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

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

About David Cenciotti
David Cenciotti is a journalist based in Rome, Italy. He is the Founder and Editor of “The Aviationist”, one of the world’s most famous and read military aviation blogs. Since 1996, he has written for major worldwide magazines, including Air Forces Monthly, Combat Aircraft, and many others, covering aviation, defense, war, industry, intelligence, crime and cyberwar. He has reported from the U.S., Europe, Australia and Syria, and flown several combat planes with different air forces. He is a former 2nd Lt. of the Italian Air Force, a private pilot and a graduate in Computer Engineering. He has written five books and contributed to many more ones.


  1. 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.

  2. 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.

    • 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.

    • Israel can not send all of it’s airplanes to Iran because targets are 2000 kn or 1100 miles away and it will be a round trip journey and they can not refuel all these fighter in mid air they simply dont have enough aircraft to carry that much fuel and refuel these fighters.
      the best Israelis can do is about 40 or 50 fighters and that’s why they don’t attack.
      Iran is simply too far away.

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

  4. 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.

    • maybe reason was that phoenix is a very expensive missile and it’s primary goal was fleet defense, meaning shooting down USSR airplanes armed with anti ship cruise missiles. other fighters didn’t have that role so didn’t need phoenix.

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