The new DLC for VTOL VR got me thinking: why wasn't the F-14 Tomcat retrofitted for the electronic warfare (EW) role? The concept of electronic attack and defense was starting to rise to prominence around the time of the Soviet Union's collapse, which was the reason the Tomcat was retired in the first place. The EF-111A Raven and the EA-18G Growler are proof positive that aircraft original designed as fighters and attackers can work in an EW role. So, why wasn't this applied to the F-14 to create an electronic warfare variant, a sort of "Jamcat" if you will?


2 Answers 2


Cost, weight, age, and commonality.

Cost and weight: The F/A-18 was designed to be a relatively affordable and maintainable multirole fighter, in part addressing the deficiencies of the F-14 in this area. The Super Hornet has put on a lot of weight, but it went to the right places; as a result, its useful load is greater than that of the Tomcat - 34,000 lbs for the SH vs 30,000 for the Tomcat.

The Tomcat's load is limited not so much by its wings and engines, as it is by the carrier's catapults; it comes too close to their 80,000 lbs absolute limit, and needs more than the minimum launch speed. It also took more maintenance, so, even with the new engines, the Tomcat had a lower availability than the Hornet. The lesson has been learned.

Age: For an EW aircraft, you want good baseline avionics, which are then augmented with underwing pods for jamming and other purposes. The F-14A's avionics are seriously out of date. Even the F-14D, while it got some MFDs fitted, is based on an older design, with the lack of fly-by-wire limiting its autopilot performance. As a minimum, the APG-71 radar would have to be replaced with an AESA. Even using existing modules, a new radar variant still involves integration and testing expenses.

Commonality: None of that would've been a deal-breaker if the Navy intended to fly the Tomcat as its primary fighter. As it happens, once the Cold War ended, its unique long-range CAP role was no longer necessary. The Navy retired them as fast as it could get enough Hornets, and sometimes even faster.

You don't want to have to keep expertise, spares, and supply chains for more aircraft families than necessary, which is part of why the EA-6B was replaced in the first place. The Intruder is a much easier bird to maintain than the Tomcat, so the Navy was happy to keep the Prowler for a while even after retiring the A-6. With the Super Hornet forming the bulk of present and near-future USN air wings, it was the obvious choice of platform for a replacement.

  • $\begingroup$ Interesting comment about the catapult being a weight limiter. Do the newer carriers have stronger catapults? $\endgroup$ Commented Dec 24, 2023 at 16:04
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    $\begingroup$ @RobertDiGiovanni The EMALS on the Ford class has more power, ~120 MJ vs ~100 MJ. The aircraft weight limit is still 80,000 lbs, but the catapult has been tested with 100,000, so it can work better at the limit. However, it's very new, and still has reliability issues. So it wasn't ready at the time, and even now it will take a long time to get multiple Fords operational. $\endgroup$
    – Therac
    Commented Dec 24, 2023 at 17:22

Just to build on the answer by Therac; at the end of the Cold War the US Navy also had the ES-3 based on the S-3 Viking, the EA-3 based on the A-3 Skywarrior as well as the EA-6 based on the A-6 Intruder. All of these were established platforms, so if additional capacity were needed, chances are that they would expand on the already proven platforms rather than adding a new unproven (and dated) aircraft. Two of the three (ES-3/EA-3) could also function as refueling aircraft, adding to their value within the fleet.

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    $\begingroup$ the EA-6 could also be used for refueling, and was at times. It could also be employed in a SAM hunter role later in life, loaded with up to 4 HARM missiles (at the cost of some of its EW capabilities, obviously). F-14 also had a refueling capability but could not carry HARM. $\endgroup$
    – jwenting
    Commented Dec 24, 2023 at 20:07

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