In the Claws of the Tomcat: US Navy F-14 Tomcats in Air Combat Against Iran and Iraq, 1987-2000

Published: March 29th, 2021     
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Author: Tom Cooper
Reviewed by: Paul R. Brown - IPMS# 24085
ISBN #: 9781913118754
Other Publication Information: softcover, 80 pages, 21 color profiles, 90+ black & white photographs and maps, published 2020.
Price: $29.95
Product provided by: Casemate Publishers

The book is Volume 29 of Helion & Company's Middle East@War series. The book includes over 80 black and white photographs which include not only photographs of some of the US Navy F-14 squadrons that were engaged in operations in the Persian Gulf and over Iraq, but also quite a few good photographs of Iraqi Air Force aircraft, surface-to-air missiles and other defenses systems, as well as Iraqi pilots. The photographs are supplemented by 21 color profiles of various F-14s and Iranian and Iraqi aircraft that were involved in the actions discussed in the book. There are also several charts setting forth the order of battle for the two forces along with maps of the theater of operations.

Tom Cooper is an Austrian aerial warfare analyst and author with extensive contacts both within the US military and with many current or former senior officers of air forces across the Middle East and he has taken advantage of these sources to put together a much more balanced look at the employment of the F-14 Tomcat in the Persian Gulf region, before, during and after Desert Storm. Mr. Cooper's portrayal of how the F-14s were employed during Desert Storm demonstrates that they played a much bigger and more integral role in US Navy air combat operations during the conflict than has previously been published.

The book begins with an overview of the genesis of the F-14 Tomcat, including a good discussion of how the sale of F-14s to Iran in the mid 1970's saved Grumman from bankruptcy and forced the US Congress to continue authorizing the purchase of more F-14s for the US Navy. He also discusses the problems encountered with the TF30 engines that the F-14A was equipped with, problems that were only solved with the replacement of the TF30 with F110 engines in the F-14A+/B and F-14D.

The author also discusses the advantages and disadvantages of the variety of fighter aircraft flown by the Iraqi Air Force as well as its reliance on ground control during intercept operations. He points out that many of the Iraqi pilots faced by the Coalition air forces in Desert Storm were not only very experienced, but also had much more combat experience than the Coalition pilots. Unfortunately, they were not able to take advantage of this experience due to the Coalition's control of the airspace over Iraq and the degradation of the Iraqi ground control network.

Like many others, my impression has always been that the F-14s were relegated to secondary roles far away from the action during Desert Storm due to their lack of the non-cooperative target recognition features built into the F-15 and later aircraft which allowed them to distinguish between friendly and enemy aircraft independent of outside sources. Mr. Cooper puts this myth to rest by showing that rather than being on the sidelines, Tomcats were in the thick of the fray, doing what they had trained to do for years - protecting the strike group from enemy aircraft. He discusses several instances where F-14s were actively engaged with bandits but were unable to fire on them due to the Rules of Engagement which required two types of identification to confirm the target as hostile. He also points out that despite these shortcomings, the F-14s did what they were there to do and prevented the Iraqi fighters from engaging the strike aircraft.

Due to his contacts on both sides, Mr. Cooper is able to provide both sides of many of the engagements or near engagements that occurred during this period and in some instances, to finish an unfinished story by telling the other side of the encounter, such as the confrontation between 2 VF-21 F-14s and an Iranian F-4E Phantom II in 1987 and fairly conclusively showing that the VF-103 F-14A+ lost over Iraq was actually shot down by an Iraqi Air Force MiG-29, not an SA-2 SAM as has been previously reported. He also explains that despite having well trained, seasoned pilots, since the Iraqi leadership decided that preservation of its aircraft was more important than opposing the Coalition's air campaign, Iraqi pilots were not often given opportunities to engage Coalition aircraft but were instead either kept on the ground or vectored away from threats instead of towards them.

I really enjoyed reading this book and I felt it gave a much more balanced presentation of the F-14's employment during the Gulf War and offered a glimpse of what could have been had the Tomcat's radar system and software had received the upgrades that the newer aircraft such as the F-15 & F-18 had.

Highly recommended. Thank you to Casemate Publishing for the review sample.

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