was thought for many years that Iran used the fighter primarily as an airborne radar controller, escorted and protected by other fighters, but later information indicates this was incorrect. While IRIAF did indeed husband their fleet of F-14s, the planes were used aggressively when needed, even escorting strike packages deep into Iraqi airspace. Initially the IRIAF F-14s flew intensive CAP patrols, some lasting even nine hours, over main bases. IRIAF F-14s often escorted tankers supporting strike packages heading into Iraq, scanning over the border with their radars and intercepting inbound Iraqi planes. With the excellent AWG-9 radar and long range AIM-54 and AIM-7 missiles the Tomcats could be used as offensive weapons, even without leaving Iranian airspace.

U.S. AWACS observed the downing of an Iraqi Tupolev Tu-22 "Blinder" bomber, and the downing of at least one F-14. Western sources estimate 4 kills against 4-5 losses; the official Iranian estimate is 35-45 kills, and 12 losses, all reportedly due to engine failure during combat.

Also unresolved is the extent of usage of the AIM-54 Phoenix missile. Most Western sources indicate that sabotage prevented their use, although other sources claim that up to 25 planes were downed by AIM-54's before their supply ran out. The Iranian F-14s used the AIM-7 Sparrow and AIM-9 Sidewinder air-to-air missiles as primary armament; Iran is reportedly developing a domestic copy of the Sparrow.

In 2004, Tom Cooper published "Iranian F-14 Tomcat Units in Combat", based mainly on primary interviews with Iranian pilots. It makes many claims that contradict previous reports. In particular, it claims up to 159 kills, and that in one incident four Iraqi aircraft were shot down with one AIM-54. The following combat encounters are claimed by Cooper:

By 1980, with the prospect of war with Iraq becoming ever more likely, most of the 77 surviving F-14 airframes were found to be in non-operational condition, or at least had non-functioning radars. As a result, F-14 pilots were forced to rely on ground control for their first wartime patrol and intercept missions. Within a few days of the start of the war, a dozen or so F-14s were made operational.

The first confirmed kill by an F-14A during the Iran–Iraq War occurred before the formal start of hostilities, when on September 7, 1980 a IRIAF F-14A destroyed an Iraqi Mil Mi-25 (export version) Hind helicopter using its 20mm Vulcan cannon. Six days later Major Mohammad-Rez Attaie shot down an Iraqi MiG-21 with an AIM-54 Phoenix missile while flying border patrol."Smithsonian Air & Space", Vol. 21 No. 3, September, 2006, "Persian Cats" by Tom Cooper p. 36-39.] A single AIM-54 fired in July, 1982 by Captain Hashemi may have destroyed two Iraqi MiG-23s flying in close formation.

Cooper claims the AIM-54s were used only sporadically during the start of the war, most likely because of a shortage of qualified radar intercept officers, and then more frequently in 1981 and 1982 until the lack of thermal batteries suspended the missiles use in 1986. There were also rumors that suggested that Iran's Tomcat fleet would be upgraded with avionics derived from the MiG-31 Foxhound. However, the Islamic Republic of Iran Air Force officials and pilots insist that the Soviets were never allowed near the F-14s and never received any F-14 or AIM-54 technology. Also, the AIM-54 missile was never out of service in the IRIAF, though the stocks of operational missiles were low at times. Clandestine deliveries from US sources and black market purchases supplied spares to top up the Phoenix reserves during the war, and spares deliveries from the USA in the 1990s have also helped. Furthermore, an attempt was made to adapt the MIM-23 Hawk surface-to-air missiles that were also a carryover from the pre-revolution period to be used as air-to-air missiles for the F-14, and at least two F-14s have been successfully integrated.

All in all, the Iranian Air Force was said to have launched possibly 70 to 90 AIM-54A missiles, and 60-70 of those scored. Of those, almost 90% of the AIM-54A missiles fired were used against Iraqi fighters and fighter-bombers. Only about a dozen victories by AIM-54s were claimed to be against fast, high-flying targets such as the MiG-25 or Tu-22 'Blinder'. The successes in aerial combat, if true, would make the Iranian Air Force the most successful user of the F-14 Tomcat during its operational history.

By the close of the war both sides were unable to obtain new aircraft or parts, and aerial combat had become conservative. Neither side could afford to lose aircraft they simply could not replace. In particular the IRIAF F-14 fleet suffered from a lack of trained technicians, and by 1984 only 40 F-14s were still in service. By 1986, that number had dropped to just 25. The F-14 was delegated to protecting Iran's vital oil refining and export infrastructure, where they often encountered French-built Iraqi Dassault Mirage F1EQ fighters attempting to attack Iranian oil pipelines.

