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Why the Navy Misses the Old F-14 Tomcat, Despite All of the Problems (nationalinterest.org)
75 points by spking 6 months ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 120 comments

As a former F-18 pilot, I don’t think v2 of the Tomcat is what we need. Unmanned missile trucks are the future. The Joint Strike Turd should be the last manned fighter. The services are bankrupting the country with the current crop of do-it-all aircraft. Other countries are on a better track adding the latest tech to older airframes and accepting their expendability. Carriers themselves should be phased out for smaller more expendable ships that can launch and recover the missile trucks.

> The services are bankrupting the country

Superficially, it feels like the crux of the problem is that "supporting the troops" has been subverted to mean not questioning civilian-driven military policy. This has given them carte-blanche lest anyone be accused of not supporting our boys.

(It's possible to be against a war (and the policies and politicians that set that course) while still honoring/supporting soldiers and their family.)

Military policy isn't civilian driven. The Pentagon drives the policy, as well as the weapons decisions. The surprise is when the civilians actually do exert some control--such as in preventing the USAF from scrapping the A-10, fighting the USAF on cancelling the the JSTARs recap, or when they force extra Littoral Combat Ships on the navy against their will :)

> Military policy isn't civilian driven

Except when a congressman from Ohio decides that they need more tanks so that he can keep his voters employed [1], despite the army saying they have plenty and don't know what to do with them. They have literally thousands of tanks sitting in storage in the desert, and they're rolling tanks straight off the production line into storage.

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lima_Army_Tank_Plant

You say that now, but you'll have to eat your words when Canada finally goes mad at your lack of universal healthcare and invades.

I followed the link and came down to 2010s where I couldn't understand the following sentence:

The army did not convince Congress that it did not need more tanks in 2011, so in 2013, Congress funded an additional tanks to be built at a cost of ~$270M.

Usually, the military provides requirement and the civilian administration provides the funds. How can the Congress order the Army to make more tanks when they don't need it? I am not an American, so probably I am missing the entire context here.

This is reasonably common in the US. The military does have requests, but Congress also has opinions, and they can deviate from the military's request in either direction. Sometimes they decide not to fund something the military requests, but other times they might mandate something the military doesn't actually want. This could be driven by a difference of opinion over strategy (ultimately such decisions are supposed to be under civilian control, even if informed by general's requests), or it could be caused by more questionable considerations like the presence of factories in a Congressperson's district that don't want to lose business.

This at least sometimes happens in Europe too... defense procurement is big business and very political, and sometimes European militaries end up in programs (esp. multinational ones) they aren't that enthusiastic about. Another example is conscription. The Swedish military wanted conscription to be abolished for years before it actually happened, but until the civilian government decided to do so, in the meantime the military had to keep taking in and training conscripts they didn't actually want.

One of the troubles is that congress can't trust the army to admit the truth. Congress must guess.

You see, the army is controlled by the president. The president may be from a different political party or even be following his own personal agenda. The army must strictly obey orders according to the chain of command, and the president is at the top.

If the president dislikes tanks, he can order the army to place tanks into storage and claim that the tanks are not wanted. Congress is left wondering if the people in the army are stating their true expert opinions or just following orders.

Here is a real case that leaked out:

https://www.military.com/dodbuzz/2015/01/16/general-praising... https://www.military.com/daily-news/2015/01/26/generals-a10-...

So yes, the military being ordered to lie to congress is a real thing.

What? No. In case anyone wants an update on this case from 2015, that general was fired. He was not implementing some sort of secret presidential policy with his remarks.

The A10 is an example of Congress imposing civilian priorities on the military. Despite its declining military utility, it's a popular plane, so Congress won't let the military sunset it. It has nothing to do with the president ordering the military to lie to Congress.

You're not even legally correct... while the president is the commander in chief, Congress has oversight of military spending under Article I, Section 8. An order to lie to Congress about spending would be an illegal order, and military personnel are not compelled to follow illegal orders.

He was fired, though that isn't proof he got in trouble for what he was doing or that he wasn't ordered to do that. He did things in a ham-handed way and it leaked, causing a PR disaster.

The F22 looks to be a similar case. Here we don't have a crude effort getting leaked, but that doesn't mean the situation was any more legitimate. It very much seems that Obama was pushing to kill the F22 and the military marched to his orders.

