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World Council for the Cedars Revolution

Mar 04th
Home arrow News Content arrow Blog arrow Blog Items arrow Intelligence arrow Iran names new Air Force commander - w/video documentary IRIAF's F-14 History
Iran names new Air Force commander - w/video documentary IRIAF's F-14 History PDF Print E-mail
Written by YNetnews, IRNA, Presstv.ir   
Sunday, 31 August 2008

Iranian F-14 Tomcat
Iranian F-14 Tomcat

Iran's spiritual leader, the Grand Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, has appointed Brigadier General Hassan Shah-Safi to the position of commanding officer of the Iranian Air Force.

In his letter of appointment, Khamenei wrote to General Shah-Safi that "your missions will include raising the defensive readiness of our aircrafts and developing self sustaining research". General Shah-Safi will taking over the position from Brigadier General Miqani. (Dudi Cohen)


Supreme Leader appoints Air Force commander Tehran, Aug 31, IRNA
Iran-Supreme Leader-Air Force

Supreme Leader of the Islamic Revolution Ayatollah Seyed Ali Khamenei on Sunday appointed Brigadier General Hassan Shah-Safi as Air Force Commander of the Army.

In his decree, the Commander-in-Chief of the Armed forces appreciated services of the former commander of the Air Force Brigadier General Miqani.

The Supreme Leader recommended the new commander to boost combat preparedness of the Air Force and proceed with programs in line with self-sufficiency and updating the hardware.

The appointment was made as per a proposal from general commander of the Army of the Islamic Republic.



Leader calls for Air Force fleet upgrade
Sun, 31 Aug 2008 13:59:45 GMT

The Leader of the Islamic Revolution has called on the newly-appointed Iranian Air Force chief to further enhance the fleet's equipment.

In a Monday decree, Ayatollah Seyyed Ali Khamenei appointed Brigadier General Hassan Shah-Safi as the new chief commander of Iran's Air Force, replacing Brigadier General Ahmad Miqani.

In response to Western threats of a military air strike on Iranian nuclear facilities, the Leader called for concerted efforts to further upgrade and promote Iran's Air Force military equipment.

Tel Aviv and Washington accuse Tehran, a signatory to the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), of pursuing a military nuclear program, and have threatened to launch air strikes on Iran to bring its nuclear program to a halt.

Israeli lawmaker Ephraim Sneh, in a recent official document to both US presidential candidates said the opportunity to find a non-military solution to halt Iran's nuclear program would cease within 18 to 24 months, announcing that Israel is preparing a contingency plan to attack Iran.

Earlier in August, former commander of Iran's Air Force, Brigadier General Ahmad Miqani, announced that the country had revamped its fighter jet fleet to fly distances of allowing Iranian aircraft to fly 3,000 kilometers without refueling.

Iran has warned that it would not hesitate to target the heart of Israel and 32 US bases in the region should the country come under attack.




1970's Iran F14 Tomcat introduction in Iran Part 1



1970's Iran F14 Tomcat introduction in Iran Part 2



1970's Iran F14 Tomcat introduction in Iran Part 3



1970's Iran F14 Tomcat introduction in Iran Part 4






Iran overhauls F-14 fighter jets


Tomcat In Service with Iran
Last revised December 28, 2007

The F-14A Tomcat was exported to only one foreign customer, the Nirou Havai Shahanshahiye Iran, or Imperial Iranian Air Force (IIAF).

The government of the Shah of Iran had been granted large amounts of military assistance by the United States government in the hope that Iran would act as a bulwark against Soviet expansions southward into the region of the Persian Gulf. In addition, Iranian oil revenues made it possible for the Shah's government to purchase massive amounts of Western-manufactured arms, including advanced warplanes such as the Northrop F-5A and E, the McDonnell F-4D and E Phantom, and the Lockheed P-3F Orion. In addition, large numbers of Chieftain and Shir main battle tanks were purchased from Britain.

In May of 1972, President Richard Nixon had visited Iran and the Shah had mentioned to him that MiG-25 Foxbat aircraft of the Soviet Air Force had regularly been flying unimpeded over Iranian territory. The Shah asked Nixon for equipment which could intercept these high-speed intruders, and Nixon told the Shah that he could order either the F-14 Tomcat or the F-15 Eagle.

