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F-14 - Program History

The F-14 aircraft was an all-weather, carrier-based, airborne weapon system capable of performing air-to-air combat and air-to-surface attack missions. It was a twin-engine, two place variable sweep wing, supersonic fighter capable of engaging multiple targets simultaneously. It replaced the F-111B for Fleet Air Defense and as an improved high performance fighter to phase-out and replace the F-4J in Other Fighter Roles in the 1973-80 time frame.

It was intended to have an all-weather capability for delivery of the Phoenix and Sparrow missiles using a modification of the AN/AWG-9 airborne missile control system which can acquire and track multiple targets, and conduct multiple missile attacks. The aircraft will also employ an internal gun and Sidewinder missiles for close-in air-to-air combat.

It was concurrently in the development and production life cycle phases. The F-14A is being developed by the Department of the Navy. The F-14B will use an advanced version of the F-14A, engine to be developed jointly by the Navy and the Air Force. Grumman Aerospace Corporation (Grumman) is the prime contractor.

The F-14 aircraft (formerly designated the VFX) with the Phoenix missile system was an evolutionary outgrowth of the Eagle-Missileer Weapon System originally proposed in the 1950's. The Missileer was to be a subsonic, long endurance aircraft with a large, high-powered pulse doppler radar that had track-while-scan multi-shot capabilities and was to carry six long-range Eagle missiles. It was subsequently judged to be too single purpose (fleet air defense only) and too slow, and was canceled in the early 1960's. The Missileer aircraft was replaced by the F-111B which was also canceled and replaced by the F-14, and the Eagle missile eventually evolved into the Phoenix missile.

The F-14A depended on the Versatile Avionics Shop Tester (VAST)for maintenance and repair. It appeared questionable whether the VAST would be able to fully support the F-14A by the required date due to extensive work remaining to be accomplished on the VAST and the likelihood of compatability problems. The Navy has stated that it is possible that some airborne systems may not be integrated and be ready for VAST testing at the time of BIS trials and fleet introduction. If this situation occurs, factory test equipment will be utilized to fill this void until VAST integration can be completed. The factory test equipment used for this task'will be used later for production buildup in the plant at Grumman.

In GAO's review of selected cost aspects of the F-14 contract performance measurement system to evaluate its effectiveness, GAO found that, although it is providing some contract cost visibility, the problems noted during the review limit this system's potential effectiveness as a DOD and Navy management tool. These problems have to do with their use of flexible budget baseline and the low cost visibility associated with the contractor's use of a management reserve of funds for application to selected aspects of the program in need of emergency assistance.

The Navy initially planned to buy a "B" version of the F-14 aircraft starting with the 67th plane. During fiscal year 1971, this was changed. The plan as of July 1, 1971 was to buy 301 F-14A's, and to defer buying F-14B's until "B" engine development problems are solved. The Navy continued its participation with the Air Force in developing the new engine, however, it desired more testing of the new engine before committing the F-14B to production. The Navy would be denied the operationally improved "dogfight" capability of the F-14B in its fleet operation by the extent to which this deferment is in effect.

The acquisition of the improved engine for the F-14B was managed by a Joint Engine Project Office at Wright-Patterson AFB, Ohio. The reason for joint management is.to obtain a high degree of coordination between the Air Force and Navy in their engine contracts with Pratt & Whitney. The F-14B engine has a high degree of commonality with the engine being obtained for the Air Force F-15 aircraft.

The estimated cost progression of the program is as follows:

Date Quantity Total Cost Unit Cost
Jan. 13, 1969 469 $6,166 million $13.1 million
June 30, 1969 469 $6,373 million $13.6 million
June 30, 1970 722 $8,279 million $11.5 million
June 30, 1971 313 $5,212 million $16.6 million

Most of the total net cost reduction is due to the change in quantity planned for production. The increases in estimated costs were primarily attributed to inflation, the crash of the first aircraft, and development problems on the advanced technology engine. The unit cost has risen primarily due to the development cost being appropriated over fewer aircraft.

During fiscal year 1971, there were some minor reductions in the performance estimates. None of these was based on flight test data. The program office considers these adjustments a normal part of the development program. At this time only limited flight testing has been performed by the contractor. Navy flight testing began in November 1971.

The Navy's original plan was to buy only 66 F-14A's, with the rest being F-14B's. It later planneds to defer buying F-14B's until engine development problems were resolved. The Navy continued its participation with the Air Force in developing the new engine; however, it wanted more testing of the new engine before it commits the F-14B to production.

The F-14 development was straighforward and without serious mishap until the second crash in June 1972, which was due to pilot error.

The $16.8 million program unit cost of the F-14 -- although not out of line with the historical costs of fighter aircraft -- made it the most expensive general purpose fighter airplane in the world (with the exception of the limited-production, special purpose A-11).