If you are unfamiliar with the American procurement process it is:

1. demand is generated by the military

2. bid out contract

3. selected a bidder (bidders are defense contractors)

4. deliver contracted goods and also maintain inventory parts and tooling for sometimes up to 25 years

5. local economy becomes dependent on this manufacturing income, bidder lobbies their local congressperson directly or indirectly

6. congressperson does these wacky ass requisition appropriations

7. the factory keeps production at the same level and with same employment

8. military gets delivery for goods they never wanted so they go into storage, because what else are you supposed to do with these things? You can't resell them because it contains military secrets, you can't scrap them from both an optics level and the general military logic that having a spare is generally fine.

This happens even moreso when it is navy vessels that are much larger cost investments (submarines and destroyers) as just making one will take years potentially and there are legitimate concerns for stopping the means of production but it really just turns into a jobs/national pride story.

Navy vessels are slightly different though, because you really have to think 10 years ahead when building them. It takes a long time to build and commission a ship.

As an example, the HMS Queen Elizabeth, the Royal Navy's new carrier, was ordered in 20089 and laid down in 2014, it was commissioned only last year, and is still undergoing sea trials and isn't operational (they also have no planes to fly off it). It's planned to be in service in 2020, 6 years after being laid down and 12 years after it was ordered.

I agree with this in entirety there is a whole set of production steps that take it from a skeleton to seaworthy to battle ready. The issue from the American perspective is that those shipwrights, technicians, and other workers do not have a job past the conclusion of their phase. After primary construction is done you just don't need as many welders. If the ship has been wired properly to completion you don't need as many electricians, and so on and so forth. This especially holds true because after acceptance by the military most of the maintenance roles will be taken over by enlisted personnel or contractors separate to the production staff. The problem is it turns into 'if we don't order a new ship we're down 5,000 high wage jobs.' So while Ship A is being polished for deployment the original company has a bunch of staff that they don't have any work for. The next contract that comes in provides money to cover those 5,000 jobs to do that primary construction over again to build Ship B.

I'm also not sure in the comparison between foreign governments and US defense contractors but US defense contractors generally only sell to the military markets (domestic or international) so it's not like their facilities are designed to be able to build ordinary commercial goods side by side with the military spec hardware.

Building tanks creates jobs, injecting money into the local economy and making you more likely to be reelected. Nobody wants to be the politician that let the tank factory close, killing hundreds or thousands of jobs.

They're literally making tanks and driving them straight into storage because the army doesn't have anything to use them for or anybody to drive them.

Civilians decide the budget (for the DoD and other agencies such as the VA) and when/where to go to war, right?

But you're right and I was wrong. The problem isn't only that politicians / civilians have usurped "supporting the troops" as a shield (as I said), but really any decisions (whether it be made by the military or civilians) cannot be criticized / questioned without a high risk of being labeled unpatriotic.

The weapons producers are where a huge amount of the money goes. From outside, it seems like policy is plenty often decided by what is best for the factory in some influential congressperson’s district (or perhaps to some influential congressperson’s key donor CEOs).

That's what baffles me so much, the US keeps buying those billion dallar war machines like cheap candy, yet has no money to build decent modern infrastructure back home, and the war bills seem won't stop hiking any time soon.

> Carriers themselves should be phased out for smaller more expendable ships

Good luck prying those out of the Navy's cold, dead hands. Just look how long it took to finally get rid of battleships.

You'd think that after the complete shitshow that was mc02 they would have started to see the light. But I think instead they're just burying their heads in the sand a bit farther.

> Just look how long it took to finally get rid of battleships.

The last time the US Navy built a battleship was in 1941. It was decommissioned in 1958 - the last of its kind. If you take World War II as the proof that carriers had eclipsed battleships, that doesn't seem like long at all.

The battleships were recomissioned in the '80s by Reagan as a bizarre act of cold war willy-waving. And once you've paid the money to get them working and put some missiles on them, you might as well keep using them until they fall apart.

> The last time the US Navy built a battleship was in 1941. It was decommissioned in 1958 - the last of its kind. If you take World War II as the proof that carriers had eclipsed battleships, that doesn't seem like long at all.

WW2 was definitely un-ignorable proof that battleships were done. Imo though, given the essentially complete lack of actual success wrought by battleships in ww1, someone should have seen the light in the interwar period.

I guess I shouldn't be too harsh, at least we aren't building much else new that's bigger than a destroyer (except carriers).

There's been inflation. A modern destroyer is, in terms of tonnage, more like a cruiser.

