The article “Persian ‘Cats” was originally written by Tom Cooper and Farzad Bishop for the online ACIG Military Studies Journal published on August 26, 2007 (now archived here … and here … ). The original title of the article as it appeared on ACIG was The version below has been slightly edited in comparison to the original posting. All images and accompanying captions appeared on the original posting by Cooper and Bishop. Readers are also encouraged to read the following postings:
- Western, Pakistani and Egyptian pilots flying Iraqi Combat Aircraft during Iran-Iraq War
- Books on the History of the Iranian Air Force by Farzad Bishop and Tom Cooper
In Service with the IIAF
Iran ordered a total of 80 Grumman F-14A Tomcats in two batches, one of 30 and another of 50 aircraft, in early 1974. The first F-14 was delivered to the Imperial Iranian Air Force (IIAF) in January 1976, and the first two units were fully operational by the summer of 1977, by when the training of additional crews was advancing at a very high pace.
By late 1978, the 80th F-14 produced to Iran was built as well; instead of being delivered, however, the aircraft was kept in the USA to be used as test-rig for installation of the USAF-style “boom-and-receptacle” in-flight refuelling system. Meanwhile, over 120 Iranian pilots and 80 RIOs were qualified for the Tomcat, and an additional group was about to finish their training.
The 3-6024 became famous already early in its career, while still in service with the IIAF: it was one of two Tomcats that intercepted a Soviet MiG-25RBS high over the Caspian Sea, in October 1978, and tracked it for two minutes as the Soviet pilot gave his best to escape.
Since 1977 the IIAF F-14s were engaged in a series of tests, which put the plane and its weapons system to the extremes, and eventually ended by several spectacular test-firings of AIM-54s, two of which might have scored unofficial world-records for the range, speed, and the height reached by the missiles in flight. In October 1978 also two IIAF F-14As intercepted a high and fast-flying Soviet MiG-25 over the Caspian sea, forcing it to abort a recce run over Iran, and in turn ending similar Soviet operations over the country.
Iranian F-14-pilots were the élite of the Iranian Air Force (even if Iranian F-4 and F-5 pilots would certainly dispute this statement with some humor), and they proudly wore insignia identifying them as such. Although unit insignia was seldom seen, and never applied on the aircraft (except the TFB-number), patches like this were worn on flying overalls – and this even after the Revolution, in 1979. This specific patch is from the overall of a former IIAF/IRIAF F-14-pilot, who scored five kills against Iraqi fighters during the long war (Tom Cooper collection).
IRIAF – a new Air Force?
With the change of the regime in Iran, in February-April 1979, and worsening of relations to the USA, it was expected that Iran would not be able to operate its Tomcats any more. Such expectations were reinforced by rumors about the US personnel sabotaging aircraft before it was forced to leave the country.
The 3-6020 is the first F-14A known to have fired an AIM-54A against an Iraqi MiG-25: this engagement happened on 15 May 1981. While the Phoenix caused only minor damage, its “close call” forced the Iraqi (or Soviet?) Foxbat-pilot to escape back towards his base at 2.800km/h.
Documentary: “Tomcat Fights” IRIAF Combat F-14 P1-3 ایران مستند نبرد تامکت جنگنده إف-۱۴ (Source: Ali Javid).
By September 1980, however, the Iranian Air Force – re-named into “Islamic Republic of Iran Air Force” (IRIAF) – managed to make an increasing number of airframes operational, despite immense problems due to repeated purges of its officers, some of which were executed, others imprisoned, forced into exile or early retirement. The IRIAF survived these times and its Tomcats were to become involved in the bloody war against Iraq even before this officially began, scoring their first kill already on 9 September 1980.
This Tomcat is best known for having been used to shoot down two Iraqi MiG-23 interceptors with a single AIM-54A missile, on 21 July 1982. This engagement took place half-way between Baghdad and the Iranian border, after its crew ignored specific orders to avoid entering Iraqi airspace at all costs.
This “IRIAF”, namely, was still the “old” IIAF by everything but the name: a majority of its well-trained officers, pilots, and technical personnel, all of which were patriots beyond any doubt, remained with the service and were to give much more than anybody could describe as a “call of duty” in the following war.
The 3-6039 above was the F-14A used to shot down an Iraqi Mirage F.1EQ on 20 February 1987 by a single AIM-54A from a range of almost 150km. The Iraqi pilot, 1st Lt. Ahlan, did not survive the strike.
