Iran flies the F-14 Tomcat, the same plane Tom Cruise flew in the original Superior gun. A convoluted story explains how Iran obtained the American-made fighter and how it flies the old planes.
The American-made Northrop Grumman F-14 Tomcat fighter jet was already widely recognized when the platform debuted in the 1986 film Superior gun. As the most powerful and deadliest interceptor jet ever built at the time, the F-14 was rightly the true icon of the classic blockbuster. The Tomcat entered service with the US Navy in 1972 and was to replace its predecessor the F-4 Phantom fighter. The Tomcat featured many upgrades, including advanced dogfighting capabilities, agility, and the ability to perform both long-range intercept and air superiority missions.
This set of missions became extremely important in the 1970s when US-Soviet tensions began to escalate. Eager to gain support from the region, President Nixon visited Iran’s head of state, Mohamed Reza Shah, and struck the deal that would give Imperial Iran 79 operational Tomcats. The F-14 fighter aircraft was the ideal aircraft for Iranian pilots, as it effectively challenged Soviet MiG-25R Foxbat aircraft over Iranian territory. The Tomcat was the equivalent of the F-22 today, the most superior and advanced aircraft in the skies.
aging in the air
The United States quickly regretted allowing Iran to become the only other country to operate the fourth-generation fighter jets. In 1979, monarchical rule was abruptly crushed in Iran when fundamentalist Shiite clerics took control of the country under the leadership of Ayatollah Ruhollah Kohmeini. The Islamic Revolution led to the collapse of US-Iranian relations. Going forward, the United States would work tirelessly to try and ground their adversary’s aircraft. However, the Islamic Republic of Iran continues to maintain its F-14 fleet despite the eight-year Iran-Iraq war and US arms embargoes In fact, the Iranian Air Force has actually increased the number of operational airframes in the decades and has advanced fighter aircraft electronics and weapon systems.
According to reports, Iranian technicians have developed nearly 300 separate modifications of the supersonic fighter. The remaining Iranian Tomcat fleet now features all-new wiring, avionics and sensors. Since the United States prevented Iran from acquiring its F-14 missiles, the regime modified its fleet to carry Soviet R-27 and R-73 missiles. Recently, Iran successfully reverse-engineered parts for the F-14 airframe and AIM-54 missiles, ultimately producing an effective indigenous variant of the original F-14 Phoenix missile.
Iran’s focus on self-sufficiency at this time, complemented by its arms smuggling, enabled the regime to keep fighters operational. In 1988, an Iranian-American was arrested by federal agents in New York after being accused of trying to buy parts for the engine of the Tomcat. A string of similar arrests soon followed, increasing in scale once the United States retired its last F-14s in 2006. The United States made a concerted effort to keep Tomcat parts from falling between the hands of Iran.
Despite America’s efforts to remove all remnants of the F-14 from the world, Tehran continues to fly the aging fighters. In fact, Iran’s remaining 40 F-14 fighters are the world’s only active Tomcats. Additionally, these upgraded supersonic jets remain some of the best fighters in the region.
Maya Carlin, now the new editor of Middle East defense in 1945, is an analyst at the Center for Security Policy and a former Anna Sobol Levy fellow at IDC Herzliya in Israel. She has lines in numerous publications, including The National Interest, Jerusalem Post and Times of Israel.