In August of 1973, the Shah selected the F-14 Tomcat, and the sale was approved by the US government in November of 1973. The initial order signed in January of 1974 covered 30 Tomcats, but in June 50 more were added to the contract. At the same time, the Iranian government-owned Melli Bank agreed to loan Grumman $75 million to partially make up for a US government loan of $200 to Grumman which had just been cancelled. This loan enabled Grumman to secure a further loan of $125 from a consortium of American banks, ensuring at least for the moment that the F-14 program would continue.

The Iranian Tomcat was virtually identical to the US Navy version, with only a few classified avionics items being omitted. The base site for Iranian Tomcat operations was at Isfahan. Imperial Iranian Air Force aircrews began to arrive in the USA for training in May of 1974, and shortly thereafter the first Grumman pilots arrived in Iran.

The Iranian Tomcats were fairly late on the production line, and were therefore delivered with the TF30-P-414 engine, which was much safer than the compressor-stall-prone P-412 engine. The first of 80 Tomcats arrived in Iran in January of 1976. By May of 1977, when Iran celebrated the 50th anniversary of the Royal House, 12 had been delivered. At this time, the Soviet Foxbats were still making a nuisance of themselves by flying over Iran, and the Shaw ordered live firing tests of the Phoenix to be carried out as a warning. In August of 1977, IIAF crews shot down a BQM-34E drone flying at 50,000 feet, and the Soviets took the hint and Foxbat overflights promptly ended.

The IIAF Tomcats bore the US Navy serial numbers of 160299/160378, and were assigned the IIAF serial numbers 3-863 to 3-892 and 3-6001 to 3-6050. The last of 79 Tomcats were delivered to Iran in 1978. One Iranian Tomcat (BuNo 170378) was retained in the USA for use as a testbed. Iran also ordered 714 Phoenix missiles, but only 284 had been delivered at the time of the Revolution. These Phoenix missiles were of slightly-reduced capability as compared with those delivered to the US Navy.

Toward the end of the 1970s, there was increasing chaos in Iran. On January 16, 1979, the Shah fled the country and on April 1, an Islamic republic was declared, with the Ayatolla Khomeini as the head of state. The Imperial Iranian Air Force was renamed the Islamic Republic of Iran Air Force (IRIAF). The new government rapidly took on an anti-Western stance, denouncing the United States as the "great Satan". Following the Islamic revolution, massive numbers of contracts with Western arms suppliers were cancelled by the new government, including an order for 400 AIM-54A Phoenix missiles. Relations with the USA became increasingly strained, especially by the occupation of the US embassy in Teheran by militant students and the holding of 52 Americans hostage. The US responded with a cutoff of all political and military ties to Iran and the imposition of a strict arms embargo.

This arms embargo against Iran imposed by the West caused a severe spare parts and maintenance problem. Even the best-equipped units were often poorly trained and could not operate without Western contractor support. The political upheavals and purges caused by the fundamentalist revolution made the situation much worse, with many pilots and maintenance personnel following the Shah into exile. As a result, by 1980 the IRIAF was only a shadow of its former self.

This embargo was to have a especially severe long-term effect on the Tomcat fleet, since the embargo prevented the delivery of any spares. In addition, by August of 1979, all 79 of the F-14A Tomcats had supposedly been sabotaged so that they could no longer fire their Phoenix missiles. According to various accounts, this was done either by departing Grumman technicians, by Iranian Air Force personnel friendly to the US shortly after the fall of the Shah, or even by Iranian revolutionaries in an attempt to prevent operations by an Air Force perceived to be too pro-Western.

The Iran-Iraq war began on September 22, 1980 with an Iraqi air attack on six Iranian air bases and four Iranian army bases. It was followed by an Iraqi land attack at four points along a 700-kilometer front. Before the war ended in 1988, somewhere between 500,000 and a million people were dead, between 1 and 2 million people were injured, and there were two to three million refugees. Although little-covered in the Western media, the war was a human tragedy on a massive scale.

