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. “In close air combat, the Super Hornet is much manoeuvrable (with a good authority at slow speed and high AOA – angle of attack)”.

    There was a damning report of the Super Hornet in areas of critical operational requirements, while praising it for its improved aircraft carrier capabilities when compared to the original F/A-18A-D Hornet – something not high on our list of essential criteria.

    Three sentences on page eight of the report say it all: “The consequences of low specific excess power in comparison to the threat are poor climb rates, poor sustained turn capability, and a low maximum speed. Of greatest tactical significance is the lower maximum speed of the F/A-18E/F since this precludes the ability to avoid or disengage from aerial combat. In this regard, the F/A-18E/F is only marginally inferior to the F/A-18C/D, whose specific excess power is also considerably inferior to that of the primary threat, the MiG-29.”

    Is because the F/A-18E/F has a similar performance deficiencies to the F-35 which the aircraft has a short range and does not have the performance envelope of a true air superiority fighter compared to the large fighters (with high capability). They will be outclassed by the Su-27/30 Flanker family of fighters by most regional nations in all key performance parameters, aerodynamic, bigger weapons payload, radar / sensor performance by widely available fighters.

    Apart from the new Flanker family proliferating across the regions: the F/A-18E/F is acknowledged in the report as being no match for even the older and newer MiG-29 family. Space precludes quoting the report’s comments on the multitude of other areas where the Super Hornet is inferior to the 1970s-designed and 1980s-built original F/A-18 aircraft. Admittedly the Block II Super Hornet has a new APG-79 AESA radar and some electronic components not in the version Coyle gave evidence on, but the fundamental airframe and performance remain unaltered: it is heavier, slower, larger and uglier (its radar signature did not measure up to expectations) than the normal Hornet.

    Evidently the underwing aero-acoustic environment and resulting vibrations are so violent that some weapons are being damaged in transit to the target on a single flight – dumb bombs are fine in that environment but not long-range missiles containing sophisticated and relatively delicate components. To me there is nothing super about this Hornet; perhaps “Stingless Super Dog” is a better descriptor.

    • F/A-18E and Mirage 2000-5 are not true 4.5 gen fighters.

      They are heavily modernized second generation fighters (F-5 and Mirage III respectively).

      F-14 was the harbinger of 4th gen and despite being the first, its lack of FBW and lack of inherent instability it still was the indisputable master of the skies until the 90s. ASF-14 would have been the best fighter jet of human history performance-wise (nearly all aspects except of stealth and AoA, and in this later aspect beaten only by the kinetic-bleeding Fulcrum&Flanker families) instead of its rival, the Super Hornet, which is arguably the worst of its class.

    • What happens when you put F-18/f-35 quality avionics in an improved, re-engined F-14 airframe.

      With superior speed the F-14 retains the options continue the attack, move away with superior speed or end run and launch improved Phoenix missiles at the tankers supporting the F-18s .

      Most likely an improved Phoenix would have a significant anti ICBM capability for some time after launch. A potentially critical capability in a world with EMP weapons.

  2. Still like the Tomcat, was a revered ASF among the USSR and Warsaw Block, for the navy during some of the most heated years of the Cold War,

    The hornet variants have not largely had this type experience save some old and/or discombobulated Migs most lethal being the 29.similar in size to the F/A Hornets, etc. It is a shame to see the 14, retired in favor primarily of the: F/A hornet family.

    The 14 was and could be the superior fighter upstaging the YF-17. The Hornet does not have the same ability to go supersonic, have exceptional range then launch BVR or dogfight at low speed or altitude in the same mission.

    I know maintenance was/is expensive on the Tomcat but I’d like to see a US version updated with the latest fire controls, radar, communications and countermeasures not dissimilar to the legacy F-15s and F16s.

    I believe the JSF a colossal waste of money, expense in maintenance, questionable effectiveness in the field, over-dependence on stealth that soon enough will be exposed.

    I’c like to see at least a few F-14’s modernized, refurbished, etc. instead of making it a dead aircraft.

  3. The F-14 was cool, but lets be a little honest here. VG was out of style by the mid 1970’s. And it would have been a waste of money to update a plane that had few hours left on their airframes, as in the case of the Tomcat. VG designs tend to be large,bulky, and heavy. Also, at the merge, the F-18C and the F-15A/C have better sustained turn rates. And in the case of the F-15 it can disengage into the vertical. F-15 pilots called the Tomcat the “Turkey”, because in their HUD view the F-14 would appear to look like a turkey with its wings and spoilers out. And remember, the F-15A and C never received up-rated engines such as the F-14B and D. Actually the fighter version of the F-15 had a thrust degrade due to the -220s they received in the 1980’s. And in the BFM arena the F-14A/B/D NEVER had a chance against the Mig-29 or Su-27 (although I believe the so called super Hornet may not fair much better than the Tomcat in BFM). The Russian fighters have far better turn rates at any altitude and better AOA. The F-14/Phoenix system was great in 1975, but it is considered ancient by today’s standards-

  4. Everybody on this discussion board forgets one thing: THE F-14 TOMCAT HAD A GIANT RADAR CROSS SECTION. And the Hornet was born from compromise. Both the F-18A-E and the F-14 need modern replacements. VG is obsolete. Ask yourself why no VG fighter aircraft have been designed since the Tornado ADV? I would choose neither-

    • I don’t think anybody ‘forgets’ that. The purpose of the F-14 tomcat wasn’t stealth to begin with and stealth would have been antithetical to what its purpose was, which was to shine a big radar all over the sky to warn contacts away from the carrier group.

      While the F-35 and F-22 rely on being surreptitious, the Tomcat went into the air with long range, hyper-sonic missiles and essentially waved its dick at other airplanes. It was a deterrent, not an assassin.

  5. Hey there (old post, I know). There are 10 examples left at the Aerospace Maintenance and Regeneration Center in Tucson. They were being kept in storage for combat reserve until 2007, when the decision was made to scrap them for fear of parts flow to Iran. Scrapping continued up until 2012 if I remember correctly, when all but 10 were destroyed. Some of these aircraft are historically significant (1 MiG killer, another CAG airframe) and are on hold for museums.

Comments are closed.