When the VFX specification was released in June 1968 it's print contained an important secondary role:-that of close air support with a bombload of up to 14,500 pounds. Thus right from the beginning the F-14 was designed to carry bombs, indeed early Grumman publicity material for the winning design (303E) shows it doing just that.
During the flight test program at least one of the pre-production F-14A conducted tests with 14 Mk82 500lb bombs attached to modified Phoenix launchers (see image on right). However after testing was complete the air-to-ground capability was allowed to lapse, for several reasons:- the F-14 was justified on the grounds that it was the only aircraft that could fill the demanding Fleet Air Defense mission, if upon entering service it had started dropping bombs Congress would most certainly have asked the question of why it was necessary to buy interceptors for $35 million and then use them to drop bombs when better bomb trucks (the A-6 and A-7) were available for less money. The second reason is touched upon above, in the late 1970's the Navy had plenty of air-to-ground aircraft, the A-6 was in service and in constant development (the A-6E TRAM made it's first operational deployment in 1979), likewise the A-7E (which in the early 1980's received a FLIR pod) and the F/A-18 was on the drawing board. Thus the Tomcat crews specialised in the air-to-air arena, where they were needed, as the USSR developed new and improved bombers, the Tu-22M, and anti-ship missiles in the form of the AS-4 and AS-6.
The air-to-ground role and the F-14 were not complete strangers during the 1980's, as the F-14D was developed it incorporated the necessary software and hardware to enable it to carry iron bombs and the incorporation of more advanced weapons would be relatively simple. In addition small sections of the Tomcat community continued to argue for an air-to-ground role, culminating in the dropping of two inert Mk84's by a F-14A from VX-4 on the 10th of November 1987. Clearance trials continued at a slow pace and in July 1992 Fleet squadrons received clearance for GP bombs. Cluster bomb units and LGB's followed soon after.
The early 1990's was a chaotic time for defence planners and as a result budgets. As the Navy's planned next generation of strike aircraft were terminated, leaving only the project that would become the F/A-18E/F, the idea of further developing the F-14 for the strike role became more attractive. However with funds tight, only limited upgrades would be possible. During this period Grumman proposed a range of Advanced Tomcat Derivatives, which in the end lost out to the F/A-18E/F. In December 1994 a Navy report urged the acquisition of a stand alone laser designator and FLIR for the F-14. Lockheed Martin had been proposing a variant of the LANTIRN system to the Navy since 1993 and won the contract to develop it for the F-14.
To save time and cost Lockheed Martin's proposal envisaged using only the AN/AAQ-14 targeting pod (LTP) with modifications including GPS, ballistic tables and navigation aids. The pod is not integrated into the F-14's computer's and software, instead it feeds images from the FLIR onto the RIO's PTID and the pilot's vertical display indicator (VDI) in the F-14A/B or one of the two MFD's in the F-14D. LANTIRN, as installed on the F-15E and F-16C, can fly the aircraft in terrain following mode to a pre-set target. The F-14 version cannot do this, however as the LTP includes GPS receivers the pod can aid navigation, providing a highly accurate means by which to check the aircraft's INS system.
|VF-103 Jolly Rogers||1st F-14 squadron to deploy with LANTIRN. 28th June 1996 to 20th December 1996. Pods and equipment were transferred to VF-32 aboard USS Theodore Roosevelt before the cruise ended.|
|VF-32 Swordsmen||First to deploy LANTIRN on F-14A. November 1996 to May 1997.|
|VF-2 Bounty Hunters||First Pacific Fleet squadron to deploy with LANTIRN, also first to deploy LANTIRN on F-14D. April 1 1997 to September 1997 onboard USS Constellation, CV-64.|
|VF-41 Black Aces and VF-14 Tophatters||Deployed to Mediterranean and Red Sea from Spring 1997 to late summer.|
|VF-211 Checkmates||Deployed onboard USS Nimtz, CVN-68, as part of CVW-9, in September 1997. Returned to NAS Oceana in late February 1998.|
|VF-102 Diamondbacks||First to deploy with the full F-14 Upgrade model onboard USS George Washington as part of CVW-1. 10th October 1997 to 2nd April 1998.|
|VF-154 Black Knights||A team from Northrop Grumman flew to NAF Atsugi, Japan, in September 1997 to being LANTIRN and "Upgrade" modifications. The Black Knights deployed to the Persian Gulf in January 1998 onboard USS Independence for their first cruise with the new systems.|
|VF-11 Red Rippers and VF-143 Pukin' Dogs||First cruise with LANTIRN began in early March 1998. A round the world cruise onboard USS John C. Stennis, it is due to conclude in autumn 1998.|
|VF-31 Tomcatters||Received their first LANTIRN capable aircraft in late 1997, using them on deployment to NAS Fallon, Nevada, during CVW-14 work-ups. First cruise will be onboard USS Abraham Lincoln, beginning in early May 1998.|
|VF-213 Black Lions and VF-101 Grim Reapers||Unsure of the status of these squadrons, VF-213 has recently converted to the F-14D and so may have LANTIRN capable aircraft. VF-101 is the training squadron, whether it will receive LANTIRN aircraft is unclear.|
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