Air power did not play a dominant role in the Iran-Iraq war, because both sides were unable to use their air forces very effectively. Fighter-vs-fighter combat was rather rare throughout the entire course of the Iran-Iraq war. During the first phase of the war, Iranian aircraft had the fuel and the endurance to win most of these aerial encounters, either by killing with their first shot of an AIM-9 or else by forcing Iraqi fighters to withdraw. However, at this stage in the war the infrared homing missiles used by the fighters of both sides were generally ineffective in anything other than tail-chase firings at medium to high altitudes.

Initially, Iranian pilots had the edge in training and experience, but as the war dragged on, this edge was gradually lost because of the repeated purges within the ranks of the Iranian military which removed experienced officers and pilots who were suspected of disloyalty to the Islamic fundamentalist regime or those with close ties or sympathies with the West. As Iranian capabilities declined, Iraqi capabilities gradually improved. After 1982, Iraq managed to improve its training and was able to acquire newer and better arms from French manufacturers, especially the Dassault Breguet Super Etendard and the Mirage F-1. The Mirage F-1 was capable of firing the Matra R-550 Magic air-to-air missile, which had a 140-degree attack hemisphere, a head-on attack capability, high-g launch and maneuver capability, and a 0.23 to 10-km range. The Magic could also be launched from the MiG-21, and proved to be far superior than the standard Soviet-supplied infrared homer, the Atoll. Mirage F-1s were reported to have shot down several Iranian aircraft with Magic missiles and as having scored kills even at low altitudes. After 1982, Iraq generally had the edge in most air-to-air encounters that took place, with Iran losing most of the few air-to-air encounters that took place after 1983 unless it used carefully-planned ambushes against Iraqi planes that were flying predictable routes. The Iranians could not generate more than 30-60 sorties per day, whereas the number of sorties that Iraq could mount steadily increased year after year, reaching a peak as high as 600 in 1986-88.

It has generally been claimed by Western sources that the Tomcat never proved very effective in IRIAF service during the war, since only a relatively small number could be kept airworthy at any one time. Very often, they served in a mini-AWACS role by virtue of their powerful radars and were deliberately not risked in combat. Several Iranian Tomcats were reported lost in action, most of the reported losses being kill claims by Iraqi sources. Iraq first claimed to have shot down an Iranian F-14A on November 21, 1982, the kill reportedly being made by a Mirage F1EQ. In March 1982, a downed Iranian pilot is reported to have told his captors that he was really surprised to see an Iraqi MiG-21 shoot down such an advanced aircraft as an F-14. On September 11, 1983, two Iranian Tomcats attempting to intercept Iraqi aircraft attacking Iranian positions were claimed to have been shot down. One Tomcat was lost in a dogfight with Iraqi aircraft on October 4, 1883, another in an air battle over Bahragan on November 21, 1983 and single examples were lost on February 24, and July 1, 1984. Iraq claims to have shot down three F-14As in a single day on August 11, 1984. It is impossible to judge the reliability of these claims, but there is probably nothing intrinsically implausible about them.

In contrast, Iranian sources claim that about 35-40 Iraqi fighters were shot down by Tomcats during the war, and that only one IRIAF Tomcat was lost in air-to-air combat. Iranian F-14As are known to have shot down at least three Iraqi fighters, including two Mirage F1s and one MiG-21. An Iranian Tomcat achieved a kill against an Iraqi Mirage F1 as late as the spring of 1988, indicating that the IRIAF was able to keep at least one Tomcat operational.

Recent books by Tom Cooper and Farzad Bishop seem to suggest that the Iranian use of the Tomcat might have been more effective than had been previously reported. Even though the AIM-54 was supposedly rendered ineffective by sabotage, the AN/AWG-9 radar did remain operational, and the Iranian Tomcats could still fire AIM-7 and AIM-9 missiles. Most IRIAF Tomcats flew with a missile load of four Sparrows and two Sidewinders. These books also report that during the Iran-Iraq war there were several Tomcat aces with over 8 kills each, and that there were over 100 total victory claims. It was often the case that the mere appearance of one or more Tomcats was enough to send Iraqi fighters fleeing for cover.

