Wednesday, March 02, 2016
The F-14, fleet defense and the gap that remains...
As usual, the talk about what the F-35 does or doesn't bring to the fleet has sparked all kinds of side debates. One of them is in regard to the F-14 and if the Super Hornet, Hornet and/or the F-35 will ever fill its shoes.
The answer if you're pressed for time is NO!
When the F-14 was designed the US Navy was EXTREMELY serious about the blue water fight. The assumption was that the USAF would be fully engaged doing its thing to support the Army and the naval services would be hookin' and jabbin' with enemy forces alone. With Marine Air only giving a few squadrons to the carrier requirement, it was up to the Navy to field the high end of the air defense force. Out of this was born the F-14.
The fear was that massed missile attacks on our capital ships would overwhelm our defenses and they would be sunk. It was also theorized that the Russians would seek to launch these missiles from distance via TU-95 in conjunction with either subs or surface ships and the problem is obvious.
The S-3 was the pinch hitter in the battle being responsible for long range maritime patrol with the additional task of anti-sub duty (again at distance) along with picking up anti-ship duties with the A-6, A-7 and soon to be introduced F-18.
But back to the Bear bombers loaded with heavyweight, long range, anti-ship missiles. That was the responsibility of the F-14 and its AIM-54 (Phoenix) missiles. Way back then they realized the need to "shoot the archer" before he could launch his arrows.
Which brings me full circle to what the F-14 was, wasn't and how the Navy flexed it into other roles. At the height of the Cold War the F-14 was focused on fleet defense, with the air superiority mission (as defined by the USAF) being a distant second. In case of war the job was to protect the fleet. The threat was bombers carrying missiles and the plane was optimized to do that job. It was a big, twin engined beast with great range, a two man crew, huge radar, massive missile load, fast and it flew high.
The F-35, Super Hornet, and Hornet just don't compare. That doesn't make them bad planes (well, not exactly, the F-35 sucks donkey dick) it just means that if the Navy and Pentagon are really serious about gearing up for a battle against a near peer threat then it needs to rethink its drink when it comes to the planes its putting on its deck.
The emphasis on land attack has destroyed Navy Aviation and taken its eyes off the prize. In actuality it needs a replacement F-14. It needs a big, long ranged fleet defense fighter that can meet the J-20 or any other airplane carrying anti-ship missiles at distance and shoot them down before they get within launch distance. At this time I personally estimate that to be at least 500 miles from the carrier (this is to allow for advances in anti-ship missile range) and a decent loiter time before it has to return. We're talking about a big airplane...probably as big as the A-5. As things stand now, the Navy will lose ships in the next sea battle. Its just not built like it was in the old days to deal with threats that have RE-emerged.