South China Sea Dogfights – Floggers Vs Tomcats

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Soviet Floggers Vs U.S. Navy Tomcats: When Superpowers Fought it out in the South China Sea

Hooter was able to maneuver his Tomcat above and behind the MiG and expertly kept his advantage. After a series of maneuvers, the MiG reversed aggressively and the two jets ended up going into a rolling scissors…

Although the Cold War never erupted into all-out war, the U.S. and the Soviet Union did have many military interactions with one another and the 1980s were no exception. Newly-elected President of the United States Ronald Reagan supported an increase of military spending and the build-up of U.S. military forces. The Soviet Union, on the other hand, was doing some build-up of it’s own. In December 1984, reports started circulating that MiG-23MLD Flogger Ks were being based at Cam Ranh Bay Naval Base in Vietnam. The Cam Ranh Bay base was actually built by the United States during the Vietnam War. Throughout the war, all branches of U.S. armed forces used the base for various military reasons including as a hospital, an airbase, and a storage complex. Captured by the Communists in 1975, the Soviets began using the base in 1979 when the Chinese invaded Vietnam. Soviet long-range bombers and reconnaissance aircraft including TU-16 Badgers and TU-95/142 Bears began being stationed at Cam Ranh Bay in early 1984 followed by the MiG-23s in December of that year. Declassified CIA documents from January 9th, 1985 confirmed the arrival of 14 MiG-23 Floggers at Cam Ranh Bay.

Soviet Floggers Vs U.S. Navy Tomcats: When Superpowers Fought it out in the South China Sea
MiG-23MLD Flogger K flying from Cam Ranh Bay in 1986. (USN)

Throughout the next four years, these MiGs would have occasional encounters with U.S. forces in the region. Most often, these forces consisted of U.S. carrier battle groups transiting or operating in the South China Sea. As the carriers sailed near Vietnam, F-14A Tomcat fighter-interceptors were kept on alert in the event any Soviet aircraft ventured out toward the carrier battle group. By 1987, the Tomcat crews had already clashed with similar opponents when they engaged Libyan and Syrian MiGs and Mirages earlier in the decade. When Soviet aircraft launched out of Cam Ranh Bay, they usually allowed the Tomcats to escort them away, however sometimes the MiGs put up a fight.

During an encounter in 1987, the Soviet MiGs and USN Tomcats ended up in a swirling dogfight. While filming an episode of “Aircrew Interviews” and during a subsequent email exchange, LCDR Jon “Hooter” Schreiber outlined a dogfight he had with a MiG-23 Flogger K. On Aug. 14, 1987, two VF-2 “Bounty Hunters” Tomcats were launched against two bogeys that were inbound toward the carrier battle group. Hooter and his radar intercept officer (RIO) VF-2 CO CDR Jim “T-Dog” Dodge in F-14A BuNo 162594 “Bullet 200” took the southern bogey that was headed straight for the USS Ranger and their wingman took the northern bogey that was headed after a USN P-3C Orion doing surveillance. After taking off, T-Dog was able to get a radar lock and Hooter visually acquired the bogey at around 20 miles. About a minute later, Hooter merged port-to-port with the Flogger and turned left while selecting afterburner. Hooter was able to maneuver his Tomcat above and behind the MiG and expertly kept his advantage. After a series of maneuvers, the MiG reversed aggressively and the two jets ended up going into a rolling scissors.

Soviet Floggers Vs U.S. Navy Tomcats: When Superpowers Fought it out in the South China Sea
Seen here is F-14A Tomcat BuNo 162594. This jet was flown by Jon “Hooter” Schreiber during his MiG engagement in 1987. (Used with permission from Airwingspotter.com)

Once the MiG leveled off, Hooter tried to join up on the MiG-23. The MiG pilot was having none of it and continued to switch from afterburner to idle and moving the flight controls while aggressively jinking in an attempt to make it more difficult for the F-14 to form up on him. The pilot of the MiG then tried to drag the F-14 into the 12 mile limit off the coast of Vietnam, trying to ignite an international political incident. However, Hooter and his RIO were well aware as was the monitoring E-2C Hawkeye from VAW-116 “Sun Kings” and the MiG pilot’s continued attempts at tricking the Americans were to no avail. Every time the Americans would turn away from the 12 mile limit, the MiG turned and engaged them again and again in a series of turns. After the final engagement, Hooter was able to join up on the MiG. He saw that the MiG pilot had a large mustache and must’ve been around 6’2” and 230 pounds stuffed into the cramped cockpit of the MiG-23. Another interesting detail was that the pilot was wearing a leather helmet as opposed to the more modern HGU-33 helmets worn by the Naval Aviators. The MiG then turned hard right underneath the Tomcat and accelerated into the 12 mile limit to return to its base inside Vietnam and the engagement finally concluded.