Even though several AIM-54s were indeed sabotaged, most of them were eventually brought back into service and some were actually used in combat. These books reported that during the Iran-Iraq War, Iranian Tomcat crews scored numerous AIM-54 kills. There were several accounts of Iranian pilots using AIM-54s successfully against Iraqi aircraft formations. Iran has also produced a reverse-engineered version of the AIM-54, although in limited numbers.

It is extremely difficult to get any reliable estimates of just how many Iranian F-14As were in operational service at any one time during the war. Western intelligence estimates tended to put the number of serviceable Tomcats flying with the IRIAF at a very low level, often less than ten, with other planes having been deliberately cannibalized to keep at least a few flying. In the summer of 1984, the Pentagon estimated that Iran could field only 15-20 Tomcats, maintaining them largely by cannibalization. Iranian sources tended to discount these Western estimates as "imperialist propaganda", and place the number of in-service Tomcats at a much higher value.

Another indication that Western intelligence may have consistently underestimated Iranian capabilities in this area may have taken place on February 11, 1985, when no less than 25 Iranian F-14A Tomcats took place in a mass flypast over Teheran. In spite of the Western arms embargo, Iran seems to have been able to maintain a more-or-less steady supply of spare parts for its fleet of Tomcats, Phantoms, and F-5Es. Some of these parts seem to have been smuggled into Iran by collusion with Israel. Some may have come in as a result of the "arms-for-hostages" deal in which the US government supplied arms to Iran in exchange for its assistance in getting hostages held in Lebanon released.

The accidental shootdown of Iran Air Flight 655 by missiles launched from the USS Vincennes on July 3, 1988 with the loss of 290 lives may have been caused by the accidental misidentification of the Airbus A300 as an IRIAF F-14A by the ship's radar system operators. Rumors had been going about that Iranian F-14As had been fitted with the capability to launch air-to-surface anti-ship missiles.

Despite the Iranian regime's official anti-Communist stance (the Communist Party is officially banned in Iran), there are persistent rumors that one or perhaps several IRIAF F-14A were delivered to the Soviet Union in exchange for other arms assistance. At least one Iranian F-14A crew has reportedly defected to the Soviet Union. There is every reason to believe that the F-14A, its AWG-9 fire control system, and its Phoenix missiles were completely compromised at this time. An examination of the Phoenix supposedly helped the Soviets to build the Vympel R-33 (known in the West as AA-9 Amos) long-range missiles which arm the MiG-31 Foxhound. However, Gennadiy Sokolovskiy of the Vympel Design Bureau denies that the R-33 was based on the AIM-54 Phoenix, maintaining that he has never actually seen a live Phoenix.

Today, the IRIAF still has some 50-55 F-14s, but only about 30 of them are probably active at any one time. The United States still seems to regard Iran's F-14 fleet as a potent threat in case hostilities ever break out, and has taken special pains to ensure that the Iranian government cannot obtain access to spare parts for their Tomcats. As US Navy Tomcats are retired from service, the boneyards at Davis Monthan AFB are deliberately destroying them as they arrive at the facility, just to ensure that no Tomcat spare parts end up on the black market.


Grumman Aircraft Since 1919, Rene J. Francillon, Naval Institute Press, 1989.

Grumman F-14 Tomcat, Doug Richardson, Osprey, 1987.

F-14 Tomcat: Fleet Defender, Robert F. Dorr, World Airpower Journal, Vol 7, 1991.

Grumman F-14 Tomcat Variant Briefing, World Airpower Journal, Vol. 19, 1994.

From ALKALI to AAM-L, Part 2, Piotr Butowski, Air International, November 1994.

The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Aircraft Armament, Bill Gunston Orion, 1988.

The American Fighter, Enzo Angelucci and Peter Bowers, Orion, 1987.

Encyclopedia of World Military Aircraft, Volume 1, David Donald and Jon Lake, AirTime, 1994.

The World's Great Interceptor Aircraft, Gallery Books, 1989.

The Lessons of Modern War, Molume II: The Iran-Iraq War, Anthony H. Cordesman and Abraham R. Wagner, Westview Press, 1990.

Air-to-Air Missile Directory, Doug Richardson and Piotr Butowski, Air International, October 1993, p 197.

