The Grumman F-14 Tomcat is a supersonic, twin-engine, variable sweep wing, two-place strike fighter. The Tomcat’s primary missions are air superiority, fleet air defense and precision strike against ground targets. Recently phased out of active service, the F-14 has had a long and distinguished career. The person responsible for the F-14 project was Admiral Tom Conolly, Deputy Chief, Naval Operations for Air. The aircraft was dubbed “Tom’s Cat” long before it was officially named “Tomcat”. Naming their aircraft after ‘cats’ is a long held Grumman tradition.
The F-14 Tomcat had visual and all-weather attack capability to deliver Phoenix and Sparrow missiles as well as the M-61 gun and Sidewinder missiles for close in air-to-air combat. The F-14 also had the LANTIRN targeting system that allows delivery of various laser-guided bombs for precision strikes in air-to-ground combat missions. This enabled the Tomcat to acquire mensurated target coordinates that are accurate enough for GPS weapons, which was unique to the Tomcat. The F-14, equipped with Tactical Air Reconnaissance Pod System (TARPS) was the Navy’s only manned tactical reconnaissance platform.
The F-14 was designed in 1968 to take the place of the controversial F-111B, which was under development for the Navy’s carrier fighter inventory. The F-14A used the P&W TF30 engines and AWG-9 system and carried the six Phoenix missiles that had been intended for the F-111B. A completely new fighter system was designed around these with emphasis on close-in fighting “claws” along with standoff missile fighting. Grumman was announced as competition winner for the new carrier-based fighter for the U.S. Navy. Emphasis had been placed on producing a comparatively small, light weight, high performance aircraft with a significant advance over the then current F-4 Phantom II. The F-14 had three primary missions; the first was as a fighter / escort to clear contested air space of enemy fighters and protecting the strike force. The second mission was to defend the carrier task force with Combat Air Patrols (CAP) and interception operations. The third role was secondary attack on tactical ground targets.
From its first flight on 21 December 1970, the F-14A went through five years of development, evaluation, squadron training and initial carrier deployments to become the carrier air wings’ most potent fighter. Technical and financial problems that received a great deal of publicity were overcome in achieving this goal. Originally it was planned that the F-14B with the advanced P&W F401 would be the major production version. However, performance of the TF30-P-412 exceeded expectations while development of the F401 was delayed. One F-14B was flight tested, showing that an F401-powered Tomcat would be a potential future option.
The first operational ‘Tomcat’ squadrons with the U.S. Navy were VF-1 and VF-2. VF-2 flew the first operational sorties from the U.S.S. Enterprise in March 1974. The first ‘combat’ cruise of the Tomcat was in April 1975 when the Enterprise covered the withdrawal from Saigon, South Vietnam although no combat took place between American and North Vietnamese forces. In the 1980s, in what was known as the ‘Gulf of Sidra Incident’, a pair of VF-41 ‘Black Aces’ Tomcats from USS Nimitz shot down two Libyan Su-22 Fitters on 19 August 1981. A similar incident took place again on 4 January 1989 when a pair of VF-32 ‘Swordsmen’ Tomcats from USS John F. Kennedy shot down two Libyan MiG-23 Floggers.
Also, during the 1980s, Iranian F-14s (the only export customer for the F-14) were engaged in combat against the Iraqi Air Force during the Iran-Iraq War. Apart from functioning in its intended role, Iranian Tomcats were also used as mini-AWACS, using their superior radar system to direct other Iranian fighter planes (such as the F-4 and the F-5) against Iraqi aircraft. The final kill by the US Navy Tomcat is an Iraqi Mi-8 helicopter, shot down by an F-14 from VF-1 using a Sidewinder AAM on 7 February 1991 during Operation Desert Storm. These five kills are the only ones scored by the US Navy. The IRIAF Tomcats is much more successful, shooting down fairly large numbers of Iraqi warplanes using all the weapons systems available.
The Tomcat caps a long line of Grumman Cats. In the hands of Navy pilot/NFO teams, it provided the carrier task force with its first-line offense and defense against any enemy air threat in the tradition of its predecessors. The F-14 became famous to the general public, as the star of the movie Top Gun, which also featured Tom Cruise.
The F-14 Tomcat performed superbly in Operation Allied Force and the strikes in Operation Southern Watch. While the Navy provided only eight percent of the total dedicated aircraft in Operation Allied Force, the Navy was credited with 30 percent of the validated kills against fielded forces in Kosovo as a result of the superb performance of the Tomcat in the Forward Air Controller (Airborne) (FAC(A)) role.
Function: Carrier-based multi-role strike fighter
Contractor: Grumman Aerospace Corporation
Unit Cost: $38 million
F-14A: Two Pratt & Whitney TF-30P-414A turbofan engine with afterburners
F-14B and F-14D: Two General Electric F110-GE-400 turbofan engines with afterburners
TF-30P-414A: 20,900 pounds (9,405 kg) static thrust per engine
F110-GE-400: 27,000 pounds (12,150 kg) static thrust per engine
Length: 61 feet 9 inches (18.6 meters)
Height: 16 feet (4.8 meters)
Maximum Takeoff Weight: 72,900 pounds (32,805 kg)
Wingspan: 64 feet (19 meters) unswept, 38 feet (11.4 meters) swept
Ceiling: Above 56,000 feet
Range: 1239 km 1994 km
Speed: Mach 2+
Crew: Two: pilot and radar intercept officer
Armament: Up to 13,000 pounds to include AIM-54 Phoenix missile, AIM-7 Sparrow missile, AIM-9 Sidewinder missile, air-to-ground precision strike ordnance, and one M61A1/A2 Vulcan 20mm cannon.
Date Deployed: First flight: December 1970