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.”



  1. Yep. While the F-14 has higher speeds and BVR missiles which makes it a great interceptor and in some cases can probably take out F-18s by using things like BoomNzoom. However the F-18 is more versatile which makes a huge difference

  2. The point wasn’t whether it would make financial sense vs. an already developed f-18. The point is that if you were to compare an f-14 to a modern airplane, it would only be fair to assume that it would get normal upgrades such as with engines and avionics if it were still around. There were several proposed upgrades of the Tomcat. The title is “which one would you fly in combat”? Not “which one would make a solid investment strategy”.

  3. Good article.. f14 and f18 is my most most most favourite jet, aside from f18a ,f15c , f16c , and tornado gr4. But i am still choose f14 if i must choose which jet that i would fly in combat. However In term of technology, there is no way to compare 1970 tomcat against 1995 super hornet. However it will be a completely another story if tomcat is modernization w/ the latest tech. To think that she could be fitted w/ tons of advance tech at the time of her deployment, if tomcat had been upgraded ,i cant imagine how much advance tech she could be fitted w/ current latest tech. For example her design allow her to be able fitted with awg9 as the longest radar for fighter in 1970, and phoenix missile as the longest missile , she is unmatched by any jet fighter at that time. More, her dogfight is as good as f15, her swing wing design give her unpredictable behavior during dogfight. As shown during competion between f14 and f15 in iran, the pilot perform a high speed maneuver but he set w/ her wing fully extended instead, giving her an unusually very high aoa at high speed. W/ the current tech , she could bring the best radar, weapon system, and avionics ever made while still maintain her highly maneuver ability. I am also wont forget that sukhoi and mig are copying her engines design which has gap between them, giving an extraordinary lift capability. No other jet has these features. For me tomcat is the best jet, despite of that, compared to other jet, tomcat clearly required a certain level of pilot skill if u want to her best capability.

  4. If the Tomcat was still in service today it would have most if not all the bells and whistles the hornet and super hornet have today such JHMCS AIM-9X and AIM-120 or even the DASH system like the F-35… So you would have an Aircraft with twice the speed and ability to bring back it’s whole un expended load unlike F-18’s. F-14’s with lighting pods and the rover data link system dominated the FAC A role with a longer time on station and more ordinance and more eyeballs looking out only aircraft carrying more ordinance is a A-10 but only one set of eyeballs looking out. Bear bomber are making a come back doubt even a super hornet has the legs to meet them at the max range of the average Russian cruise missile. A tomcat could be configured for fleet defense and a strike mission on the same flight. X2 Aim-9 X2 AIM-54 and whatever ordinance you wanted to hang off the belly. Every comparison compares a Tomcat as it was configured when it retired if it was still in active service it would have the same upgrades that hornets got now.. but I might be a lil bit biased…

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