Grumman F-14 Tomcat, Jon Lake, AirTime, 1998.

IRIAF 75th Anniversary Review, Kian-Noush, World Air Power Journal, AIRtime Publishing Inc, Volume 39, Winter 1999.

E-mail from Dave Parsons on Iranian F-14 kills during Iran-Iraq War.

E-mail from Jim Goose on Iranian use of AIM-54 missiles.


Examples of Iranian F-14 combat claims
The first aerial victory by an F-14 happened on September 7, 1980. Five Iraqi Mi-25 'Hind' attack helicopters of 1st Combat Transport Hecopter Squaron attacked Iranian border posts in the Zain al-Waws region. Two F-14As were vectored into intercept. The pilot shot down one Mi-25 helicopter by cannonfire, after two Sidewinder missiles failed to hit the helicopter.
The first combat use of AIM-54 missile by an F-14 ever happened on September 13, 1980, when Major Ata'ie shot down an Iraqi MiG-23 'Flogger' with a Phoenix missile.
On September 22, 1980 Iranian F-14s were sent against a fast moving contact, approaching Khark oil terminals at Mach 3. The MiG-25 was shot down by an AIM-54.
On same day, another MiG-25RB was shot down on extremely hard conditions. The MiG-25 was approaching fast and was already within 113 km, yet the F-14 RIO was unable to acquire the target. A positive lock on was made on distance of only 70 km, almost inside the minimum range. A single AIM-54 was launched in snap-up engagement mode at 64 km. The missile worked perfectly and the MiG was downed.
On September 22 two Iranian F-14A led by Capt. Ali Azimi detected two MiG-23s escorting a MiG-21RF 'Fishbed-J'. The Tomcats shot down the MiG-21 with an AIM-54.
On September 24 the Iranian F-14As participated in several aerial combats against Iraqi fighter jets. The F-14s claimed kills against Iraqi MiG-21s, MiG-23s and Su-20/22 'Fitter's.
On 29 November 1980, during Operation Morvarid an Iranian F-14 downed an Iraqi MiG-23BN which was attacking an Iranian missile boat.
On 2nd December 1980 one of the closest range shootdowns by AIM-54 occurred. Captain F. Dehghan of the 8th TFS was flying on patrol covering Khark Island oil teminals, when number of approaching bogies were detected. Lock-on was attained only from a distance of 10 miles, too close to the minimum range of the missile. The F-14 had to use the Phoenix, though, as otherwise the plane would have been too heavy for dogfighting. The Phoenix was launched on short-range mode and it managed to hit a MiG-21.
At 20th November 1982 two Iraqi generals boarded a Mi-8 helicopter to visit the front lines. The Mi-8 was escorted by two other Mi-8s, Mi-25, four MiG-21s and four MiG-23s, that were replaced by additional fighters when they ran low on fuel. The formation was spotted by two Iranian Tomcats escorting IRIAF KC-707 tanker, which was waiting for Iranian F-4 strike to refuel. The F-14s were flying race-track pattern, scanning over the front line with their AWG-9 radar. Captain Khosrodad spotted a large number of targets approaching slowly from west, already within AIM-54 range. Khosrodad ordered his wingman to keep with the tanker and attacked, first firing two AIM-54s, then two AIM-7E-4s some 10 seconds later. According to Iraqi reports, one MiG-21 and two MiG-23s were shot down within a minute, forcing the Iraqi generals to abandon their mission.
On 20th February 1987 an F-4 lured Iraqi strike force into a trap, which was snapped by two F-14s of 81st TFS. A AIM-54 was launched at very long range, hitting the lead Mirage flown by IrAF Brig. General Hekmat Abdul-Qadr. The Iranian listening posts recorded the leader of the accompanying Su-22 flight scream "F-Arba-Ashara! Yalla! Yalla!", with the seven remaining fighters turning and fleeing. In English the leader had called "F-14! Run! Run!"
During late 1987 Soviet Union supplied Iraq with MiG-25BM "Wild Weasel" aircraft. The planes tested the ECM systems against Iranian Tomcats and attacked Iranian targets with new anti-radar weapons. The MiG-25BMs proved they could operate with impunity at up to 69,000 ft, until on the night of 11th November a MiG-25BM was intercepted by an F-14. The Tomcat fired a single AIM-54 in Home-On-Mode. The missile guided flawlessly but failed to detonate. Yet, the missile clipped the MiG-25's fin and forced the pilot to bail out.
During March 1988 Iraq launched a major attack against Iranian oil exports. On 19th March, at 0100, the first wave of Iraqi Tu-22B heavy bombers and Mirages, attacked Khark island and the tankers. Half an hour later second wave arrived without losses. The Iranian F-14s had arrived on scene for the third wave, though. The US Navy warships patrolling on the area recorded several AIM-54 launches, with at least one Tu-22B bomber and a MiG-25RB being destroyed. According to US Navy, it is probable that other Iraqi bombers were shot down as well.
During the ending phase of Iran–Iraq War a mini war developed between the Iraqi Mirage F1 EQ-5/6 units and the Iranian F-14s between February until July 1988. The F1 pilots hunted the Tomcats aggressively and attacked the Iranians at any occasion. The F1EQ-6s were equipped with good ECM systems, and the Iraqi pilots could deny the F-14s from using their AIM-54 missiles. For example on 19th July 1988 four Mirages attacked two F-14s and downed both, suffering no losses.


