“We were not just fleet air defenders:” F-14 RIO tells why Tomcat crews could prevail against anyone in a dogfight

“We were not just fleet air defenders:” F-14 RIO tells why Tomcat crews could prevail against anyone in a dogfight

By Dario Leone
Jan 19 2024
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The F-14 Tomcat

Advancements during the Cold War in Soviet long-range patrol and bomber aircraft dictated a requirement for a fleet defense fighter that could engage high-altitude bombers from well beyond visual range. The iconic F-14 Tomcat was Grumman’s answer. Equipped with long range AIM-54 Phoenix air-to-air missiles, F-14s could engage multiple hostiles over 90 miles away.

Needing an interceptor’s high speed while carrying this heavy ordnance, Grumman produced the highly effective variable sweep wing of the F-14 that automatically shifted in flight from 28 to 60 degrees sweep for optimum performance at any speed and gave the Tomcat a combat maneuvering capability that could not have been achieved with a “standard” fixed planform wing.

Despite all these capabilities that made of the Tomcat a lethal dogfighter, the F-14 is usually remembered for having been the ultimate US Navy fleet defender.

Could the F-14 Tomcat dogfight?

But could the F-14 Tomcat really dogfight?

Dave Andersen, former US Navy F-14 Tomcat RIO, says on Quora;

VF-2 F-14A print
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

‘Geez, of course the F-14 can (could) dogfight. Are you kidding me? Look folks, the US Navy specified, and Grumman delivered, a fully capable “fleet air defense” (translation: fleet air superiority) fighter. Why do you think it had an internal 20mm Vulcan cannon and horizontal stabilizers each the size of an A-4 wing?

‘After the F-111B debacle, the Navy incorporated lessons learned – written in blood – from its Vietnam experience into follow-on VFX program requirements, which ultimately became the Tomcat. Yes, it was designed to incorporate the AWG-9/AIM-54 combination to defend the carrier and its battle group from Soviet bombers launching supersonic anti-ship cruise missiles, but also to defend carrier airwing strike and electronic attack jets (A-6s, A-7s, EA-6s) going in “over the beach” from enemy fighters. It even had a nascent air-to-ground mission capability designed in from the start to satisfy USMC requirements. Ergo, the AWG-15 panel in the RIO cockpit, which, except for the big red launch button, was largely left unused after the Marines backed out of the F-14 program, and later revived during the “Bomb Cat” era starting in the early ‘90s.

Prevailing against anyone

‘Anyway, air-to-air wise the F-14 with a competent pilot and RIO could more than hold its own against any contemporary fighter. Put it this way. Back when I was flying them in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s, out of our overall squadron pre-deployment training time I’d say we spent at least 50% of our allocated training budget doing a wide variety of air combat training evolutions of various stripes…. FFARP/SFARP, Red Flag, Green Flag, missile shoots, airwing strike training, various “pop-up” ACM or DACT opportunities, and the like. Maybe we spent 10%, at most, doing dedicated “fleet air defense” stuff, and that was mostly concentrated during pre-deployment workups or during a deployment. The rest was split between various air-to-air gunnery, low-level flight/air-to-ground gunnery, various required NATOPS/instrument flight quals and, of course, carrier qual-related stuff.

VF-84 F-14
This model is available in multiple sizes from AirModels – CLICK HERE TO GET YOURS.

Andersen concludes;

‘So, yeah, in the ACM arena thanks to all the dedicated training time we spent on it, we got pretty damn good at it. And the F-14 itself, even the ‘A’ model with its TF-30 motors, was absolutely no hinderance; in fact, we felt confident enough in the jet and our training to employ it effectively in combat to go up against anyone, anytime and prevail. Not a problem.’

F-14 versus Everything

The following video titled “F-14 versus Everything” proves that Andersen is right.

According to the video description, the footage features the F-14 taking on “in order of appearance, the F-16, MiG-21, MiG-29, F/A-18, Mirage-2000, F-15, MiG-23, vulture and moose. All gun camera footage is from F-14 aircraft HUD and TCS.”

Photo credit: US Navy


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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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