Reminds me of how the Soviets had ships called "aircraft carrying cruisers" that were actually aircraft carriers, so that they could sail them between the Mediterranean and the Black Sea:


And the Royal Navy had "through-deck cruisers" that were actually (tiny) aircraft carriers, so that they could get them built under a government which wanted to keep defence spending under control:


Readers may enjoy this old-school semi-crank page about the idea of reactivating the battleships yet again:


Aircraft carriers are more than just a floating airport though. They symbolise American might, a physical manifestation of big stick diplomacy.

There's no surer way to get a tinpot dictatorship to start dancing to your fiddle than to park a carrier battle group outside their territorial waters.

As Bill Clinton said:

> When word of a crisis breaks out in Washington, it's no accident that the first question that comes to everyone's lips is 'Where's the nearest carrier?'

Most of the time, a submarine or destroyer with Tomahawk cruise missiles will get the job done. But parking a nuclear submarine off the coast doesn't have the same diplomatic effect.

The problem is that in a real war (as in not a war with jets versus people in caves) the carriers will be lost in days. Look how easy targets they are to even old diesel subs. They get sunk in pretty much all realistic training against any foe with a sub. Otherwise it only takes one ballistic anti-ship missile per carrier. They need to go the way of the battleships.

Would they? Why do people think carriers are so easy to sink? They are massive nuclear powered machines with entire fleets protecting them. I doubt any submarine would get close enough to launch anything without being obliterated.

Reasonable survey of the criticism and vulnerabilities:


Late reply so you might not see, but in all the realistic simulations, carriers get completely destroyed in the early hours of any actual conflict. (All the big boats do, but carriers are especially juicy targets)

See, for example, MC02.

I don't think that's necessarily inevitable. None of the British carriers was sunk during the Falklands war, despite the Argentines having diesel subs and exocet missiles.

None of the British carriers was sunk during the Falklands war

Yes and no. The Atlantic Conveyor, a makeshift helicopter carrier, was sunk, taking the UK’s Chinooks with it, leading to the famous “yomp” across the island. But you are right that both of the Harrier carriers were OK.

Ah, yes, fair enough, but of course the Atlantic Conveyor neither didn't have the defenses of a modern carrier, and wouldn't have been as much of a defense priority.

Note that the Argentinians started the war with only five air-launched Exocet missiles in stock and with those they took out an air defence destroyer and a very important supply ship.

The Argentinians deployed two submarines. The Royal Navy caught the WWII surplus Santa Fe. The more up to date San Luis evaded the RN and it's attacks were only foiled by poor maintenance of it's weapon systems.

The British submarines drove the Argentinian surface ships (including their carrier) into port.

The RN of the time was as good as any at anti-submarine warfare and had quite modern air defences. I think the Falklands war showed how effective air-launched missiles and submarines were (are).

Can you please elaborate? Why is the JSF really the JST? Why and what are unmanned mussel trucks to you? Why should carriers be phased out?

I’m not saying you’re wrong - to the contrary, since you are a former pilot I’m actually quite interested in your opinion.

There’s a military quote that says, "Amateurs talk about tactics, but professionals study logistics."[1] I feel our current military leaders took this too far and forgot about the stupidity of putting all your eggs in one basket. The JSF is down to one engine, which if redlined, will down the whole fleet. If one of our adversaries finds a weakness, then the the whole fleet is vulnerable. Not to mention the crap with development: not getting the launch bar right [2], not getting the hook location right [3], the electronics being a mess. How do you screw up the launch bar, it’s not like carriers have changed. The JSF is going in the wrong direction. We should have aircraft focused on different roles: air-to-air, strike, close-air-support. We should be moving toward unmanned missile trucks for air-to-air and strike. We should focus on cheaper aircraft that can be updated with the latest tech.

Unmanned missile trucks are drones that carry missiles that can be guided by other platforms. After the drone launches its missiles, who cares if it blows up. Trying to make drones defensible like expensive fighters is just as stupid as the JSF. Some stealth and defense is good, but expendable and cheap is more important.

Carriers are too vulnerable to missiles. Missiles are the future. You can’t defeat something going mach 6 that pulls 25 g’s in the end game. 'The Future of War' does a great job describing the evolution of weapons platforms and how aging ones are depicted by ever increasing costs on defensive measures which are then defeated by new, cheaper weapons. [4] Carriers and fighter jets are becoming the modern battleships which is a bit ironic.

1. https://www.military-quotes.com/forum/logistics-quotes-t511....

