F-14 Tomcat Combat
From its initial combat air patrol mission during the 1975 U.S. Embassy evacuation in Vietnam, to its 2006 mission of supporting Operation Iraqi Freedom and Maritime Security Operations in the Arabian Gulf, the F-14 Tomcat played a vital role with the Navy for more than 32 years. Over this period the F-14's combat record was surprisingly modest, scoring only five air-to-air kills, including one helicopter.
The Tomcat entered operational service with Navy fighter squadrons VF-1 Wolfpack and VF-2 Bounty Hunters onboard USS Enterprise (CVN 65) in September 1974. The F-14's purpose was to serve as a fighter interceptor and it eventually replaced the F-4 Phantom II Fighter which was phased out in 1986.
The first real combat test for the F-14 was in August 1981. While flying combat air patrol outside of Libya, two F-14As of VF-41 were approached by two Libyan Sukhoi SU-22. The lead Sukhoi pilot fired an air-to-air missile at the F-14s; the F-14 pilots engaged and destroyed both SUs.
In 1983, two F-14s once again intercepted to Libyan fighter over the Gulf of Sidra, but no shots were exchanged.
In 1985, F-14s were called upon in response to the hijacking of the Achille Lauro, an Italian cruise liner. Arab terrorists had found and struck an Italian luxury liner, Achille Lauro. The ship had just departed Alexandria, Egypt, on a pleasure cruise of the Mediterranean. A few hours later, terrorists from the Palestinian Liberation Front hijacked the ship. After tense negotiations and the killing of an American tourist, the hijackers traveled in a battered tugboat to the city of Port Said, Egypt, after Achille Lauro anchored just off the coast. Egyptian authorities made hasty arrangements for the terrorists to depart the country. They boarded an Egypt Air 737 jumbojet at the Al Maza Air Base, northeast of Cairo.
On orders from President Ronald Reagan, on 10 October 1985 seven F-14 Tomcats from the VF-74 "Bedevilers" and VF-103 "Sluggers" were launched from Saratoga. Supporting the Tomcats continuously were VA-85 KA-6D air tankers and VAW-125 E-2C Hawkeye aircraft. Off the coast of Crete, the F-14s, without the use of running lights, eased up beside and behind the airliner. On command, the Tomcats turned on their lights and dipped their wings - an international signal for a forced landing. The E-2C Hawkeye radioed the airliner to follow the F-14s. Realizing they were in a "no-win" situation, the hijackers allowed the pilot to follow the Tomcats to Naval Air Station, Sigonella, Italy. One hour and 15 minutes later, the jumbo jet landed and the hijackers were taken into custody. Seven hours after the fighter jets were scrambled, all Saratoga aircraft returned home without a shot fired.
On 23 March 1986, while operating off coast of Libya, aircraft from the Saratoga, USS Coral Sea (CV 43) and USS America (CV 66) crossed what Libyan strongman Mohammar Khadafi had called the "Line of Death." The very next day at noon, three U.S. Navy warships crossed the same 32° 30' navigational line. Two hours later, Libyan forces fired SA-5 surface-to-air missiles from the coastal town of Surt. The missiles missed their F-14 Tomcat targets and fell harmlessly into the water. Later that afternoon, U.S. aircraft turned back two Libyan MiG-25 fighter planes over the disputed Gulf of Sidra. Soon after, aircraft from the three super carriers fought back in defense.
On the late evening of 15 April and early morning of 16 April 1986, under the code name El Dorado Canyon, the United States launched a series of military air strikes against ground targets inside Libya. The timing of the attack was such that while some of the strike aircraft were still in the air, President Reagan was able to address the US public and much of the world. He emphasized that this action was a matter of US self defense against Libya's state-sponsored terrorism. In part, he stated, "Self defense is not only our right, it is our duty. It is the purpose behind the mission...a mission fully consistent with Article 51 of the U.N. Charter." The size of the strike force's final configuration was immense and complex. Approximately 100 aircraft were launched in direct support of the raid. Several F-14 Tomcats which took up the long range Combat Air Patrol (CAP) responsibilities.
In April 1988, Enterprise was on its 13th deployment, assigned to escort reflagged Kuwaiti oil tankers in the Arabian Gulf while stationed in the North Arabian Sea. On 18 April, the United States retaliated against Iran following the 1 April incident in which USS Samuel B. Roberts (FFG 58) struck an Iranian mine in international waters. The retaliation involved both surface and air units. Carrier Air Wing 11 squadrons from Enterprise were the major aviation participants. VAW-I 17s "Nighthawks" provided airborne early warning tracking and analysis of targets as as air intercept control. The initial American strikes centered around a surface group action against two Iranian oil platforms that had been identified as support bases for Iranian attacks on merchant shipping. Elements of CVW-11 provided air support for the surface groups in the form of surface combat air patrols, flying A-6E Intruders and A-7E Corsair IIs, and combat air patrols with F-14 Tomcats./p>
The Tomcat was once again challenged by Libya in 1989, when two Libyan MiG-23 Floggers engaged two VF-32 F-14As from USS John F. Kennedy (CV 67) that were flying Combat Air Patrol missions close to the Libyan coast. The MiG-23s were determined hostile and the eight-minute engagement resulted in the downing of both Floggers.
