posted on Mar, 7 2006 @ 03:25 PM
One of the original design changes from the A-11, which was a finalized design, to the A-12 (and the YF-12 and RS-71, yes, RS-71) was
the addition of radar mitigation elements: the chines, which incorporated RAM sandwich materials in the triangular segments of the substruture, the
inward-canted vertical stabilizers and the use of composites and ferric paint to reduce returns. The D-21 drone was able to take these elements
further, due to its size, the lack of provisions for humans and advances in RAM composites in the years between the start of Oxcart and Tagboard.
On the topic at hand...
Few realize that the F-14 was designed as a strike-fighter interceptor from the beginning. In addition to the AWG-9 radar and the AIM-54 missiles
developed from the YF-12, F6D and YF-108 programs, the aircraft was to have a limited air-to-ground role. That role, along with the Navy's
participation in the Derivative Fighter Engine program (which produced the F101 for the F-15) were killed by SecDef Elliot Richardson and again by
Harold Brown. Few realize that the TF30 engine was only supposed to be a stopgap through the 9th pre-production aircraft. Instead, the Tomcat was
saddled with a terrible, unreliable engine until the late 1980s.
Once the Tomcat had finally received the Air-To-Ground software upgrade (every single Tomcat was built with the A/G wiring in place), the aircraft
demonstrated a ground attack proficiency that rivaled the F/A-18, but had the advantages of longer unrefuelled range, longer loiter times over targets
and a more lethal defensive capability with a bomb load. The addition of LANTIRN in 1998 made the Tomcat a more potent precision A/G platform than
the F/A-18A/C, which was unable to self-designate without sacrificing payload and lacked the ability to recover aboard the carrier with more than two
Mk82 500lb (or one Mk83 1000lb) bombs aboard a carrier.
As for it's air-to-air abilities, the Tomcat's low wing loading, combined with the F-14D's F110 engines made Grumman's last fighter unbeatable
against all but the most modern 5th Generation fighters. F-14D's flown against NFWS and NSWAC aggressors, including F-16N's, F-5's, A-4's,
F-21's and F/A-18's showed levels of maneuverability that were unbelievable, given the Tomcat's size. Furthermore, F110-powered F-14B's and D's
possessed an incredible delta-Vee capability, at cruise, while retaining long loiter abilities over targets and on CAPs.
The argument that the Tomcat's only talent was as a missile platform is predominantly advanced by members of the Navy and the civilian leadership who
preferred a smaller, less effective, shorter-legged option that many believed would be less expensive – the F/A-18 – which has been a
disappointment from the start... an expensive disappointment.
Furthermore, when the Navy withdrew its interest in a naval ATF, Grumman offered to restart the F-14 production line on a redesigned, upgraded
'Tomcat 21' priced at $40 million (FY1991 dollars) for 233 new-build and $21 million for 257 remanufactured F-14B/D models. the Navy balked at the
price projections, instead choosing McDonnell Douglas' proposal for an updated/fixed F/A-18 for a fly-away cost of $23 million (FY1993) per aircraft.
That "updated" Hornet recently entered the fleet, with less than 8% commonality between the F/A-18A/B/C/D and the F/A-18E/F, at a fly-away cost of
approximately $60 million (FY2003), and still less range and bring-back than the F-14D which it is replacing. Not to mention the loss of the most
heavily-used tactical reconnaissance platform of both Allied Force, OEF and OIF with the retirement of TARPS. There is no comparable operational
system on the Super Hornet?
And, lastly, for why the F-14 doesn't possess stealth characteristics, two reasons: 1) it wasn't necessary or feasible when the aircraft was
designed in 1968 and 2) the maintenance of RAM materials in a marine environment posed an extreme challenge until material breakthroughs in the
mid-1990s (part of the reason that the F-117N never materialized and a partial explanation as to why the disastrous A-12 Avenger II/'Dorito' program
cost nearly $5 billion and never even produced an airplane).