2. https://news.usni.org/2017/03/23/f-35c-tests-offer-proposed-...

3. https://theaviationist.com/2012/01/09/f-35c-hook-problems/

4. https://www.amazon.com/Future-War-History-Lawrence-Freedman/...

Wouldn't those drones have to be completely autonomous -- not merely unmanned -- in any conflict with a real peer (e.g., Russia or China)?

And if so, are we there yet, technologically speaking? I.e., not just peacetime autonomy but actually dealing with a combat situation -- possibly with friendlies in the skies -- completely autonomously? My impression the last time I talked with a uniform about this was that the answer is still no.

The drones do not need to be fully autonomous. See https://www.realcleardefense.com/articles/2014/11/05/is_a_mi...

I think that "the stupidity of putting all your eggs in one basket" applies well to "moving toward unmanned missile trucks for air-to-air and strike". In a serious war, there will be no radio communication and there will be no satellites. Each piece of equipment is on its own, and we aren't about to trust AI with that.

You can "defeat something going mach 6 that pulls 25 g’s in the end game", not that this exists. The easy answer is directed energy, such as lasers. Also, simply forcing it to maneuver at 25 g will quickly put an end to flying at mach 6. Each turn costs energy, and bypassing the laws of physics is not an option.

The JSF is down to one engine, which if redlined, will down the whole fleet

Not to mention that for UK and Europe, pork-barrel politics means those engines can only be serviced by one country that is increasingly distancing itself from the rest of NATO. All F35s can be trivially rendered useless by denying them access to the single maintenance facility for their engine.

Guess you mean Turkey - had to google that. I think if we fell out they'd go to the US to be serviced currently.

Yep, Turkey buying an S400 system from Russia.


> Why and what are unmanned mussel trucks to you?

The autocorrect feature (on your mobile phone, I presume) made my day: I love the idea of an unmanned mussel truck.

100% agree.

We have 2 problems which I think are compounding each other:

1. The classic problem of defense: Fighting the Last War 2. An extremely strong defense industry lobby.

3. It's cool (and promotable!) to be a fighter pilot, and not cool to fly drones remotely or to program automated drones.

Wouldn't that incentivize the high command to abolish figher pilots? It's much easier to manage uncool, replacable and easily trainable drones than expensive rockstars.

Seeing as the US military has been crying out (for 20 years now) of their shortage of fighter pilots, then this could generally be considered as happening.

It's a situation that could have been far more easily handled in the late 90's, but is now being "handled" by attempting to reduce the training latency (not viable and quite unwise, IMO, but happening regardless) and by reducing the staff billets demanding fighter pilot backgrounds.

Technology will indeed replace (and has been) much of the need to put a highly trained human on the bleeding edge. That doesn't obviate the current significant under-staffing.

I don't think #2 is a big problem (well from a natsec perspective, deff a problem from keeping down costs perspective), assuming you can get top pentagon officials to push modernization initiative with key industry partnerships. Question is, which DoD brass can see the writing on the wall and push the initiative with the highest probability of success?

> As a former F-18 pilot, I don’t think v2 of the Tomcat is what we need. Unmanned missile trucks are the future.

"Tomcat v2" and "unmanned missile trucks" are mutually compatible assertions, considering that standoff use of AN/AWG-9 + Phoenix to cover the outer air defense zone is what the F-14 was all about. A networked mix of active & passive sensor platforms and missile carriers is Tomcat v2 !

Unmanned everything. We need unmanned, armed aircraft, we need unmmaned tanks, we need unmanned attack subs. We also need manned aircraft, tanks, and ships, to host controllers close to the action, but not so close that they are vulnerable to attack.

I'm not sure that a replacement F-14 is thinking big enough here. David Wise's post in War is Boring, "The U.S. Navy’s Big Mistake — Building Tons of Supercarriers" (https://medium.com/war-is-boring/the-u-s-navy-s-big-mistake-...) puts forth a strong argument as to why the U.S. Navy needs a paradigm shift from carrier groups to increased funding for drones and submarines. Carriers are an extremely costly asset that are also vulnerable to cruise missiles (and those missiles are getting much more advanced).

Yep, stupid. Submersible ships that can surface to launch and recover drones should be the focus. Though I would probably keep some carriers out of mothballs in case EMPs disable all the fancy electronic thingys. But we’d also need to keep around older mechanical actuated aircraft for that scenario. But most anything is better than putting all our eggs in the super carrier / joint strike turd basket. Keeping in mind the battle over the electro-magnetic spectrum is important though when fanboying drones.

