F-14 vs F-18: Which One Would You Fly in Combat?

An F-14B TOMCAT, from the Fighter Squadron VF-103) "Jolly Rogers" and an F/A-18C(N) HORNET, from the Strike Fighter Squadron VFA-34 "Blue Blasters," demonstrate a high-speed, inverted pass. (Image credit: U.S. Navy)

Tomcat or Hornet?

Until 2006, the “Wing King” of U.S. Naval Aviation was the F-14 Tomcat. On Sept. 22, 2006, the legendary aircraft made its last flight. Since then, the backbone of every Carrier Air Wing (CVW) is the F/A-18, both Hornet and Super Hornet models.

Although it was retired from the U.S. military service, the F-14 is still in service with the IRIAF (Islamic Republic of Iran Air Force). However, this article does not focus on the outcome of an eventual close encounter between Iranian Tomcats and American Hornets; it is just a comparison between two fantastic flying machines.

So which aircraft would you take to a fight?

The question, of course, it’s very difficult to answer. It depends on the way you see it and may significantly vary from pilot to pilot. However, some assumptions can be made in accordance with the most widely known characteristics of both weapon system, as the author as done in this article with the aim to give readers a comparison between the Hornet and its predecessor.

If the mission is strictly fleet defense, the F-14 was a perfect platform. In fact, the six wing-mounted pylons of the Super Hornet (or the four of the Hornet) impose a higher drag on the F/A-18 that couldn’t match the Tomcat performance as a very high speed interceptor.

VF-143 Pukin Dogs F-14B Tomcat and F/A-18E of the same squadron. (U.S. Navy)

Indeed, the Tomcat is known to be a very fast airplane, with great sustained energy performance and, since it carried a great quantity of fuel which gave it a good endurance, the F-14 was also very good for high speed strike missions.

But the Cold War ended a couple of decades ago and “its” Bears bombers are no longer the threat that led to the Tomcat possessing those attributes in first place. Furthermore, while the F-14 was an older aircraft in which some newer technologies were integrated, the F/A-18 Super Hornet is a more modern airplane with newer equipment, easier to maintain: a great advantage in times of budget constraints.

In close air combat, the Super Hornet is much maneuverable (with a good authority at slow speed and high AOA – angle of attack) and, even though it lacks the AIM-54 Phoenix for the long distances in BVR (Beyond Visual Range) engagements,  it has got the JHMCS (Joint Helmet Mounted Cueing System) and the AIM-9X Sidewinder for the dogfights, which the F-14 didn’t integrate.

In FAC(A) Forward Air Controller (Airborne) mission both aircrafts have some strengths and weaknesses: while the Tomcat had a greater on-station time than the Super Hornet, the F/A-18 has an integrated cockpit and for air-to ground missions has the capability to carry not only Laser Guided Bombs (LGBs) and  Joint Direct Attack Munitions (JDAMs), but also High Anti-Radiation Missile (HARM) and Joint Standoff Weapons (JSOWs) which the F-14 could not carry. Still, the F-14 could carry a reconnaissance pod (although an RF-18 version was produced) while the F-18E fly as a buddy refueler.

Anyway, thanks to its eleven weapon stations, the Super Hornet is more flexible than the Tomcat and it can carry a larger array of air-to-ground ordnance.

So the F/A-18E/F is a great aircraft and a very versatile strike fighter. Still, it’s a Legacy Hornet evolution and it’s not as revolutionary as the F-14 was when it entered the active service in the ’70s, as the most experienced Tomcat driver, Capt. Dale “Snort” Snodgrass, once said.

And, although it was an old plane, according to a female U.S. Navy RIO (Radar Intercept Officer) the F-14 was also a sexy aircraft: “The Super Hornet is a wonderful jet, and it’ s only going to get better. But it will never be cool. The Tomcat was cool. I know sexy when I see it.”

 

8 Comments

  1. This is a great discussion. You have all covered the current battle of modern aviation…performance or avionics. As a guy that currently flies the Super Hornet, I will tell you there is no other aircraft in the world that I would rather take into the modern era of combat than the F/A-18E/F. Yes, the Super Big is the slowest Cat 4 fighter in the world, but what it lacks in performance, the designers have made up and then some in sensors and avionics (AIM-9X w/JHMCS, AMRAAM, RWR, EW, etc). Which jet would I rather fly? That’s easy…the F-14! Which jet would I rather fight in? That’s also easy…the F/A-18E/F! Just my 2 cents…

  2. In summary, the F-14 is superior. It needed to be upgraded with new avionics, radars, and weapon systems. Perhaps a new engine giving it super cruise capability. With the new upgrades the Tomcat would still dominate the skys the way is used to. It would be unstoppable.

  3. I enjoy going to these sites time to time to read what – you the pilots leave as opinion. Sometimes I get annoyed but some comments are quite good. My father started in Grumman in 65 and was forced out in 96 or 97 when Grumman was bought out in a hostile take over in part by Dick Cheney and in part by Northrop. My father started in Grumman as an accountant but Mr Grumman asked my dad to go to engineering school so by 1969 my dad was working on the air frame of the Navy’s Tom Cat also the A-6 and E2. To the guys beating Grumman up on maintenance and cost my comments are did you really work on Toms? The Tom was retired because of Dick Cheneys hatred of Grumman period. I don’t have enough room to go into why but cost, maintenance and all the other negatives were fabricated to boost the poorly made and inferior f-18. The Tomcat E or Super as Grummanites prefer would see Mach 3+ with her new engines, new aerodynamics for sub Mach speeds, fly by wire instead of hydraulics. Improved radar we see you even further away, and maintenance hours reduced dramatically with new wing fold assembly. Finally with composites a weight redux of some 10,000 to 20,000 lbs so more fuel, greater range and heavier payload. Sadly Dick and Northrop Killed it. That is the truth to any doubter….

    • I absolutely believe and agree with you! Punishment not only for Grumman, but for all of New York, which didn’t support the Bush/Cheney dynasty.

    • I guess my private opinion about Cheney isn´t very flattering…anyway. We have the swing wing Panavia Tornado here in Germany, a multi role fighter jet, child of the 70`s, when the swing wing became a fashion – and I think it was or is a very capable platform, just the maintenance costs are horrible: For one flight hour, you need 60 and more maintenance hours. An Eurofighter is happy with half of this and less. They say, the swing wing mechanism is very expensive to maintain, lots of moving parts, connections, hoses, and it is heavy – so, in my view its understandable that these planes are sorted out.

  4. What you really missed is what these planes provide. Which is bombs on target to boots on the deck. The tomcat could stay on station longer, carry more and go farther than the hornet ever could. Looking at it from that aspect, I’d rather have a Tomcat on station than a Hornet. Hornet being on station for roughly 30 minutes, carrying less than the Tomcat, and the pilot being task saturated (for single seaters).

    • In today’s ever-changing rules of engagement you need the back seater of the Tomcat and the backseater to negotiate and the fuel capacity to stay on station .

      At Roberts Ridge the fight might have been far less costly to the Americans had F-14’s been available to deliver precision strikes

  5. Funny how our politicians always sell our old hardware to our enemies hugh? Then, they always find a reason to go blow them up with our NEW hardware. Hey, Iran… wanna buy some 2nd hand jets?

    Also kind of funny how the F-14 was active for over 35 years. THIRTY FIVE YEARS! Imagine if the tanks the U.S. were from 1970. Or they were still driving cars made in 1970?

    I always though fighter jets were supposed to be the most high tech stuff going. I guess not.

    It totally explains what happened to Goose though…

    GOOOOOOOSSSSSSSEEEEEE!!!

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