Often referred to as a fleet defense interceptor, the legendary F-14 Tomcat was instead also designed with air superiority in mind.
‘Many people will bring up the point that the F-14 was built as a fleet defense interceptor, which it also was designed to do. The F-14 wasn’t supposed to be a one trick pony like the F-15,’ Matthieu Pickens, an aviation expert, says on Quora.
‘When you only have 4 acres to work with, having an aircraft proficient at multiple jobs is a must. To solve these diametrically opposed mission-sets, the engineers came up with a radical solution. They designed the plane to have the internal fuel capacity for the fleet defense mission, but without the added weight and drag penalties necessary to carry the phoenix for the air superiority mission. They did this by developing pallets to carry the Phoenix missiles rather that designing permanent fixtures for them like on the later MiG-31.
‘On any mission the Foxhound isn’t carrying R-33 missiles, these recesses just create extra drag.
‘This F-14A is equipped for such an air superiority/escort mission.
‘It carries 4 AIM-7 Sparrows and 4 AIM-9 Sidewinders, the same loadout of the F-4 Phantom II and the F-15 Eagle until the arrival of the AIM-120 AMRAAM 15 years after it entered service with the USAF. The Navy learned in Vietnam it needed a nimble fighter (in addition to pilot training) to escort the vulnerable attack aircraft on strikes. The heavy and draggy center-line pallets have been removed. Even without the external tanks, the F-14 had an unrefueled combat radius of 500 miles. Even without the pallets, the Tomcat still had the flexibility to carry other stores on the outer hardpoints as the mission required.’
As mentioned above, the Navy doesn’t have the luxury of operating single mission aircraft on it’s carriers, for this reason the F-14 could perform the fleet defense mission and the interception mission at the same time.
When the Tomcat entered service a map showed that ‘if a carrier were parked in Washington D.C., its Tomcats could be on BARCAP as far away as St. Louis, MO,’ Pickens recalls.
‘Tomorrow, it could be assigned to a tactical reconnaissance mission. Even in such a role mission the TARPS-equipped F-14 is still dangerous.
‘Another advantage is that the RIO could operate as a FAC on CAS missions. The Tomcat was truly extraordinary. It’s a shame they were retired.’
‘If Col. John Boyd hadn’t spoken up during a Congressional hearing, the USAF might have been forced to adopt the F-14 rather than get the F-15. Imagine Grumman F-14s replacing USAF McDonnell Douglas F-4 Phantoms and Convair F-106 Delta Darts.’
Photo credit: Grumman, U.S. Navy and Kirill Naumenko via Wikipedia
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