It only looks stupid if you assume that in the next real war that em based communications will work like they do in peacetime. If you assume that the next war will be fought with continual jamming on all frequencies, then it doesn't look so stupid.

When your usual target for a beat down is a third world country that has no real way to defend themselves against your attacks, strategy matters very little as does the ability to simply deploy your weapons quickly and easily.

That sort of thinking dismisses the real threats.

We have a maginot line floating at sea.

>That sort of thinking dismisses the real threats.

Does the USA really have any threats that aren't just the USA being on the offense?


It would be a folly to dismiss it.

China is massively invested in the US. It's hard to imagine any war scenario being worth the cost.

And its decoupling now. See: Trade War.

How is China a military threat? This again seems to be on offense.

There are a million reports like this:


The summary provides nothing that wouldn't be USA again on offense. Modernization of Chinese Navy != Threat.

Uhhh Russia?

No? How are they a threat? They spent money on Facebook ads and we don't even know if they came from the Government? By that standard, you can also say UK is a threat with Cambridge Analytia.

There's only one nation that you can possibly be referring to: China. No other foes have naval force projection at all to threaten all of the US carriers. Even China doesn't have that, they can only do that in part of the Pacific. Maybe in a few decades they'll have a more global projection.

China isn't a real threat in the regards you're claiming they are. For 99% of all the scenarios of combat the US is likely to see, carriers make ideal sense. You're saying the 1% scenario, a world war 3 scenario, is a good reason to not have any carriers because they can be sunk. That makes zero sense in the present and for the next two decades. If a lot of carriers get sunk by China in a non-defensive attack, we're at a point of going to nuclear war, hundreds of millions will die. None of the weapons China has will matter then either.

The sole scenario worth considering seriously, in naval conflict, is China-Taiwan. There's realistically nothing the US can do to stop China if it decides to invade and take the island. It doesn't matter what tech the US has.

So essentially you're saying that in a real shooting war, carriers are useless. Isn't that essentially what all these carrier criticisms are saying as well?

If all they're good for anyway is bombing 3rd world countries into submission, hey, just buy a mothballed supertanker, pave it over and load it up with cheap turboprop planes carrying bombs. Equally good for bombing people armed with AK-47's and RPG's, and you'd save billions! :)

And the defensive capability is ultimately the same as a $$$ supercarrier, if the buck in any case stops with "if you touch these, we'll answer with nukes".

> If all they're good for anyway is bombing 3rd world countries into submission, hey, just buy a mothballed supertanker, pave it over and load it up with cheap turboprop planes carrying bombs. Equally good for bombing people armed with AK-47's and RPG's, and you'd save billions! :)

What parts of a modern aircraft carrier do you think are redundant? They still need to operate far away from bases and friendly ports (after all, that's the point of a carrier), so they still need nuclear power and to carry fuel for their own escorts. They still need all the radar/radio/command-and-control functions. They still need to be able to maintain their air wing, so they still need hangers, elevators, all of that. (I guess you're arguing for loading a carrier with rugged bush planes and assuming that you could reduce maintenance requirements by doing that, maybe getting to the point of just parking the planes on deck? It's an interesting idea but existing bush planes are generally designed to operate in savannah/desert. I don't know how possible it is to build a plane that can stand up to saltwater spray).

> cheap turboprop planes carrying bombs. Equally good for bombing people armed with AK-47's and RPG's, and you'd save billions! :)


As I am understanding it the US is buying such a palne in the Light Attack/Armed Reconnaissance program: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Light_Attack/Armed_Reconnaissa...

Many other countries also use planes like the Embraer EMB 314 Super Tucano[0] to fight insurgents and other that do not have any anti aircraft capabilities.

0: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Embraer_EMB_314_Super_Tucano

And a legion of apocalyptic missiles to back it up.

We (and Russia) each have between 1500 and 8000 strategic nuclear warheads deployed or deployable. That's not a Maginot line, it's just air superiority anywhere it matters.

Personally, having F14-like drones would probably be much better at keeping opponents airpower down/out than JSF or F18s, but that's my silly civilian opinion.

Being pedantic, that's not the definition of air superiority or supremacy. You can't shoot down a fighter plane with a nuclear warhead.

Right, aircraft carriers are about air superiority. If an opponent is sinking them with supersonic (nuclear?) cruise missiles or drones, that's a different strategic issue (with China, Russia)... at least for the next decade or several.

