During the plane’s heyday, the US Navy maintained 26 active duty F-14 squadrons for the 12 carriers certified for F-14 operations, 4 Test and Evaluation squadrons, 2 Fleet Replacement squadrons and 4 Naval Reserve squadrons. 632 F-14s were delivered to the US Navy between 1973 and 1994. Each Forrestal-, Kitty Hawk-, Enterprise-, Kennedy-, and Nimitz-Class carrier had two squadrons of F-14s aboard, with 12 aircraft per squadron. Depending on the cruise air wings aboard, there were approx 85 aircraft aboard ship. This sets the F-14s comprising about 28% of the air wing’s airframes.
The F-14 was used to provide air superiority in the airspace around the battlegroup as well as escorting strike packages and providing a first line of defense against long range enemy interceptors and cruise missiles. Later upgrades as well as the F-14D variant allow for precision strike capability against surface targets as well. The genesis of the AWG-9/AIM-54 weapons system was as a defense against TU-22s carrying Kitchen cruise missiles which had a very real chance of sinking a carrier if the missile found its mark. A secondary role was given to the F-14 in the early 80s as the primary tactical reconnaissance aircraft for the fleet, replacing the aging RA-5C Vigilante and RF-8 Crusader aircraft by means of a removable Tactical Aerial Reconnisance Pod System (TARPS) which mounted on the center body pylons for the AIM-54 missile. Later systems included ROVER pods for precision close air support.