 Re: IIAF/IRIAF F-14-Units
« Reply #20 on: September 30, 2006, 11:22:18 AM » 

Some updates to the topic of IRIAF F-14s in combat....

Readers of "Iranian F-14 Tomcat Units in Combat" know that the pages 85 thru 88 list some 150+ claims for kills scored by Iranian Tomcats.

Now, thanks to several new Iraqi sources, we've managed to cross-examine some of these. The work is going on, but already now, there are some interesting new details....

- The entries for 10 September 1980 are now known to have been just "claims"; nothing was shot down, even if several missiles (no AIM-54s) were fired, and one of these detonated underneath a MiG-23. That MiG came away and was later repaired.

- However, we've got the whole story behind the claim for a MiG-23MS that should have been shot down on 13 September 1980. This kill actually occurred one day later (there was a mistake in translation from Persian to our calender), and the victim was actually a Su-20 (mistakes of this kind can happen when one is firing over a range of 70km).

The Iraqi Fitter was one of a pair of planes from No.44 Sqn IrAF, underway on a mission of visual recce during one of border clashes that led to the war. The leader of Iraqi formation was Maj. Noubar Abdel-Hamid, CO No.44 Squadron. His wingman later reported they encountered only very slight AAA, but all of a sudden Abdel-Hamid's plane, "just blew up".

Well, that was the first AIM-54-kill ever (and the second kill scored by an F-14 in total): Maj. Mohammad-Reza Attaie fired from over 70km... The Iraqis never knew what happened to their Major, Iranians couldn't help them either, then they never found the wrecakge, and (officially) he remains listed as MIA until today.

- The second AIM-54-kill occurred only two days later, when Capt. Azimi killed a MiG-21 from over 50km (his RIO, Capt. Amiraslani, went on to fire around a dozen of AIM-54s during the rest of the war). Apparently, the fuze of that AIM-54 failed, but the missile cut the MiG in two, and the Iraqi pilot ejected safely. He evaded Iranian ground troops and escaped back over the border. 

The wreckage of his plane can be seen on the photo in lower right corner of p. 23 (i.e. that MiG was not shot down on 10 September, as explained in the book, but almost a week later).

Both losses have been confirmed also by the document named "The Study of IrAF Losses in War of Iran", one of few original documents left from the (meanwhile completely destroyed) official archives of the Iraqi Air Force.

This work is being continued. For example, aside from what I mentioned above, we have already found at least one kill not mentioned in that list (a Su-22, shot down in autumn 1983).