The _that's_ I was referring to was in the the preceding comment, which referred to aircraft carriers as a Maginot line floating at sea.

Perhaps, but an even easier comparison to Maginot line is China's concrete islands

I am constantly amazed that Iran manages to keep some of their F-14s airworthy decades after the US stopped supplying spare parts and knowledge.

Seems to me that they have worked out how to manufacture certain parts themselves, or are getting them on the black market somehow.

For all the F-14s many faults, at least it proved to be a serviceable aircraft that proved itself in an actual dogfight situation. Our own RAAF is slated to receive F-35s soon, but I recall last year during an airshow to display their capabilities to the local crowds, the aircraft could not return to their home base to land and had to be diverted to an alternate due to... light rain.

Fair enough the aircraft were not certified for flight into inclement weather yet, but it strikes me (pun intended) that the new generation of aircraft are far more sensitive to issues like these than the older generation aircraft that could be flown while held together with sticky tape and chewing gum.

There was an airshow recently in Toronto and all aircraft (including F35) stopped flying because of a light rain. I guess it's a common precaution measure on airshows.

I understand about not flying a display routine in inclement weather, fog or low cloud (I am a former pilot).

In this case, then F-35 squadron had done the flyover at the actual airshow in clear weather and were returning to their temporary airbase several hundred miles away. They could not land back there due to the light rain over the base and had to be diverted to a dry base elsewhere.

Considering the cost of one of the new aircraft, I think it’s understandable that everyone tries to stay away from doing anything untested unless they really have to…

Specially when taking into account the state of many during the WWII that still managed to land somehow.

Top Gun notwithstanding, the F-14 was one of the biggest pieces of garbage the Navy ever fielded. Incredibly heavy, horrible E-M characteristics, expensive, crappy swing wing (a wing design that was in-vogue in the 60s but has now been discredited). Interestingly the Navy wanted to keep buying more and more of these until the Fighter Mafia foisted the F-16 on the air force, and the Navy reluctantly took a variant of the F-16 and blew it up in size and renamed it the F-18 (the F-18 variant was actually the losing contender to be the F-16). If it wasn't for the Fighter Mafia, the Navy would still be buying pieces of crap like the F-14.

Interesting that nowhere in this article are the capabilities of the F-35 STOVL variant discussed, a weapon that the Navy is paying $100M+ for. That they are skipping that discussion and jumping into why they need NGAD is just disgusting.

Oh well, the Pentagon is just a giant building that buys weapons. Always looking for the next piece of kit to blow cash on.

And just while I'm on this tirade...there are almost no use cases where you need an airplane that goes faster than Mach 2. At that speed you are outside the envelope where you can fire a missile. If you are trying to design a fighter aircraft as an interceptor, you are doing it wrong...

STOVL is the marines, and the shiniest of the Joint Strike Turds. And I think Boyd and the Fighter Mafia were actually wrong. For BVR air-to-air, I would have rather had an F-14/F-15 with phased-array radar and AMRAAM, than an F-16/18. Although the F22 clubs them all like baby seals. The Vietnam lesson was only good until missiles improved. Now the war is between missiles and radar more than planes. And a fast missile truck is better than a slow missile truck. Mach 2+ would be nice after you’ve shot your load and are running away.

FYI, Canada was very close to getting f-14s. (Canada made an offer on the F-14s sold to Iran.) Had that happened, no doubt Canada would still be flying them today.

The 14 had range and speed, but using those abilities was very difficult. Midair refueling is headache on a carrier. The faster and further the 14s had to go, the more tanker aircraft had to be launched. They were great for fleet defense, sticking close to home, but were ill suited for escorting bombers on long ground attack missions. So as cold war battles on the high seas were replaced by pocket ground wars, the 14 lacked purpose.

The 14s weapon system, the phoenix, would not be acceptable today. It was meant for downing incoming waves of bombers over open ocean, where the enemy is clearly identifiable. It wouldn't work well in a mixed environment such as over Syria. So the 14 would need a new missile/radar to compliment its speed/range.

> The faster and further the 14s had to go, the more tanker aircraft had to be launched.

Speaking of crazy refueling, does anything beat the Vulcan raid during the Falklands war? 13(!) tankers supporting one bomber going from Ascension to Port Stanley and back. Not only tankers refueling the bomber, but tankers refueling tankers etc.

