Here’s Why The US Military Prematurely Axed The Beautiful And Deadly F-14 Tomcat

The F-14 would spend 30 years in active service with the US Navy and Air Forces.

In terms of all-time great American fighter planes, there are pretty much only two guaranteed to have pinned up on any aspiring petrolhead’s bedroom wall. One is the P-51 Mustang, but if you prefer planes of a more modern and jet-powered variety, the Grumman F-14 Tomcat blows everything else out of the water, or the sky, shall we say.

The Tomcat was as beautiful to look at as it was deadly to its adversaries.  But seemingly at the height of its air superiority and its popularity, the Tomcat was retired from active service with little to no prior warning. If you’re into fighter planes the same way you are cars, this day was just as sad as the day your favorite old-school car maker went out of business forever.

So what factors led to the equally stunning and lethal Tomcat being snuffed out in its prime? Well, that story is one of politics, espionage, and international verbal swordplay between two countries across the world from each other.

Now that it’s been 15 years since the F-14 bit the dust, we’re taking a post mortem deep dive into the tragic downfall of a universally adored multirole jet fighter.

So Powerful It Made Enemies Turn And Run

Grumman Aerospace was no stranger to military fighter planes by the time the Vietnam War wrapped up in the early 70s. What the US military learned after being humiliated by the North Vietnamese was that even in the high-tech world of fourth-gen fighter jets, the need still existed to be capable in a dogfight. As the scores of F-4 Phantom jets lost to more agile Mig-21 and Su-7’s over the skies of Vietnam no doubt prooved.

The Tomcat was unveiled to the world in 1974 and entered active service soon afterward. The F-14 would spend the next 30 years in active service with the US Navy and Air Forces. Accompanying every overseas deployment from Panama to Operation Desert Storm and all the post9/11 counter-terrorism campaigns. Stories abound about how enemy fighters would explode in the sky for no discernable reason, only to see a squadron of F-14’s popping up on radar minutes after the opposing side is already dead.

Without warning, the Tomcat program was canceled in September 2006. A move that shocked American fighter enthusiasts and military pundits alike. Even as older planes like the aging F-4 remained in operation, the superior Tomcat was still the first among fourth gem fighters to be retired.

Reason One: The F-35

It’s the 1.2 trillion dollar barge with wings that no one asked for. That didn’t stop the US Military from shoehorning its new Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning multirole fighter jets into every role imaginable.

One of these roles, a naval air superiority fighter, was the bread and butter of the F-14 for decades. Criticisms about the F-35 being a jack of all trades but a master of absolutely nothing have been ignored, and the Lightning now serves as the US Navy’s primary defense fighter alongside the F/A-18 Superhornet.

In spite of Lockheed-Martin’s assistance that the F-35 is superior to fourth-generation fighters like the F14, F15, and F18, it’s going to take a lot more than a bunch of corporate buzzwords to convince most people. The F-14 was arguably the finest naval fighter jet ever conceived, and no amount of stealth or VTOL capability will take that away.

If the question of whether the F-35 is any better than the old F-14, heaven knows how it would fare against new superjets like the Sukhoi SU-57 or Chinese J-20 fighters. Hopefully, we won’t have to find out.

Reason Two: Iran

It’s one of the US militaries worst kept secrets. But make no mistake, the largest and as of right now the last nation to utilize the F-14 is not the Americans, but their sworn enemies the Iranians.

For the uninitiated, the US and Iran were actually quite cozy with each other before the year 1979, when revolution shook the nation and spawned a new, staunchly anti-American government. Three years before this, a collection of as many as 80 F14’s arrived in Iran directly from the mainland US.

Following the fall of the Shah in 1979, the Tomcat was the top-of-the-line fighter aircraft for the Iranian military forces. This ultimately was the final nail in the coffin for Grumman’s prized naval superjet.

The prospect of technological advancements made to the F-14 being stolen via espionage and transported back to Iran to potentially be used against the Americans was a sobering notion for the people in the Pentagon. This was the impetus behind the Tomcat’s sudden and tragic departure. The Tomcat celebrated its 50th anniversary this year. Now that it’s been gone for over a decade, let’s appreciate how much this classic fighter jet means to the people who fawned over them.