Examples of Iranian F-14 combat claims

* The first aerial victory by an F-14 happened on September 7, 1980. Five Iraqi Mi-25 'Hind' attack helicopters of 1st Combat Transport Hecopter Squaron attacked Iranian border posts in the Zain al-Waws region. Two F-14As were vectored into intercept. The pilot shot down one Mi-25 helicopter by cannonfire, after two Sidewinder missiles failed to hit the helicopter.
* The first combat use of AIM-54 missile by an F-14 ever happened on September 13, 1980, when Major Ata'ie shot down an Iraqi MiG-23 'Flogger' with a Phoenix missile.
* On September 22, 1980 Iranian F-14s were sent against a fast moving contact, approaching Khark oil terminals at Mach 3. The MiG-25 was shot down by an AIM-54.
* On same day, another MiG-25RB was shot down on extremely hard conditions. The MiG-25 was approaching fast and was already within 113 km, yet the F-14 RIO was unable to acquire the target. A positive lock on was made on distance of only 70 km, almost inside the minimum range. A single AIM-54 was launched in snap-up engagement mode at 64 km. The missile worked perfectly and the MiG was downed.
* On September 22 two Iranian F-14A led by Capt. Ali Azimi detected two MiG-23s escorting a MiG-21RF 'Fishbed-J'. The Tomcats shot down the MiG-21 with an AIM-54.
* On September 24 the Iranian F-14As participated in several aerial combats against Iraqi fighter jets. The F-14s claimed kills against Iraqi MiG-21s, MiG-23s and Su-20/22 'Fitter's.
*On 29 November 1980, during Operation Morvarid an Iranian F-14 downed an Iraqi MiG-23BN which was attacking an Iranian missile boat.
* On 2nd December 1980 one of the closest range shootdowns by AIM-54 occurred. Captain F. Dehghan of the 8th TFS was flying on patrol covering Khark Island oil teminals, when number of approaching bogies were detected. Lock-on was attained only from a distance of 10 miles, too close to the minimum range of the missile. The F-14 had to use the Phoenix, though, as otherwise the plane would have been too heavy for dogfighting. The Phoenix was launched on short-range mode and it managed to hit a MiG-21.
* At 20th November 1982 two Iraqi generals boarded a Mi-8 helicopter to visit the front lines. The Mi-8 was escorted by two other Mi-8s, Mi-25, four MiG-21s and four MiG-23s, that were replaced by additional fighters when they ran low on fuel. The formation was spotted by two Iranian Tomcats escorting IRIAF KC-707 tanker, which was waiting for Iranian F-4 strike to refuel. The F-14s were flying race-track pattern, scanning over the front line with their AWG-9 radar. Captain Khosrodad spotted a large number of targets approaching slowly from west, already within AIM-54 range. Khosrodad ordered his wingman to keep with the tanker and attacked, first firing two AIM-54s, then two AIM-7E-4s some 10 seconds later. According to Iraqi reports, one MiG-21 and two MiG-23s were shot down within a minute, forcing the Iraqi generals to abandon their mission.
* On 20th February 1987 an F-4 lured Iraqi strike force into a trap, which was snapped by two F-14s of 81st TFS. A AIM-54 was launched at very long range, hitting the lead Mirage flown by IrAF Brig. General Hekmat Abdul-Qadr. The Iranian listening posts recorded the leader of the accompanying Su-22 flight scream "F-Arba-Ashara! Yalla! Yalla!", with the seven remaining fighters turning and fleeing. In English the leader had called "F-14! Run! Run!"
* During late 1987 Soviet Union supplied Iraq with MiG-25BM "Wild Weasel" aircraft. The planes tested the ECM systems against Iranian Tomcats and attacked Iranian targets with new anti-radar weapons. The MiG-25BMs proved they could operate with impunity at up to 69,000 ft, until on the night of 11th November a MiG-25BM was intercepted by an F-14. The Tomcat fired a single AIM-54 in Home-On-Mode. The missile guided flawlessly but failed to detonate. Yet, the missile clipped the MiG-25's fin and forced the pilot to bail out.
* During March 1988 Iraq launched a major attack against Iranian oil exports. On 19th March, at 0100, the first wave of Iraqi Tu-22B heavy bombers and Mirages, attacked Khark island and the tankers. Half an hour later second wave arrived without losses. The Iranian F-14s had arrived on scene for the third wave, though. The US Navy warships patrolling on the area recorded several AIM-54 launches, with at least one Tu-22B bomber and a MiG-25RB being destroyed. According to US Navy, it is probable that other Iraqi bombers were shot down as well.
* During the ending phase of Iran–Iraq War a mini war developed between the Iraqi Mirage F1 EQ-5/6 units and the Iranian F-14s between February until July 1988. The F1 pilots hunted the Tomcats aggressively and attacked the Iranians at any occasion. The F1EQ-6s were equipped with good ECM systems, and the Iraqi pilots could deny the F-14s from using their AIM-54 missiles. For example on 19th July 1988 four Mirages attacked two F-14s and downed both, suffering no losses.

ee also

*Gulf of Sidra incident (1981)
*Gulf of Sidra incident (1989)
*Operation Attain Document
*Operation El Dorado Canyon
*Operation Southern Watch
*Operation Desert Fox


*Tony Holmes (2005). "US Navy F-14 Tomcat Units of Operation Iraqi Freedom", Osprey Publishing Limited.
*Robert K. Wilcox (2002). "Black Aces High", St. Martin's Press.
*Tom Cooper and Liam F. Devlin (2006). "Iran - A Formidable Opponent?", Combat Aircraft (European Edition) Volume 7, Number 6.

External links

* [ U.S. Air-to-Air Victories during the Cold War, Wars in Yugoslavia, and Anti-Terror War]
* [ Service of F-14 Tomcat with US Navy]
* [ US Multinational Force (USMNF) Lebanon]
* [ Operation Red Hat]
* [ Operation Attain Document]
* [ Operation El Dorado Canyon]
* [ Iranian Air Force F-14]
* [ F-14 Tomcat Combat]
* [ F-14s over Lebanon]
* [ Iranian Air-to-Air Victories, 1982-Today]

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