Warplanes: December 2, 2001


F-14s are flying some of their last missions; the Tomcats on the Teddy Roosevelt are scheduled to be retired and replaced with F-18Es at the end of this cruise. Even so, the long range and two-man crew of the F-14s have provided opportunities for new missions, such as forward air controller or rescue coordinator. The addition of laser targeting and GPS weapons has made the bomber mission for the F-14 more effective, although those F-14s remaining in service won't get the software upgrades needed to control new Joint Direct Attack Munitions in time for this war. Even using the systems they have (Lantirn pods with built-in GPS), F-14s have been able to provide highly-accurate target data for other aircraft (including B-52s). Using TARPS pods, F-14s have been able to take accurate photos of key battle areas, and were doing so before U-2s and other spy planes could reach the area. While the Navy has new digital recon pods that can transmit data back to the carrier, the ones flying over Afghanistan use the older film-based system. The fighters have to land before their data can be obtained by analysts. While most operations have been at altitudes too high for shoulder-launched missiles or 23mm cannon shells to reach, pilots report that they frequently drive into these danger zones to get better targeting data. F-14s have expended more than 200 rounds of 20mm cannon shells, indicating some very low-level passes at targets. --Stephen V Cole


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