How IRIAF F-14 Tomcats could be (effectively) used in combat against Israeli or U.S. planes or drones

Mar 16 2012 - 15 Comments

A previous article about the theoretical Israeli strike on Iran with the rendering of an F-15I dropping bombs on Tehran got a lot of attention and sparked debate. Someone criticized it for not being enough realistic, even if I had explained that the image had to be taken as such even if contained one (or more) wrong details. It was not supposed to be accurate that’s why I didn’t ask Al Clark, who designed it, to correct some elements of artist freedom.

In this article, a new Al’s artwork below gives me the opportunity to write something about one of the most famous aircraft in IRIAF inventory: the F-14 Tomcat.

According to “IRIAF 2010“, the book published by Harpia Publishing and written by Tom Cooper, Babak Taghvace and Liam F. Devlin, that I consider one of the most detailed sources about Iran’s Air Force, due to the lack of some spare parts, the fleet of more than 40 Tomcats is roughly divided into “airworthy” and “fully mission capable aircraft”.

The first fly without primary weapon systems and/or no AWG-9 radar; the second can perform QRA (Quick Reaction Alert) and air defense missions.

These aircraft are based at TFB.8 (Tactical Fighter Base 8) Baba’i near Eshahan, in central Iran.

Hence, although IRIAF officials have described the current fleet of F-14s as “completely overhauled” and “improved”, and referred to it a a “new generation of bombers” in the recent past, only a small amount of Tomcats can be used for air defense purposes in spite of the large amount of spare parts that Iran was able to clandestinely collect after the type was retired by the U.S. Navy and the efforts of various domestic companies to produce some specific parts and subsystems.

What is the role the Tomcat could play in a hypothetical war against Israel?

As already explained in the blog post about the possible long range strike on Iran’s nuclear program, IRIAF interceptors, should play “hide and seek” with the enemy forces: they could hide from the incoming packages and try to achieve some kills during the egress phase. They could be effective by simply disturbing the strike packages to let them “feel” the threat and waste some gas.

The Tomcats could somehow be effective against isolated targets, like drones, mainly before or after the first waves of air strikes: even a UAV kill could play a role in the psychological war against Israel.

For sure, radar activation would be reduced to a minimum: during the most intense part of the air campaign their AWG-9 radar would be either jammed (although it was domestically modified or locally upgraded to make it more jamming-resistant) or detected as soon as switched on, with the latter hypothesis implying the risk of interception by enemy fighters.

Obviously, just in case: before the whole thing starts the planes should be dispersed on one of the several Iranian airbases to prevent them from being destroyed on the ground at TFB.8.

Image by Al Clark for The Aviationist

  • nico

    My understanding from reading accounts of Iraq-Iran war and other engagements is Tomcats are viewed as high value platforms and used as mini-AWACS. Not sure Iran would want to lose them on the first night of IAF strike.

    All kinds of rumors float around, I believe the one where maybe 6 are always ready to go to war with maybe up to 20 could be used in a one time “push”. Seems probable.

    At most visible on Google Earth is 9 Tomcats at Eshahan in 2010, with some of them not moving for long periods of time. Not sure it means anything. A couple of F14s can be viewed in Teheran, not sure if they are operational or just going thru heavy depot maintenance.

    Finally, one has to wonder how much current experience the current pilots have and level of proficiency in using their weapon systems. I am sure they will be highly motivated to perform their duties but if you only fly a couple of hours of month, yeah, you can fly a nice circuit around your airfield without killing yourself but that doesn’t make you a fighter pilot.

  • pat

    I think there’s something that nobody has taken into account yet. An Israeli strike on Iran would likely constitute the bulk of the Israeli Air Force. Therefore, in the event Israel launches an attack, their airbases would lack fighter cover and be vulnerable to a Syrian counter-attack. The Syrians would likely still suffer heavy casualties due to Israeli SAM fire, but if they were able to crater enough runways or damage enough facilities, then they may force fuel-starved Israeli jets to eject or at a very minimum severely limit Israel’s ability to launch follow-up strikes against Iran. If the Iranians were smart they even might choose to base some of their aircraft in Syria so that they could either add to the number of jets attacking Israeli bases or attempt to shoot down fuel-starved and missile-depleted Israeli fighters.

    • hdfhhdfhhr

      That would be an unforgivable blunder from the behalf of the Israelis. Correct me if I’m wrong, but, AFAIK, air bases weren’t left unguarded during the 6 day war strikes.

  • kocsis jános

    Just what would prevent anyone to upgrade F-14-s (or other aircraft) with the most moder radars and/or weaponry?

  • Jake

    You can upgrade but that upgrade has to be able to fit into the platform, or the equipment has to be able to draw enough power to new modern systems. There’s a reason no other aircraft was modified to carry Phoenix Missiles. The F-14 never carried AMRAAM’s. Far as I know Iranian F-14′s were equipped with modified Hawk ground missiles into a a2a role. If it will fit and operate, than sure you can make it work.

  • Saleh Alsaleh

    This is one of the best in history

  • Iranian2

    Why do you censor my comments on this topic? Are you afraid of different opinions? Particularly what are you afraid of when I write that you don’t have the right to depict and glorify the killing of my family in Iran?