During its first 17 years of operational service in the Navy, the Tomcat played a vital role as an interceptor with its air-to-air capabilities. However, during the 1991 Persian Gulf War, where there was more need for air-to-ground abilities, the need for the Tomcat's air to air capabilities diminished. Because the US-led coalition was able to sweep and clean the skies of Iraqi aircraft, many F-14s were without a major role for most of the conflict.
Navy and Marine Corps aviation made a significant contribution to the successful outcome of Operation Desert Storm. These two services provided nearly 700 of the 2,700 total aircraft that comprised the Coalition air force. Their crews flew over 29,000 missions, operating day and night from aircraft carriers and amphibious ships in the Red Sea and the Arabian Gulf and from land bases in Bahrain and Saudi Arabia.
A total of 4,124 sorties were flown by the 99 F-14 Tomcats deployed to the Gulf. In Desert Storm, F-14s provided escort protection for attack aircraft, long-range air defense of ships and combat air patrol missions. Some F-14s also flew daylight photo intelligence missions using the Tactical Air Reconnaissance Pod System.
In some instances, aircraft were delivered to the fleet without certain capabilities because the technology was not sufficiently advanced or, due to concurrency in the development and production of the aircraft, ancillary system development efforts were not completed in time to deliver the systems concurrent with fielding the aircraft. Fleet deliveries of Navy F-14D fighters began in March 1990, but the fighters did not have a defensive system to jam signals from radar-guided missiles homing in on the aircraft. The ALQ-165 Airborne Self-Protection Jammer (ASPJ), which was planned to provide this capability, has been terminated. The Navy is currently determining what system will replace ASPJ.
Navy fighter aircraft flew hundreds of miles inland from their ships, escorting and protecting attack aircraft from enemy aircraft threats in airspace crowded with many types of friendly and hostile aircraft. In the Aircraft Beyond Visual crowded Desert Storm airspace, strict rules of engagement required Range verifying the identity of aircraft beyond visual range to reduce the danger of shooting down friendly aircraft. Consequently, before firing a missile at a suspected enemy aircraft beyond visual range, pilots had to electronically query an unknown aircraft to determine whether it was emitting the proper friendly aircraft identification signal and, if not, whether it could be identified as a hostile aircraft.
However, neither the F-14 nor F/A-18 had the electronic systems needed to completely and independently verify the identity of other aircraft as required by the rules. As a result, Navy and Marine Corps pilots had to coordinate with Navy or Air Force command and control aircraft to verify the identity of the unknowns aircraft. Only the Air Force F-15 had the capability to independently identify unknown aircraft, and it was credited with shooting down 33 of 38 Iraqi aircraft during Desert Storm. It is not clear, however, how many of the 33 F-15 "kills" were made beyond visual range using this capability.
Navy F/A-& shot down two Iraqi aircraft while an F-14 shot down one aircraft. On 06 February an F-14A from VF-1, off Ranger, piloted by Lieutenant Stuart Broce, with Commander Ron McElraft as Radar Intercept Officer, downed a MI-8 Hip helicopter with an AIM-9M Sidewinder missile. Navy officials believed pilots lost several chances to shoot down Iraqi aircraft because they lacked the independent verification capability. Moreover, they said that not having beyond visual range capability could place them within the lethal range of an enemy aircraft's missiles before positive identification was made.
On 21 January 1991, an F-14 Tomcat of VF-103 aboard Saratoga, was shot down by a surface-to-air missile. Pilot Lt. Devon Jones and Radar Intercept Officer Lt. Lawrence Slade were reported missing. Lt. Jones was recovered the following day. Lt. Slade was captured as a prisoner of war, and held as prisoner of war until released on March 4th.
Despite its many upgrades over the years, from the F14A, to the F-14B, and finally the F-14D with its powerful F110-GE-400 engines and more sophisticated weaponry and surveillance equipment, it appeared the Tomcat's days were almost over. However, this state of uncertainty wouldn't last for long. Shortly following the Persian Gulf War, Navy leaders decided to devise removable bomb racks for the Tomcat's to allow them to carry MK-80 "dumb" bombs. The Tomcat's were also given the Low-Altitude Navigation and Targeting Infrared for Night (LANTIRN) targeting system to allow for delivery of laser-guided bombs. With its new upgrades the Tomcat's were soon dubbed as the "Bombcats."
During the proceeding years the F-14s took on a new, more effective role as a fighter-bomber. In Operation Deliberate Force in Bosnia, the Tomcats delivered laser-guided bombs while other aircraft painted the targets with lasers. The Navy was credited with 30 percent of the kills against forces in Kosovo as a result of the bombing performance of the Tomcat. The F-14 also demonstrated its ground attack capabilities in Afghanistan and Operation Iraqi Freedom. In 2002, VF-14 led the first long-range tactical air strike, flying more than 1,700 miles round trip to Mazar-e Sharif, destroying Taliban aircraft on the ground. During Operation Iraqi Freedom the Tomcats are living up to their 'Bombcat' nickname with their air-to-ground missions which continue to save the lives of coalition ground forces each day.
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