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How the F-14 Tomcat Fighter Became the ‘Bombcat’ Bomber

  • The F-14 Tomcat was originally designed as a fleet air superiority fighter.
  • While the F-14 was famously known as a fighter jet, it did have a brief career as a fighter bomber.
  • Toward the end of its flight history, the F-14 gained the ability to drop laser-guided bombs, and evenfought in a number of conflicts.

One of the world’s most famous fighter jets once had a secondary mission of dropping precision-guided bombs in wartime.

The F-14 Tomcat, designed to protect carrier battle groups from swarms of enemy fighters and bombers, later became a bomber itself after the end of the Cold War.

The Tomcat gained this capability as a stopgap measure to preserve carrier strike capabilities after the retirement of the dedicated A-6 Intruder carrier-based attack jet.

A carrier-based fighter designed to ward off Soviet mass attacks, the F-14 first hit the skies in the 1970s and soon became one of the most recognizable fighters of the 20th century.

f 14a tomcat

U.S. Navy//Getty Images
A F-14 Tomcat assigned to VF-14 lands on the USS Theodore Roosevelt, 1999. A laser guided bomb is visible underneath the cockpit.
The combination of the long-range AWG-9 radar and super-long-range AIM-54 Phoenix missiles gave the Tomcat the unique ability to swat down Soviet bombers, and the variable geometry wing set allowed the large fighter to dogfight with the best of them. The F-14 achieved stardom in 1986 with the release of the iconic film Top Gun.
After the 1991 Gulf War, the U.S. Navy retired its A-6 Intruder carrier-based bombers. The service still required a long-range strike jet, and it would be several years before the larger, more capable version of the F/A-18 Hornet, the F/A-18 Super Hornet, would join the fleet.
The loss of the Soviet Union as a high-tech opponent in 1991 left the F-14 Tomcat without a peer-level enemy to fight. It was difficult to justify a pure fighter like the F-14 on financial grounds, as there were hardly any adversarial air forces of note in the post-Cold War world.

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