Here's a documentary about the raid: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PBJ99bIhAVk

All this massive effort, and in the end one single bomb out of 12(24?) managed to actually hit the runway.

Correction to myself, 11 tankers and 21 bombs.

The F-14 didn't have any purpose during the Cold War either. It was an idiotic fantasy toy, just like the carriers on which it sailed. All of that hardware would have been on the bottom of the ocean in the first half hour of a war with the USSR.

They're absolutely brilliant against barbarians, though.

Can you please elaborate? How do you reckon the USSR would achieve such a feat? (If your answer involves ‘submarines’, you’re under-estimating the ASW capabilities of a carrier group.)

Hmm. Around 15 years ago the $100M "gotland" submarines sank the $6B carriers multiple times without detection during war games. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gotland-class_submarine

As those kinds of subs are available to more and more countries you can't always "park" a carrier group without risk.

Such wins are generally based on defined senerios. Specificaly, the carrier group is sticking to a known heading, allowing the sub to park itself ahead and wait.

And the carrier group's use of active sonar is limited (whales). And the actions of the protecting sub(s) are classified. And we still havent mentioned the rise of anti-torpedo/missile technologies. ... the real outcomes never makes it into the public domain.

One of the Australian Collins class diesel-electric subs also 'sank' a US carrier during war games.


I would expect a carrier group would be a prime target for medium/long range nuclear missiles. They can't be hidden from military satellites so they would be like sitting ducks. Send 2-3 per group, at Mach 5-6 nothing can stop them and group is no more.

Good article on this subject from Naval Institute Proceedings.[1] Non-carrier surface combatants with missiles can be more useful than carriers against an enemy that can fight back. There are just too many long-range weapons an advanced enemy can shoot at a carrier - cruise missiles, anti-ship missiles, ballistic missiles, long range torpedoes. Some of those will get through. China, of course, has been investing heavily in land-based anti-ship missiles. Those arrive from almost straight up at re-entry speeds, too fast to shoot down.

[1] https://www.usni.org/magazines/proceedings/2018-09/use-carri...

The article misses an important point - the brand. There was never an aircraft before or after F14 that did so much for the Navy in terms of branding as Tomcat did. Every kid in 1980s wanted to fly one.

I spent all of my mom’s quarters in the basement of the local flea market playing “Afterburner” (with the motorized arcade cabinet). Was also way into Top Gun. Can attest to your hypothesis.

In the 1980s, i wanted to fly an F-4 Phantom. I suppose i was retro before that was cool.

I still have a real soft-spot for the Phantom, as a kid growing up the RAAF used them (along with the F-111's). I remember seeing one pass overhead pretty low while we were out on the boat fishing, and immediately made me want to go down an air force career.

Then I went blind and decided if I couldn't fly a jet, then meh, I'd do something different.

It sounds like what the Navy misses isn't so much the F-14 as the AIM-54 Phoenix (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/AIM-54_Phoenix), the long-range air-to-air missile paired with the F-14 that let the Tomcat knock down airborne threats much further out than the F-18 can.

Pity the Phoenix was never tested under actual battle conditions. Even the shoot down of the Sukhois (which inspired the opening scene of Top Gun) was done with the older AIM-9 Sidewinders.

Interesting proposition, but I don't know how effective BVR air to air missiles would have been?

Isn't the problem that one rarely operates under RoE where BVR missiles would be permitted? Particularly in these days of mostly-counterterrorism, hitting the wrong target is worse than not hitting at all.

The F-14 wasn't a multi role plane though right?

I thought that was one of the issues, and would still be an issue today wouldn't it?

It was single-role for the first half of its life due to Navy policy. From 1992 onwards it was modified for multi-role, see 'Bombcat'.

Because people like being able to hum "Danger Zone" while they are flying


The entire air force and navy are sitting ducks and totally obsolete in the face of a somewhat modern cheap drone air force and antiship missles, to say nothing of naval and submersible drones.

> The entire air force and navy are sitting ducks and totally obsolete in the face of a somewhat modern cheap drone air force and antiship missles

That's a fantasy that might exist 30 years from now; one which nobody possesses today at a US-threatening level. Only China is close, and if it comes to sinking ships then we're at WW3. Currently China is entirely trapped inside of their borders and or very close proximity to those borders. There isn't a single country other than the US with global force projection, in which they can push their logistics, support, weapons and supply outside of their borders for an extended period of time or at a far distance.

