F-14 pilot who took part in cave busting mission the first night of Operation Enduring Freedom explains why Tomcat crews hated dropping the 2,000-lb GBU-24 Paveway III LGB

Blooding the Bombcats: the story of the first air-to-ground sorties ever flown by US Navy F-14 Tomcat fighter jets

By Dario Leone
Aug 23 2023
Sponsored by: Helion & Company
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Operation Deny Flight

In reaction to the resulting 1992 air war between self-proclaimed Serbian Krajina in Croatia, the Croat Air Force and the Bosnian Muslim air force, the United Nations declared a no-fly zone over Bosnia and Herzegovina. Codenamed Operation Deny Flight, the resulting military operations culminated in the summer of 1995, when NATO launched Operation Deliberate Force against the Serbian forces on Aug. 30 of that year.

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As told by Bojan Dimitrijević in his book Operation Deliberate Force, Air War Over Bosnia and Herzegovina, 1992-1995, amid all the advanced assets deployed by NATO during Operation Deliberate Force was the VF-41 Black Aces: a unit of the US Navy equipped with 20-year-old Grumman F-14A Tomcat interceptors, recently modified to deploy precision-guided munitions. This unit was embarked aboard the aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt (CVN-71), which was actually on its way back to the US towards the end of its six-month deployment in the Persian Gulf, when ordered to re-route to the Adriatic Sea.

Blooding the Bombcats: the story of the first air-to-ground sorties ever flown by US Navy F-14 Tomcat fighter jets
An F-14 “Tomcat” assigned to the “Black Aces” of Fighter Squadron Four One (VF-41) makes its final approach, during an arrested landing aboard USS Theodore Roosevelt (CVN-71).

Once on station, the carrier began planning and running operations as part of Deliberate Force, but most of its airstrikes had to be aborted due to bad weather.

However, on Sep. 5, 1995, two F-14As each loaded with one AIM-7M Sparrow, two AIM-9M Sidewinders, and one AIM-54C Phoenix air-to-air missile, and a pair of GBU-16 454kg (1,000lbs) laser-guided bombs entered Bosnian airspace accompanied by a pair of F/A-18Cs, which were to designate their target. Commanding officer of VF-41, Commander Bob Brauer, recalled what became the first air-to-ground sortie ever flown by Tomcats of the US Navy:

F-14 Bombcats

‘On the day of the first strike the weather was a big factor, and it continued to be a factor into the winter months. As we launched off the ship and headed in over the coast, it didn’t look like the strike was going to go ahead because of an undercast. But, about ten miles out from the target the weather cleared, and we could see the target well out. We rolled in at a very steep angle, from high altitude, against some ammunition facilities. The F-14s dropped while the F/A-18s lased. We egressed the target area having achieved absolutely superb results from direct hits, and there were impressive secondary explosions.’

VF-41 F-14As print
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In another mission, some of the most junior pilots of the squadron deployed Mk.82 ‘dumb’ bombs – reportedly also with excellent results. Between Sep. 5 and 12 1995, F-14As of VF-41 delivered 10,886kg (24,000lbs) of ordnance on targets in Bosnia and Herzegovina.

About a week later, USS Theodore Roosevelt was replaced by USS America (CV-66). The latter carrier’s air wing CVW-1 saw much action during the following days: however, while its F/A-18Cs expended additional LGBs and even SLAM-ER guided missiles, the F- 14Bs of the squadron VF-102 were not tasked with any airstrikes: instead, they flew CAN, forward air control missions and reconnaissance with TARPS pods.

Operation Deliberate Force, Air War Over Bosnia and Herzegovina, 1992-1995 is published by Helion & Company and is available to order here.

Photo credit: Commander Brian G. Gawne / U.S. Navy

VF-84 F-14
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Dario Leone

Dario Leone

Dario Leone is an aviation, defense and military writer. He is the Founder and Editor of “The Aviation Geek Club” one of the world’s most read military aviation blogs. His writing has appeared in The National Interest and other news media. He has reported from Europe and flown Super Puma and Cougar helicopters with the Swiss Air Force.
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