Aviation History


The F-14 Tomcat fired one AIM-54A from a range of over 100km (60 miles). The missile quickly cut the distance to the MiG-25 Foxbat and slammed into it, creating a huge ball of fire

When the then Imperial Iranian Air Force (IIAF, renamed Islamic Republic of Iran Air Force, IRIAF, after the Islamic Revolution) purchased the F-14 Tomcat the service was not only looking for a fighter superior in maneuverability and weaponry, but also for a highly flexible area defence interceptor. The IIAF wanted a complete system, including superior sensors and effective long range weapons.

The F-14’s was so effective so effective that her AWG-9 radar could detect airborne targets over vast distances and simultaneously track up to 24 targets and guide six AIM-54 Phoenix missiles against them. The AWG-9/AIM-54 combination also allowed the interception of low flying cruise missiles, as well as high and fast-flying airborne threats like the MiG-25.

The Tomcat performance during the war with Iraq confirmed Iranian decision beyond any doubt.

As reported by Tom Cooper and Farzad Bishop in their book Iranian F-14 Tomcat units in combat, from the autumn of 1981, the Iraqi Air Force (IrAF) started using MiG-25RBs to bomb Khark Island oil installations. Flying at high speeds and altitudes the Foxbats were very difficult to intercept. Actually intercepting a MiG-25 was the ultimate exercise in precision flying and high-speed operations, causing heavy cockpit workload even to the best and most aggressive IRIAF Tomcat crews.

Nevertheless in September 1982 IrAF MiG-25RBs started flying missions deeper into Iran, striking civilian targets. Because of these missions the F-14As deployed at Mehrabad started to perform 24-hour Combat Air Patrols (CAPs) over Tehran. These sorties were initially flown at 30,000ft, but as the MiG-25 approached, the F-14 had to climb to 40,000ft and accelerate to Mach 1+. However since the Foxbats usually operated at between 60,000 and 70,000ft and at speeds between Mach 1.9 and 2.4, they proved to be evasive targets and IRIAF F-14 crews had to change patrol altitudes, positions and speeds to intercept them.

As explained by Cooper and Bishop it is not known exactly when an IRIAF Tomcat shot down a IrAF MiG-25 for the first time. On May 4, 1982, an IrAF defector revealed to his Syrian interrogators that IrAF had lost 98 fighters and 33 pilots to Iranian F-4s and F-14s, which included a MiG-25 to and F-14-launched Phoenix missile.

Instead according to Iranian sources the first confirmed kill of an Iraqi Foxbat by IRIAF F-14s took place on Sep. 16, 1982. On that day two F-14As on a CAP between Bushehr and Khark were informed by ground-controlled intercept (GCI) that a single contact travelling close to Mach 3 was approaching Khark at 70,000ft. The F-14s turned into the threat and the lead’s RIO started the interception of what was clearly a MiG-25RB by activating his AWG-9.

First squadron of Iranian Pilots of F14 tomcats of Islamic Republic of Iran Air Force (Iranian Revolution) at Shiraz Air Base.

The target was acquired by the F-14’s radar after few minutes. One AIM-54A was fired from a range of over 100km (60 miles). The missile quickly cut the distance to the Foxbat and slammed into it, creating a huge ball of fire. The pilot was reported to have ejected over the sea, but he could not be found by Iranian helicopters probably because of the shark-infested waters of the Persian Gulf.

This victory confirmed that the AWG-9/AIM-54 combination could engage and destroy MiG-25s flying at almost Mach 3.

The next engagement between Foxbats and Tomcats took place again near Khark.. As explained by Cooper and Bishop, on Dec. 1, 1982 an F-14A flown by Maj. Shahram Rostami was on a CAP between Khark and Bandar-e-Khomeini, covering a convoy of merchant ships en route to Bandar Abbas. After two hours on station Rostami was alerted by GCI of a single contact approaching from the north at 70,000ft and Mach 2.3 – a MiG-25.

Since the Foxbat was rapidly closing to 113km (61 miles) and the F-14 was at 40,000ft flying at only Mach 0,4 the crew had to work fast.

Rostami accelerated and his Radar Intercept Officer (RIO) tried to acquire the target. The MiG pilot activated his Electronic Countermeasure (ECM) systems and closed to 71km (38 miles). Despite the jamming, Rostami’s RIO was able to obtain a positive radar lock-on and fire a single AIM-54A from 64km (34 miles) as the F-14A accelerated to Mach 1.5 and climbed to 45,000ft. The missile separated properly and Rostami turned his Tomcat slightly to the west, reducing speed and altitude to avoid approaching the MiG too fast. He held the target just inside the radar envelope. As the computer-calculated time-to-impact on the weapons panel counters reached zero, the hit symbol illuminated on the radar screen, and moments later GCI confirmed that the Foxbat had disappeared from their radar scope. The MiG-25RB crashed into the sea and despite an extensive IrAF SAR operation the pilot could not be found.

Few days later, on Dec. 4, IrAF Foxbats tried to take revenge when two MiG-25PDs penetrated the airspace over northern Iran and tried to intercept an airliner flying from Turkey as it passed over Tabriz. Unknown to the Foxbat aircrews an IRIAF F-14A flown by Maj. Toufanian, one of the first Iranian F-14 pilots, was vectored into the area. The Tomcat crew launched the Phoenix and watched their target attempting to out-run the AIM-54 that they had fired at it.

The Phoenix malfunctioned and passed behind the Foxbat. Maj. Toufanian powered his Tomcat up to Mach 2.2 and went off in pursuit. After the first AIM-54 had missed, the IrAF pilot slowed down, feeling safe. Instead he had signed his own death warrant, for a second Phoenix blew the MiG-25 out of the sky.

Photo credit: Islamic Republic of Iran Air Force official site, Dmitriy Pichugin and gire_3pich2005 via Wikimedia and U.S. Air Force

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.

View Comments

  • The Iranians knew good thing when they saw it. The F-14 proved them right.

  • The most successful F-14 pilot was Jalil Zandi of the Iranian Air Force. He was credited with shooting down 11 Iraqi aircraft during the Iran/Iraq War. Sadly, he passed away on April 1, 2001 along with his wife in a car accident near Tehran. May their souls Rest In Peace. The F-14 definitely gained her legendary status during the Iran/Iraq War with over 160 Iraqi aircraft shot down for the loss of only 3 Tomcats in air to air combat. In my opinion, it's definitely the greatest air superiority fighter during the Cold War. As Tomcat pilots would say: "It's Anywhere, Any Weather & ANYTIME!"

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