The recent decision by the Office of the Secretary of Defense (O.S.D.) to cancel the F-14D program in favor of an updated version of the F/A-18 has caused a great deal of concern within the Navy's fighter community.
It has been recognized for some time that a replacement is needed for the aging A-6 Intruder. The Persian Gulf war has shown the importance of the medium attack role for the Battle Group Commander as well as highlighting the need for a precision weapons delivery capability in the Carrier Air Wing.
With the cancellation of the A-12 program and the apparent massive reduction of the F-14D Super Tomcat program, the war fighting capability of the Carrier Air Wing is in jeopardy. By opposing the Pentagon and reinstating fiscal year 1991 funding for the F-14D, Congress has taken a step in the right direction. Yet serious, practical decisions need to be dedicated to the needs of the Carrier Air Wing as it approaches the 21st century.
The proposal by the O.S.D. for an all F/A-18E/F air wing is not the answer to the problems of power projection in the future. The F/A-18 was originally envisioned as the low end of a highcost-lowcost mix of aircraft on the carrier, a mix that has proved to be not only cost effective but tactically effective as well. However, the Hornet will never be an adequate replacement for either the A-6 or the F-14, and falls considerably short of the mark as a replacement for both.
Until a long term, cost effective alternative to the A-12 can be found, and until the extent of the Navy's involvement in the ATF program is decided upon, relying on a short range attack aircraft with a limited air-to-air capability cannot be the answer. The best hope of the Carrier Air Wing of the future exists today in the form of the F-14D Super Tomcat performing the all-weather, night, medium attack and long range air-to-air figher mission.
By exploiting the full air-to-ground potential of the Super Tomcat, the Navy would have a long range, all-weather strike-figher with capabilities comparable to those of the F-15E Strike Eagle. HARM, Harpoon and the ability to carry a multitude of existing and new generation air-to-ground weapons is already a reality in the F-14D. With the current strength and the future growth potential of the F-14D we have the best solution to the problems of power projection into the 21st century without giving up any of its proven air-to-air capabilities.
Apparenty there are forces at work in Washington D.C. which are against any future for the F-14. The problem should not be the choice of one aircraft over another, but the proper mix of aircraft that allows superiority to be maintained in every tactical arena. The Hornet, or any other single aircraft, will never meet all the requirements of the Carrier Air Wing. The F-14D Super Tomcat is more capable than the proposed F/A-18E/F, is here now, and should be utilized to its full potential.
The F/A-18E/F will never match the air-to-air capabilities of the Super Tomcat. Even with the addition of the developing AMRAAM technology, the limitations of the Hornet's weapons system cannot match the performance that the Tomcat possesses today with its Phoenix missiles and powerful, large aperture radar. While the Tomcat will carry AMRAAM when it becomes available, the Hornet will never carry the Phoenix missile and is still waiting for a multi-shot capability.
The key to success in aerial combat is the ability to locate and prosecute the enemy in a heavy electronic counter-measues (ECM)/stealth environment while gaining the first shot, first kill advantage. The Super Tomcat's powerful APG-71 radar coupled with its advanced weapons control system gives it this capability.
It is true that the F-14 has a large radar cross-section, but this is not a major tactical disadvantage. The radar cross-section of the F-14d is roughly equivalent to the F-15E which has had proven combat success in the Persian Gulf. While it would be difficult to make the Tomcat smaller, it can benefit from current stealth technology to reduce its radar cross-section.
A fighter aircraft in the interceptor role must have the ability to detect aircraft employing stealth technology. This ability is crucial and is directly related to a given radar's power-aperture product. The Hornet's low power-aperture product, a limitation caused by its small radome, results in short detection ranges and a weak capability against stealth targets.
In contrast, the F-14D possesses a robust counter-stealth capability due to its large aperture, high power out radar. The Tomcat's radar far exceeds that of the Hornet in both passive and active detection ranges. The Tomcat will always have the first-shot advantage over the Hornet. The long range, multi-shot, first shot capability is one that the Carrier Battle Group Commander cannot do without.
Long wave infrared search and track is a proven counter-stealth capability and the IRST system currently on the F-14D is a quantum leap over any other passive detection system in the world. The ability to passively detect, track and destroy enemy aircraft will be a crucial advantage in future aerial combat. Aircraft employing low observable/stealth technology cannot hide from the proven combination of the IRST and the APG-71 radar. Only the F-14D Super Tomcat can accomplish this today!