Analysis demonstrates that fighter airplane unit costs have grown at an average 13% per year since World War I. Three percent of that growth may be attributed to inflation. The remaining 10% reflected increasing technical complexity and sophistication. Historically, the General Accounting Office found that all major weapon systems have shown an average cost growth of 30% over the initial estimates. The F-4 experienced a 25% overrun in the R&D phase, and the F-14, 28%. Low initial R&D estimates are primarily responsible for such cost growth.

The public and Congress had been sensitized by far more dubious weapon programs such as the C-5 and the F-111, and overreacted to the F-14 problems. The development and production of the F-14 did not show evidence of mismanage- ment since award of the contract, the plane performed according to specifications, and only the "B" engine development presented substantial technical problems. Actually, the combiiation of the F-14, the Phoenix missile, and the AWG-9 constituted a unique long-range air defense weapon system.

The smooth development of the F-4 - in contrast to the F-14 - was encouraged by the decentralization which then existed within the DoD and the Navy. The management histories of the F-4 and the F-14 support the conclusion of the Commission on Government Procurement that management layering, excessive staff reviews, unnecessary procedures, extensive reporting, and other paperwork are counter-productive in the development of major weapon systems.

In contrast with the highly successful F-4, it has been suggested that the history of the F-14 presented a microcosm of the problems confronting the development of modern, highly complex weapon systems. Troubled weapon systems such as the C-5, or the Main Battle Tank, or the TFX/F-III fighter aircraft exhibited three common problems: repeated major technical failures; prolonged schedule slippage; and extravagant cost growth.

During its development, the F-14 exhibited a cost growth of 28%. But the F-4 R&D expenses grew 25%, and the GAO found an average 30% growth for all major weapon systems. Neither the F-4 nor the F-14 experienced the profound and crippling technical problems which often confronted and confounded the military in the development of other weapon systems. However, the F-4 tail design caused problems, and the F-14's F-401, or so-called "B", engine was a continuing problem in development.

Also, both the F-4 and the F-14 experienced crashes during their flight tests, but neither had nearly as many crashes or such technical problems as those of the F-111. The F-14 performed within specifications, and it was anticipated that it will meet its planned initial operational capability date in the fleet in 1973. Its problem was its unit cost: the F-14 was the most expensive general-purpose fighter ever built.

The Navy and Grumman Corporation signed the F-14 research and development contract in February 1969. That contract provided for eight production options for deliveries totaling 469 aircraft. Each option, which was known as a Lot and given a corresponding Roman numeral, was to be exercised by the Navy in subsequent fiscal years, subject to certain agreed limitations in maximum and minimum numbers. Decisions as to these Lots for each fiscal year had to be reached prior to October in each year.

The Navy exercised Options I through III, totalling 30 aircraft through FY '71. Extensive hearings by the Senate Tactical Air Power Subcommittee were held on the F-14 in April 1971 and again in 1972, partially in order to determine whether or not the Navy should exercise its Option IV for 48 aircraft in FY '72 and Option V in 1972.

The forty-eight 1971 Option IV aircraft were the minimum number which the Navy could elect to procure without breaking the contract. Similarly, in 1972 Congress ordered the Navy to make the minimum purchase possible under Lot V, which was to have been exercised prior to October 1, but that decision was postponed by mutual agreement until December 1972.

The Lot IV option was exercised for 48 aircraft, the minimum quantity, before the October 1, 1971, option expiration. The Navy exercised its option on lot V for 48 additional F-14 aircraft on 11 December 1972. Grumman Aerospace Corporation restated its position that it could not produce these aircraft at the contract price without sustaining substantial losses and stated publicly that the option is invalid and unenforceable. At June 30, 1973, the Navy had ordered 134 F-14 aircraft (Lots I through V) from Grumman under fixed price type contracts. In Septeniber l973, Grumman and the Navy entered into a new and separate fixed price Incentive (Fl?I) contract for the fiscal year 1974 procurement of 50 F-l4A aircraft at a target price of $306.5 mlllon.

Critics led by United States Senator William Proxmire asserted that the F-14 program cost of $16.8 million per plane is grossly excessive and that the program should therefore be cancelled.

During the Second World War, William Proxmire served in the Military Intelligence Service 1941-1946. He was elected in a special election on August 27, 1957, as a Democrat to the United States Senate to fill the vacancy caused by the death of Joseph R. McCarthy, for the term ending January 3, 1959.

Proxmire soon established himself as an independent-minded politician, often acting without consulting leaders, staging filibusters, and never providing a sure Democratic vote. His legacy includes the 1986 Senate passage of an international treaty banning genocide, an issue he championed for two decades. He also promoted consumer protection legislation and sponsored the 1968 Truth in Lending Act. Averse to wasteful government spending, Proxmire wrote three books on the subject and presented a monthly "Golden Fleece Award” to “the biggest, most ridiculous or most ironic example of government spending.”