    • http://theaviationist.com/ David Cenciotti

      Hey Iranian2,
      I think you made a mistake. I have never moderated you so far even if you don’t comply to the basic comment policy on this site that visitors should provide their email address. Are you sure you have left a comment? I’ve checked the last comments and haven’t found any on moderation queue.
      So, untill you don’t offend anyone (but this is valid for everyone) you are more than welcome here even using dontfukingmailme@answerinpublic.com as a fake email address and a nickname.
      Best

      • Iranian2

        LOL Do you really think I would use my real name and knowingly endanger myself and my family? SAVAMA, Hezbollahi, islamophobian racists, baathists, NATO militarists… Not even a valid e-mail I would use.

        But I really love to piss on some militarists’ parade who get horny by depicting other people’s misery in a war. What do you think Israeli war planes do in Tehran? Throwing candy? Can you imagine what ONE bomb on a nuclear reactor does to the genome of a whole city? Even using depleted uranium ammunition in Iraq and Afghanistan is genocide! How about that for criticism? No offense though.

        Now explain to me what happened to my comment on “Image: Israeli F-15 strike on Tehran on Day 1 of the war on Iran’s nuclear program” and why you think it is necessary to depict an air strike on civilians in a city with a population of over 10 million people?

        • http://theaviationist.com/ David Cenciotti

          First, there’s no such comment in the queue, but I wouldn’t care, since you explained the content of it and I can reply now:

          It’s an artwork. You can like it or not.
          It depicts, unfortunately, a likely situation; likely not for artist’s fault. There are simulation games about theoretical wars and about a possible war on Iran. Did you complain for them too?
          I think that focusing on that artwork is a bit simplicistic because, on this blog, we are not discussing on whether it is just or not to attack Iran. We are discussing how an attack would be conducted, if conducted.

        • http://theaviationist.com/ David Cenciotti

          BTW, if you’r not willing to give away personal information pls consider that WordPress logs your IP address and location (Central Europe) each time you leave a comment. So don’t forget this next time you post on another blog.

  • IRANIAN

    So it’s ok for me to draw a picture of your mother with cuffed hands and her throat slit in a burning house. Is that art?

    About the logic of attacking Iran I go with George Galloway:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r_XNnbQId8M

    • http://theaviationist.com/ David Cenciotti

      Sorry, you’r still missing the point.

  • Aman

    Hi
    Iran has Modified Tomcats and put R-27 Russian missile on it (project Toofan). so they have definitely modified it’s radar.
    the same happens to Phoneix, it’s radar should be modified (or changed) to match with the plane’s radar. so you can’t say it’s easily jammed.

    even a few phoenixes fired at a group of bomber make them cancel their mission ’cause they need to do High G maneuvers and can’t do so with high load of Bombs and HARMs.

    and then would come the Revenge of Iran…

    • hrhetjharjsrtg

      Hello to you too.

      -Well, the only evidence for this are 3 pictures of R-27s mounted on the shoulder pylons. Since there are no further pictures, and no recorded launches of the missile, I believe it would be safe to assume that only a few tests were carried out whose results were not encouraging, and that trials are no longer continued (pretty much like the AA-converted HAWKs).

      After all, a modification to the radar to fit a missile does not necessarily suggest electronic improvements. It may be different, but not necessarily better (don’t forget the R-27 is a mere SARH missile of Soviet origin). Maybe the radar required no mods at all. Taking into account the fact that the Shah did care to have support infrastructure, but not to develop the Iranian military aerospace industry (which means Iran could only maintain, not really upgrade), and also the fact that IRIAF F-14s have shown no external signs of improvements (same cockpits, same engines, same everything), I don’t think the radar would be modified at all. Look at it in a different way, if you like. The R-27 is an average performing missile (the first ones, at least). The AIM-54A is the IRIAF’s best weapon. Why would they risk permanently losing AIM-54/AWG-9 compatibility in favor of R-27/AWG-9 compatibility? It doesn’t make sense.

      -Unfortunately, the AWG-9 and the AIM-54A are by now probably fairly easy to defeat. The Phoenix was an agile missile from the start, and the mid-course updates meant that the victim got no serious warning until the active radar turned on. Today, from the moment of active guidance initiation until the missile reaching the target, a modern Israeli/US pilot can severely hinder the A-Phoenix’s ability to kill, even in a bomb-laden fighter. Iran hasn’t faced jammers in a long time (Israeli ECM isn’t exactly easy to counter nowadays), the pilots are better trained (and believe me, they will know the AIM-54A inside out down to its last weakness, after all the missile comes from the West), and if shit goes south, they’ll jettison the bombs, turn hard and evade. Not much harm done, since there are going to be dozens of strikes for only some 30 Tomcats (of which few will be armed with Phoenixes, based on the number of such photos surfacing).

      And all of this is IF a lucky F-14 manages to get in range before an AMRAAM is launched at it from 100+km (yes, I know the AIM-54 has onger range,but keep in mind that severe jamming and low altitude penetration attacks can, quite simply put, butcher the Phoenix’s range).

      To sum this up, an Israeli attack has both numerical and technological superiority. The knowledge the US will provide on Iran’s F-14s would certainly help Israel in becoming practically immune to Phoenix attacks. Don’t get me wrong, the F-14 was one mighty plane. But going to war with Israel is going to war with someone who knows half your weapons inside out. That completely eliminates any advantage.