So, "stay tunned"....  
« Last Edit: September 30, 2006, 11:25:08 AM by Tom Cooper » 


Iranian Air Force F-14

Is there a list of countries that have the F-14?
- question from Paul Billard
I would like to know about the F-14A Tomcat used by Iran. How was it employed in the Iran-Iraq war. What are the kills/losses figures? How many are left in service? Will they be upgraded? And is it true that they were sabotaged so that they could not fire they Phoenix missiles? If yes, How?
- question from Sergei Ivanov

By "have," I assume you mean countries that operate the F-14, as opposed to nations like the Soviet Union that may have "acquired" a handful of them over the years. The users of this aircraft are listed in our entry on the Grumman F-14 Tomcat which indicates that only the US and Iran purchased the design.
While service of the F-14 in the US Navy is well-known and well-documented, by the classic film Top Gun, at the very least, its operations with the Imperial Iranian Air Force (IIAF) and Islamic Republic of Iran Air Force (IRIAF) have largely remained a mystery. Under the pro-western Shah of Iran, the IIAF had benefitted greatly by interaction with the West, and Iran was able to purchase large amounts of sophisticated US military equipment to protect against the Soviet threat. By the early 1970s, the bulk of the IIAF was made up of Northrop F-5A and E, McDonnell Douglas F-4D and E Phantom II, and Lockheed P-3F Orion aircraft. However, none of these were able to ward off Soviet MiG-25 reconnaissance fighters that were making frequent flights over Iranian terrirory. This fact was made clear to US President Richard Nixon during his visit to Iran in May 1972 during which the Shah requested a means of intercepting the high-speed Soviet aircraft.


F-14 of the Imperial Iranian Air Force
Having received permission from the US government, Iran decided to purchase the F-14 Tomcat over a competing F-15 Eagle offer. An intial order for 30 F-14s was signed in January 1974, and this number was later increased to 80. The first of these aircraft arrived in Iran in January 1976, differing only from their American counterparts in the removal of certain classified avionics systems. These aircraft were also fitted with the improved TF30-414 engine, standard on later production models. Twelve aircraft were delivered by May 1977, and one of these was used to shoot down a BQM-34E target drone flying at 50,000 feet with an AIM-54 Phoenix missile in August of that year. This successful demonstration quickly convinced the Soviets to end the MiG-25 overflights. Deliveries continued until 1978 when the 79th unit was delivered, one example remaining in the US as a testbed (this plane was later transferred to US Navy flight test duties at the Point Mugu Naval Air Station following the Revolution). Some 714 Phoenix missiles were also ordered, but only 284 of these were delivered by the time of the Iranian Revolution in 1979.

Following the overthrow of the Shah and the ascension of Ayatolla Khomeini to power, the new government cancelled further contracts for Phoenix missiles and other Western arms. Continuing decay in relations with the US led Pres. Carter to impose an arms embargo on Iran that still continues today. Without Western contractor assistance, a lack of spare parts and maintenance support quickly degraded the ability of the IRIAF to operate its fleet of US-built aircraft. Fundamentalist purges of Air Force officers, pilots, and personnel who were perceived to support the Shah further worsened the situation.

In addition to the effects of the embargo itself, rumors suggest that all 77 remaining Tomcats (two had been lost in 1977 during training flights) were somehow sabotaged so that they could no longer fire their Phoenix missiles. Whether or not these rumors have any merit to them is debated, as is the identity of who may have performed this sabotage and how. Various accounts credit the act to either departing Grumman technicians or Iranian Air Force personnel friendly to the US. Perhaps the simplest and most effective means of performing this sabotage would have been to remove or somehow corrupt the software in the aircraft's flight computer that interfaces with and commands the missiles, but there is no proof this was done. Some sources even go so far as to claim that Iranian revolutionaries performed the sabotage as revenge against an Air Force perceived to be pro-Shah, but this seems very unlikely given the technical skill required.


F-14 of the Islamic Republic of Iran Air Force
Regardless, the IRIAF was in a rapid state of decline by the time the Iran-Iraq War began on 22 September 1980. Due to the poor state of both air forces, air power played little role in the conflict. Early air battles tended to favor the Iranians whose pilots were better equipped and trained, but the lingering arms embargo and repeated purges of experienced personnel continued to reduce the nation's air capabilities. Meanwhile, Iraq took delivery of Dassault Mirage F1s armed with Matra R-550 Magic air-to-air missiles that steadily improved the nation's effectiveness in the air.