Proxmire [known as "Prox"] was reelected in 1958, 1964, 1970, 1976 and 1982, and served from August 28, 1957, to January 3, 1989 [he did not stand for re-election in 1988]. He was chairman, Committee on Banking, Housing, Joint Economic Committee and Urban Affairs (Ninety-fourth, Ninety-fifth, Ninety-sixth, and One Hundredth Congresses). Proxmire also set an attendance record not likely to be beaten. Over a period of more than twenty years, he did not miss a single roll-call vote, casting 10,252 consecutive votes before leaving the Senate in 1989. He was a resident of Washington, DC, until his death on December 15, 2005.

Critics suggested that the F-14 should be replaced by a lightweight, lower cost airplane yet to be designed. One recurrent proposal is that the F-14 should be replaced by an improved version of the F-4. Indeed, the F-14 was designed as the successor to the F-4, to provide fleet air defense and general air superiority capability. The Navy planned to replace its F-4 Phantom II aircraft with F-14 Tomcats, and defended the F-14 strongly against any suggestion that it is not a superior aircraft to the F-4 aerodynamically and as a fighting weapon.

In July 1971 Senator Proxmire called for cancelling the Navy's F-14 fighter. Calling it "a lemon pure and simple," Senator Proxmire said that the US Government would be stuck with extra charges that could total $4 billion. Senator Proxmire, a constant critic of the Pentagon in general, and aviation in particular, said in a prepared Senate speech that the extra charges, called "cost overruns," would result from higher prices charged by Grumman, who are building the airframe, Pratt & Whitney, building the engine, and the various manufacturers of components used in the electronic control system.

The House of Representatives had already cut production funds for the aircraft, and Senator Proxmire had said that the Senate should do likewise and authorise instead purchase of an improved version of the F-4 as an interim replacement until a new fighter could be developed. Proxmire said that US firms could turn out a new fighter with better performance than the F-14 at only a fraction of its price. At $11-5 million (£4-8 million) each, the F-14 was a marginal system, he said.

The Navy let a million-dollar-plus contract in 1964 to Grumman Aerospace Corporation [GAC] to study the possibility of a successor to the F-111B. GAC, a subcontractor to Convair, was responsible for the F-111B. The Navy awarded the F-14 prime contract to GAC after a competition in which GAC submitted only the third lowest of five competing bids. However, shortly before the award in February 1969, GAC reduced its bid by $474 million from an original figure of $2.894 billion. The Navy's independent estimate had been $2.893 billion. Although the GAC bid was still $100 million higher than McDonnell's (the other finalist), the Navy selected the Grumman design because of genuine technical superiority.

Charges of favoritism and even collusion resulted from the GAC/Navy association. The fortuitously timed $474 million bid reduction led the Senate Armed Services Committee to suggest GAC's win was a "buy-in". The approximately $500 million loss on the contract projected by GAC in 1972 when it threatened to refuse to perform any further production without a corresponding contract renegotiation lent credence to the buy-in interpretation. GAC may have accepted such patently unfavorable contractual terms in the belief that subsequent production orders would compensate for an early loss, and because the F-14 technically was a low-risk design.

GAC apparently did not provide for other less serious, if more numerous R&D phase overruns, which are typical in the development-of an expensive new weapon system. The General Accounting Office found from analysis of historical data that all such weapon systems encounter an average 30% overrun in the R&D phase. In the case of the F-14, the overrun amounted to 28% (for comparison, the F-4 figure was 25%). Congress did not appropriate extra R&D funds or approve the full 722 aircraft proposed by the Navy. As a result, the F-14 R&D budget grew at the expense of production. Fewer airplanes were planned to be built, and the program unit cost grew correspondingly from an original $13.1 million estimate to the $16.8 million figure.

The effect of total production on unit price is generally expressed by the learning curve. Typically, a doubling in production reduces the unit cost of the last airplane produced by 20%. If the F-14 production were doubled from its planned 313, its program unit cost would be reduced to that of the Air Force F-15, which has a planned production run of greater than 700. This fact alone indicates that, even for all its technical sophistication, the F-14 was really no more expensive than can be expected of similar modern fighter planes.

The reaction of the American public to the F-14 aircraft and the controversies which have surrounded the discussions between the Navy and the contractor concerning renegotiations were out of proportion to the actual magnitude of either the additional delay or the cost growth incurred during the program, when it was viewed in comparison with other recent major weapon procurements.' The public had been sensitized to cost overruns, in particular by the C-5A. It would be extremely difficult to obtain a consensus of the voting public on the need for re-negotiating any complex, expensive weapon systems in the future.

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Page last modified: 28-04-2016 19:20:19 ZULU