More Than Missiles: Iran's F-14A Tomcats Are Running Into Big Problems

Charlie Gao

Key point: Iran’s upgrade is a great missile for the last war it fought. It’s not a good missile for the next war it may fight.

Iran’s F-14A Tomcats are an anomaly in the region. While most other air forces in the region field multirole or air superiority fighter, the F-14A is a true interceptor with the speed, power and long-range missiles to strike at range then fly away before the enemy has a chance to lock on. This is, of course, enabled by the AIM-54A Phoenix long-range air-to-air missiles it carries. But Iran’s stockpile of these missiles is rapidly dwindling. Air-to-air missiles often have a short shelf life, missiles that have “expired” can fail to guide on targets or fail to produce enough thrust to reach them.

Iran has tried to remedy this in the past in a variety of ways, including strapping surface to air missiles onto their F-14s. But in 2018 they began production of their own version of the Phoenix, called the Fakour-90. The missile appears to be practically dimensionally identical to the AIM-54, but Iran claims improvement over the original models in several aspects.

However, missile technology has advanced significantly since the Phoenix. While the Phoenix was retired from service without a true replacement in the 2000s, the AIM-120D AMRAAM which entered service in the 2010s reaches out to nearly the same range.

But in a head to head confrontation, which missile would come out on top? Do the Iranian upgrades make the Phoenix relevant in modern air-to-air warfare?

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