As for the F-14s, only a small number were ever airworthy at any given time (generally 10 to 20) and these were typically kept out of combat. They were most often used as airborne early warning platforms owing to the design's powerful radar, and were therefore deemed too valuable to risk in air-to-air combat. In this role, the planes were sometimes defended by F-4E and F-5E fighters. At least some F-14s were lost in action, but the claims of the two sides are in poor agreement, as is always the case in warfare. Iraq claims some 11 kills:

21 November 1982: F-14 shot down by a Mirage F1EQ
March 1983: F-14 shot down by a MiG-21
11 September 1983: 2 F-14s shot down while attempting to intercept Iraqi aircraft
4 October 1983: F-14 shot down in a dogfight
21 November 1983: F-14 lost during air battle over Bahragan
24 February 1984: F-14 lost
1 July 1984: F-14 lost
11 August 1984: 3 F-14s shot down
Meanwhile, Iran claims that the F-14 accounted for 35 to 45 kills against the Iraqi Air Force for only one shot down. Iran has admitted to up to 12 further losses, but claims they all resulted from engine stall during dogfights rather than enemy fire. Though the claims of neither side have been verified, F-14s are known to have accounted for 3 air-to-air kills against Iraqi aircraft, including two Mirage F1s and a MiG-21. Western estimates for the true kill-loss ratio attained by the F-14 during the conflict credit 4 kills against 4 or 5 losses.
The US has estimated the number of operational Iranian F-14s at any given time at 15 to 20, and sometimes less than 10, due to the cannibalization of other planes to keep a few flying. Iran claims a much higher number, of course, and was indeed able to assemble 25 aircraft for a flyby over Teheran on 11 February 1985. By whatever means, Iran has been able to maintain a steady supply of spare parts for its F-14s, F-4s, and F-5s in spite of the embargo. Some of these parts may have been supplied through the arms-for-hostages deal that was revealed during the Iran-Contra scandal. Other sources claim that parts may have been smuggled through collusion with Israel. Some parts are also manufactured domestically by Iranian Aircraft Industries, and Iran has even gone so far as to claim that 100% of the parts required to keep the aircraft operational can be produced domestically. Nonetheless, US intelligence places that value closer to 70%, and a number of foreign nationals have in fact been implicated in efforts to illegally smuggle aircraft components from the US to Iran. Two men were so charged in December 2000 for attempting to illegally purchase F-4, F-5, and F-14 parts and ship them to Iran by way of Singapore. A fugitive named Houshang Amir Bagheri is also listed on the US Customs Most Wanted list for his attempts to acquire classified F-14 components on behalf of Iran.

While Iran has managed to keep at least a portion of its Western aircraft in service, the status of the vaunted Phoenix missile is still debated. Most sources indicate that none were used during the Iran-Iraq War owing to their supposed sabotage while others claim that up to 25 Iraqi planes were downed by AIM-54s before Iran exhasuted its supply in 1986. Regardless, the aircraft is still able to fire AIM-7 Sparrow and AIM-9 Sidweinder missiles, and typically carries four AIM-7s and two AIM-9s for air-to-air operations. Iran is reportedly developing a domestic version of the Sparrow to replace its stock of expended missiles.

It is also believed that one or more F-14s were delivered to the Soviet Union in exchange for technical assistance. In addition, at least one Iranian F-14 aircrew was reported to have defected to the Soviet Union with their aircraft. Some believe that Soviet access to Iranian Phoenix missiles allowed the Vympel Design Bureau to develop the R-33/AA-9 Amos long-range missile that equips the MiG-31, but chief designer Gennadiy Sokolovskiy has indicated that his team never had such access. In any event, it is believed that Soviet and Russian expertise has allowed Iran to operate, maintain, and upgrade the F-14 fleet. The aircraft are reportedly being upgraded with a new Russian radar, engines, and a glass cockpit allowing them to serve until well into the 21st century. The Iranian press has further indicated that the surviving aircraft have been adapted for a heavy bombing roll, perhaps armed with air-to-surface anti-ship missiles. Some 50 to 55 are believed to remain in service, but only about 30 of these are considered airworthy at any one time.
- answer by Greg Alexander, 12 May 2002

Last Updated ( Sunday, 31 August 2008 )
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