Afterwards, the MiGs continued their routine operations out of Cam Ranh Bay and another dogfight occurred with F-14 Tomcats off the USS Enterprise in 1988.

South China Sea Dogfights - Floggers Vs Tomcats
This print is available in multiple sizes from AircraftProfilePrints.com – CLICK HERE TO GET YOURS. F-14A Tomcat VF-2 Bounty Hunters, NK201 / 159625 / 1976

On Feb. 8, 1988, the USS Enterprise with carrier air wing (CVW) 11 embarked was transiting through the South China Sea with fighter squadrons VF-114 “Aardvarks” and VF-213 “Blacklions” onboard. That morning on the catapult sat F-14A BuNo 159848 “Lion 200” from VF-213. A monitoring E-2C Hawkeye from VAW-117 “Wallbangers” notified the Enterprise of an inbound bogey 115 miles away and VF-213’s LT Darhl “Snail” Ehrgott and his RIO LT Dave “Swobes” Swoboda were launched out at the incoming MiG-23. Darhl climbed to meet the MiG and ran an intercept on him. He recollected that he was able to get into an offensive position and proceeded to chase the inexperienced Soviet pilot easily without using afterburner. The Soviet pilot continued to make mistakes and would put his nose up 70 degrees until he slowed and then made predictable turns. The MiG-23 then dove into the clouds to try to evade the pursuing Tomcat. Darhl patiently waited for the MiG pilot to pop back out of the clouds and immediately got back onto his tail. After six attempts at trying to shake the Americans, the Soviet jet began to run low on fuel and dove into the clouds one final time. Snail and Swobes refueled from a VA-95 KA-6D Intruder and were vectored onto another Flogger that was heading back to Cam Ranh Bay. Darhl was able to get within 25 feet below and underneath the Flogger and took pictures of its missiles before completing the mission and returning to the USS Enterprise. Later that day, one outnumbered F-14A from VF-114 engaged two MiG-23MLDs in a dogfight and was able to hold its own against some of the newest Soviet fighter aircraft.

VF-114, VF-213, and the rest of CVW-11 went on to participate in the highly successful Operation Praying Mantis against Iranian Forces in April of that year. VF-114 and VF-213 Tomcats ended up guarding Navy A-6E Intruder and A-7E Corsair II strike aircraft from intruding Iranian F-4 Phantom IIs in the Persian Gulf.

Soviet Floggers Vs U.S. Navy Tomcats: When Superpowers Fought it out in the South China Sea
A similarly-marked VF-213 F-14A Tomcat to the jet flown by Darhl “Snail” Ehrgott for his MiG-insulting mission in 1988. (USN)

Encounters such as these would continue for the remainder of the Flogger’s time in the region. Hooter pointed out that the Floggers weren’t in Vietnam to start anything, simply a political tool aimed at baiting the American pilots. With the collapse of the Soviet Union, the 14 Flogger Ks were crated and returned back to their original bases in December 1989 as reported by The Buffalo News. The F-14s would be left on the verge on extinction with the end of the Cold War and would begin a new chapter in their existence as a multi-role strike fighter until they were retired from USN service in 2006.

Sources

* Vietnamwar.net

* CIA.gov

* Aircrew Interviews

* Tom Cooper

* Mike Crutch

* Jon Schreiber

* Darhl Ehrgott

* Dave Baranek

* NY Times

* Washington Post

* LA Times

* The Buffalo News

* USS Enterprise 1988 command history

* USS Enterprise 1988 cruise book

* USS Ranger 1987 cruise book

* U.S. Navy

Artwork courtesy of AircraftProfilePrints.com

Top image: U.S. Navy

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