The combination of the new F-14D powerplant and the advantages of variable geometry wingsweep, gives the Super Tomcat the advantage in maneuverability. The variable engine inlets in the F-14 give it the speed necessary for survival in combat. The size of the F-14 engine nacelle's will allow it to carry new generation engines, such as those designed for the ATF, giving it a `super cruise' capability.
Fighter and attack pilots have a saying that `Speed is life'. The inability of an aircraft to detach from an engagement or to egress from a target area because of a speed disadvantage will be fatal. The fixed engine inlets of the Hornet are a liability by limiting its ability to achieve those speeds necessary for survival. The variable engine inlets of the F-14 allows the flexibility to achieve higher airspeeds and increase survivability.
Given similar loadouts, the Tomcat enjoys an approximate 200 knot advantage in either a high speed ingress or egress to or from a target area. This is a recognized liability for the Hornet and is directly related to aircrew survivability. Clearly the Hornet 2000 would be seriously underpowered in many situations.
The Hornet has an acknowledged range problem. External fuel tanks can help to alleviate this problem, but they severely degrade many of the Hornet's tactical advantages. The F/A-18 cruise configuration (two wing tanks plus a centerline tank) results in a radically different aircraft in terms of maneuvering capabilities compared to a `clean' Hornet. In this configuration, the Hornet's combat range is still extremely limited, the amount of ordnance, it can carry is drastically reduced, its air-to-air capabilities are extremely limited and it still requires extensive tanker support. Long combat range and the ability to take bombs across the beach is crucial to the Battle Group Commander.
The necessity to plan around the short range limitation of the Hornet is a hindrance to the rest of the battle group by monopolizing airwing tanking assets and often requiring the coordination of non-organic tanking assets as well. The F-14D represents over twice the combat range capability and possesses significant advantages in on-station time compared to the Hornet, and when external tanks are carried by the Tomcat, they do not degrade its ordnance loadout.
The F-14 is the only air wing asset capable of carrying four two-thousand pound bombs, along with its air-to-air armament, while maintaining its ability to recover back aboard the carrier without expending its ordnance. The Hornet cannot even taxi with that kind of ordnance load. Once airborne, the Tomcat can carry its heavier payload twice as far, stay longer and retire faster than the Hornet.
The size of the F-14 also equates to growth potential. Options exist to increase internal fuel carriage by 20%. The relatively small size of the Hornet has lead some to believe that an Air Wing Commander can put more of them on the deck of his carrier. This is not necessarily true. Because of its landing gear design, much of the Tomcat can be placed over the water when it is parked along the deck edge of the carrier.
As evident during recent testimony on Capitol Hill, the Hornet requires major modifications including fuselage plugs and larger wings to perform the mission it will be tasked with. In reality, this will result in a completely new, unproven, untested aircraft requiring extensive flight testing before it will become operational.
The fleet needs an aircraft with advanced technology and capabilities today; not in the undetermined future. A simpler and far more cost effective alternative would be minor changes in the existing, proven and tested F-14D. Software developments adding the air-to-ground capability to the F-14D are already paid for and are due for introduction in 1993 Why throw away a proven, carrier capable platform which can meet the fighter and medium attack requirements well into the 21st century?
It is not only unreasonable National Strategy to discontinue the F-14, a move which would severely impact our industrial base, but unsound policy to forego the present use and future development of the F-14D and await the development of a new aircraft. Will the ATF contract winner really be able to carrierize the F-22/23? How long will we have to wait? And while we wait, how many antiquated aircraft will we be forced into combat with in the interim?
Surely the cost of research and development for the F/A-18E/F will far exceed that needed for upgrades to the F-14D that are already available. Why should we be forced to await the arrival of the proposed F/A-18E/F when we could be training and fighting with the very technology (the F-14D) that the new Hornet is projected to provide?
It is my sincere belief that the best, most sensible course of action is to continue to produce and develop advanced versions of the F-14, while continuing to exploit the relative advantages a mix of different aircraft affords. An intelligent mix of F-14 variants covering the medium all-weather/night attack role and the all-weather fighter role alongside a compliment of less expensive F/A-18 aircraft to cover the traditional day-attack and point defense fighter roles is the most effective use of taxpayer dollars. It is irrational to wait for the introduction of an aircraft which could be 50% more expensive and possess less capabilities than the F-14D. The Super Tomcat is here today, not a proposal on a design sheet. It is my hope that every consideration will be given to continuing the F-14D program.