How are cheap Chinese drones going to help, when everything in your country looks like Syria and you have no runways or infrastructure including electricity? You're entirely stuck within your own borders, while the US bombs your vital infrastructure from outside of it. When enough damage is done, it proceeds to traditional bombing runs.

There are only two adversaries to the US that that doesn't apply to: China and Russia, due to their scale.

Absolutely nothing changes until other nations achieve sustainable projection external of their own borders. Otherwise, everything inside of those borders becomes a captive target. The cost of projecting outside of your borders, is extremely high. More likely, only Russia and China will continue to possess that ability among traditional US foes.

They don't need global force projection, just about everything the need or hope to gain from war is on or near their borders. China doesn't need to blow up US carriers in the Atlantic, they just need to control the south china sea which is much easier and cheaper. They're happy to let the US bleed money on trying to maintain themselves as a global power.

If they really want to cripple the US then a large scale cyber attack would be orders of magnitude cheaper and far more effective than any military one.

And you are pretending that the Chinese don't have nuclear ICBMs, and they also can take out the entire pacific fleet in hours with antiship ICBMs.

As for the air force, drones will take them out, and any land forces then won't have mobility or logistical support in Asia or the Pacific.

The air force and navy as currently constituted are just corporate welfare programs.

Did you just skip the “if it comes to that we’re in WW3” part?

It seems to me adventured is fully acknowledging that if China wants a shooting war, they can take out US Pacific carrier groups, after which Beijing and Shanghai will be smoking craters, and we’ll find out if US anti-missile defense is any good (I tend to think it’s snake oil, but I’d really rather avoid testing that).

The goal of having a military is to encourage diplomatic ends. The US has many diplomatic goals that don’t involve combat on the Chinese mainland.

It’s also not clear to me that in a shooting war scenario it’s a bad plan to have some manned fighters, assuming basically all EM channels for controlling drones will be jammed.

As long it is not submersible CIWS can shred pretty much anything to pieces: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Close-in_weapon_system

Those drones will swarm in with volumes. CIWS may be effective taking out dozens of them but what if the came in hundreds or thousands?

> the best unclassified study we have suggests that if eight small drones attack an Aegis-equipped destroyer - which has various AA missiles as well as Phalanx - it would get about five of them. However, this is crucially dependent on the exact speed, size and stealthiness of the drones involved > https://calhoun.nps.edu/handle/10945/28669

CIWS need to find a way to scale. Maybe a grid?

Assuming that its radar has not been jammed / duped / EMPed and that the enemy is chivalrous enough not to send an overwhelming number of multi-Mach missiles.

The Zumwalt DDG discarded CIWS in favour of missiles.

CWIS isnt going to hit a hypersonic missile going mach 6

And amongst all this nobody considers electronic warfare or cyber warfare.

How do you control your military when communication and GPS satellites are feeding you incorrect information?

Apparently US military uses GPS only for mapping, not navigation.

swarms of drones relay each other.

I'm so confused, we already spent how many billions on the F-22 and there is no carrier capable version that outperforms the F-18? How on earth did that happen?

The F-22 is an air superiority fighter that was always intended for exclusive use by the Air Force. There was never a plan to have a carrier based version of the F-22.

Perhaps you mean the F-35? There are two carrier based variants - the F-35B and F-35C. The B is a STOVL and the C is designed for takeoff and landing on carriers. Both variants are still in testing, and I believe the C is closer to operational than the B at this point.

F-22 was funded by the Air Force and I don't think there was ever a carrier-based version planned. The F-35 has a carrier variant being worked on.

The article references the NATF history.


As far as I can tell, the F-22 was never intended for the Navy at all. It was specifically requested and paid for by the Air Force as an air superiority fighter with no real plans to ever retrofit it for use in carrier operations. Also, the F-22 is significantly larger than an F-18 (about 6 feet longer and 2 feet wider), making it a bit harder to cram a bunch of them into a carrier.

Let's keep in mind the F-18 is just the second place in the F-16 development. Navy wanted two engines and something different than the Air Force.

My first job out of college was as a software developer on the F-14D project, and the AIM missiles.

It was probably the most interesting job I ever had.

We programmed in CMS-2 and AN/UYK assembly language

Wow, that's cool.

Assuming you are allowed to, could you share some more info?

How did you program AIM missiles for following heat signatures, was it a case of reading bits from the IR sensor?

Did missiles logic have exceptions e.g. FuelRanOutException, IRSensorUnresponsive?

Well DUH.

Two words: TOP GUN.

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