The American Grumman F-14 Tomcat fighter was once one of the most powerful aircraft in the United States arsenal and even gained movie star status in the original 1986 movie “Top Gun”. For this American symbol is still one of the most powerful fighters in Iran, a country that has had a conflictual relationship with the US since the late 1970s.
According to the World Air Forces 2022 yearbook, the Islamic Republic of Iran Air Force has a total of 41 F-14s in its inventory, all of them of the initial A/B versions and purchased factory new. But how did such a powerful weapons system end up in the hands of a nation that is an adversary of the United States?
The planes were purchased in 1974, when Iran was ruled by Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi and was one of the United States’ main allies in the Middle East. At the time, the country closed a contract to buy 80 units of the Tomcat in a package that even included the very modern AIM-54 Phoenix long-range missiles, capable of hitting aerial targets at about 190 km.
In 1979, the Shah’s government was overthrown by a revolution when 79 aircraft had already been delivered to the country. The contract for the delivery of the planes and maintenance of the F-14s was suspended, but since then the Iranians have been able to maintain their Tomcat fleet by various means, including smuggling original spare parts.
It was this illegal purchase of F-14 components by Iran that led the United States to scrap much of its decommissioned fleet of the fighter after the aircraft was withdrawn from service in 2006. In addition to smuggling, the Iranians were able to copy several original Tomcat components, including creating a local reproduction of the AIM-54 Phoenix missile.
The F-14 is far from the only American aircraft in use by Iran. In addition to the F-5E/F, the country’s most numerous fighter is the McDonnell Douglas F-4 Phantom II, with 63 still in operation.
Photo head – Rob Schleiffert: This photo was taken by the late Kees Verloop of the Netherlands Navy (MLD) who temporarily served in VP-30 (P-3 Orions) at Jax. He gave me tens of great photos many years ago.