Could Iran's Old Air Force Actually Take on American Stealth Fighters?

TNI Staff

Key point: Tehran only as asymmetric warfare left if its aging weapons are to stand a chance.

With the United States withdrawing from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action nuclear deal with Iran, a war with Tehran seems to be a distinct possibility.  In the event of a military conflict between Washington and Tehran, there is also the ever growing possibility that the White House might seek regime change in Iran.

A full-scale military campaign against Iran would require the United States to destroy the Iranian air force—which to this day flies American-built warplanes. The best of Iran’s decrepit fighter aircraft fleet is the Grumman F-14 Tomcat. The Imperial Iranian Air Force purchased 80 of the powerful fourth generation fighters before the 1979 Islamic revolution, but deliveries were halted at 79 aircraft. Additionally, Iran had purchased 714 Hughes (now Raytheon) AIM-54A Phoenix long-range semi-active/active radar guided air-to-air missiles, which have a range of roughly 100 nautical miles.

When the F-14A was developed, it was amongst the most capable fighters developed by the United States during the late 1960s. The jet entered service with the U.S. Navy in 1974 equipped with the AWG-9 long-range pulse Doppler radar, which had a range of over 115 nautical miles and was the first American radar set to incorporate a track while scan mode to allow for a multiple shot capability. Coupled with the AIM-54, the AWG-9 could target six enemy bombers simultaneously. On paper, the Tomcat provided the fleet with a potent capability—though the reality did not quite meet the Navy’s public relations hype.

Iran has upgraded its Tomcats with new avionics and potentially new weapons, but only a handful of Tehran’s F-14s are in flyable condition—perhaps as few as 20 aircraft. However, other than perhaps 20 Russian-made Mikoyan MiG-29 Fulcrums, the venerable Tomcat is the Islamic Iranian Air Force’s most capable fighter. In the event of a war, the F-14 would be Iran’s first line of defense against an American onslaught.

The stealthy Lockheed Martin F-22A Raptor air superiority fighter would almost certainly lead an American attack. Compared to the antiquated F-14, the Raptor is a technological marvel and is equipped with some of the most sophisticated sensors ever developed for a military aircraft.

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