How Iranian air crews, cut off from U.S. technical support, used the F-14 against Iraqi attackers.
- By Tom Cooper
- Air & Space magazine, September 2006
Farzad Bishop Collection
(Page 2 of 2)
On the other hand, the AIM-54 Phoenix missile was deployed only sporadically at the beginning of the war, and then more frequently in 1981 and 1982 until the lack of thermal batteries suspended the use of Phoenix missiles in 1986.
“Deployment of the AIM-54 requires a good cooperation between pilot and radar intercept officer,” says Hashemi. “Some pilots have had a problem to accept this fact, and there were many discussions, mainly because we have had great pilots but very few good RIOs.”
During the war, Hashemi fired four AIM-54s against the Iraqis. His first missile, shot in July 1982, was directed at a group of Iraqi MiG-23 Floggers attempting to intercept a lone Iranian F-4E that was returning from Baghdad to Iran. “As luck would have it, on this day the closing speed of the Iraqi MiG-23s brought them within the ‘kill box’ of the Phoenix I fired,” says Hashemi. “When the missile hit the lead MiG, it disappeared from my radar along with his wingman.... The MiG-23 was not the fighter the Iraqis had hoped for. It could not outmaneuver any of our fighters and we have had very little respect for them on a one-to-one basis. We were concerned only when facing large numbers of Iraqi MiG-23s, later during the war. The most impressive thing about the MiG-23 was its ability to rapidly accelerate when we chased them—but it could not outrun an F-14.”
Some of the most spectacular air battles of the war—many of them between Iranian F-14s and French-built Iraqi Dassault Mirage F1EQ fighters—involved Iraqi attempts to cut off Iranian oil exports and the Iranian defense of the oil refining and exporting infrastructure.
The Iranians suffered heavy losses in the first few months of the war, forcing them to slow their flight operations to conserve their remaining assets. Under those circumstances, even successful air-to-air engagements had only temporary significance. When F-14s were sent up to do battle against the Iraqis, the deployment usually deterred the Iraqis from flying into that area for several weeks. One or two Iranian Tomcats could force a formation of Iraqi fighters to abort their mission or jettison their ordnance before reaching the target.
“I heard many times during [and after] the war how the air force...had let Iran down or how we should have done [things] differently,” says Captain Hashemi. “Our F-14As were used only as...interceptors as they were experts for that job.” On average, about 40 percent of the F-14 fleet was combat-ready at any one time. “We knew without a doubt that this...F-14A fighter force would not give Iran total air superiority over Iraq,” says Hashemi. He says the strategy was to use the prized F-14s sparingly to keep them safe from Iraqi surface-to-air missiles but to have them ready for any strike force that invaded Iranian airspace.
Recalling his interrogation of an Iraqi Mirage F1EQ officer shot down by Iranian Tomcats in February 1986, Major Kazem, a former Iran F-4 pilot says: “Without hesitation, this man told me that he ‘knows the IRIAF was left with only some 20 [Northrop] F-5s and a dozen or so F-4s, and no operational F-14s and that all our remaining fighters were poorly flown.’ I had to keep myself from explaining [to] him the hard fact that his flight had just been shot to hell by a ‘poorly flown’ and ‘non-existing’ IRIAF F-14A.”
Thinking back on his experiences during the war, Javad has been bemused at what has been reported about the Iranian Tomcat pilots. “In the 1990s, a number of observers declared the F-14 and AIM-54 to be an ‘expensive failure,’ ” he says. “We proved the contrary to be the case. We not only shot down many Iraqi fighters, but we forced hundreds of Iraqi formations to abort their missions before reaching the target.”
Iraqi pilots seemed to have learned respect for the F-14. They faced the aircraft again during Operation Desert Storm, begun only three years after the United Nations-mandated cease fire ended the Iran-Iraq hostilities. U.S. F-14 pilots who flew the fighter on escort and photo reconnaissance missions in Iraq reported that Iraqi aircraft would break off an approach once the Tomcat’s AWG-9 radar fired up.
Today, there are still an unverifiable number of Tomcats, overhauled and upgraded with indigenously developed systems, in the Iranian air force.