Within the first six months of the war Iranian F-14s scored over 50 air-to-air victories, mainly against Iraqi MiG-21s and MiG-23s, but some also against Su-20/22s. In exchange, only a single F-14A was damaged – by debris from a MiG-21 that exploded in front of it.
Combat aircraft pilot: Interview with sixteen kill Grumman F-14 Tomcat ace – The F-14 was the king of the air in the extreme combat of the Iran-Iraq War. Around 180 Iraqi aircraft fell to Grumman’s deadly Tomcat, of these kills, sixteen can be attributed to Col. Mazandarani. The Hush Kit venue interviewed the world’s greatest living F-14 ace to learn more (Source: Hush Kit).
The war between Iraq and Iran subsequently turned into a war of attrition, with lengthy breaks – used by both sides for reorganization and resupply of their military power – between short periods of extremely bitter and bloody fighting. Eventually, by the spring of 1982 the Iranians managed to throw Iraqi troops back to the international border, and from that time on Iran was in strategic offensive, which was eventually to last until the early 1988.
Possibly the most successful Tomcat in Iranian service, the 3-6079 was the last F-14 delivered to Iran (the 3-6080 was held back in the USA for testing purposes when the revolution in Iran swept the Shah from power, and never delivered). Initially after delivery the aircraft was put into storage, but then returned to service with the 82nd TFS in September 1980 – still wearing the title “IIAF” and without the national flag applied on the fin. Soon afterwards 3-6079 was used for the downing of one Iraqi MiG-21 and a MiG-23. The markings of 3-6079 were finally “complete” by 9 February 1988, when it was used by 1st Lt. Qiyassi for downing three Iraqi Mirage F.1EQs during two subsequent engagements within two hours.
Between 1982 and 1986 Iranian Tomcats were to see use in a series of slowly-developing campaigns: mainly tasked with patrolling the skies over objects vital for the survival of Iranian regime and economy, like Tehran, or the Khark Island. Most of these patrols were supported by the fleet of Boeing 707-3J9C tankers, and quite some lasted as long as 10 hours, thanks to up to four successive in-flight refuellings. Time and again they were involved in new air battles, and have scored heavily, but their main role was that of intimidating the Iraqi Air Force: scared by previous heavy losses in battles against Iranian F-14s, the Iraqis were avoiding any engagement with them, so that the sole presence of a Tomcat over the target area was enough to force hundreds of Iraqi formations to abort their attacks. Because of this, as well as because of the murderous precision and effectiveness of the Tomcat’s AWG-9 weapons system and AIM-54A Phoenix long-range air-to-air missiles, it can be concluded that there was never before an air defense system that proved as effective in a war – especially not over such a lengthy period of time.
This Tomcat (3-6047) was seen on several photographs or observed by foreigners in Iran both before and after the revolution. On one occasion, in 1986, it was seen while taking-off for a combat air patrol from Tabriz airfield (TFB.2), in northern Iran, carrying a single AIM-54A, two Sparrows, and two Sidewinders.
By 1987 the Iraqis have suffered such heavy losses to Iranian Tomcats that they were forced to find a solution with which they could engage them under more equal circumstances. Eventually, in early 1988 France managed to deliver a series of Mirage F.1EQ-6 fighters, equipped with Super 530D and Magic Mk.2 missiles, to Iraq: after a series of air battles through February, March, and May 1988, in which the Iraqis suffered additional heavy losses to IRIAF Tomcats, in July 1988 the new IrAF Mirages finally managed to shot two Iranian F-14s down in a single engagement.
Not much is known about the combat service of 3-6052 either, except that it was originally assigned to the 73rd TFS. This fighter jet spent most of the war at Hor AB (TFB.7) near Shiraz, and was used for the downing of at least one Iraqi MiG-25, in February 1986. Its final fate remains unknown.
Considering the circumstances under which the F-14s and their crews had to operate in Iran during the eight-years long war against Iraq – without any support from AWACS or AEW aircraft, without even a proper support from the GCI, against an enemy that was repeatedly introducing new and more capable fighters, radars, weapons and ECM-systems in combat and was supported by no less but three “superpowers” (USSR, France, and the USA), with their crews being permanently under heavy pressure from the regime in Tehran – it is actually a pure miracle that an aircraft as complex as the Tomcat remained operational at all. That it proved as successful in combat, and remains as the premier fighter in the Iranian Air Force, is a fact beyond what most of the observers world-wide are able to comprehend, but also a result of strenuous efforts of IRIAF personnel and immense investment of the Iranian economy.