The F-14 and the F-15 were designed in almost the same years and each one was at the top of its own "compartment" (respectively, US Navy and US Air Force).

However, almost 15 years ago, the F-14 was retired in favor of the F/A-18, surely less powerful but probably more multi-role (while the F-14 was improved too for ground attack), while the F-15 was not superseded by the new F-22.

So, the F-14 was replaced by a project that already had 16 years on its shoulder in 2006 — the F/A-18 was a project of the 80's — but F-15 continues to be side-by-side with the F-22.

Why these complete different approaches to fleet renewal?


3 Answers 3

  1. There aren't enough F-22s to go around. Too expensive.
  2. The F-18C/D Hornet that replaced the F-14 has itself been mostly replaced by the F-18E/F Super Hornet. The look the same, but the E/F is actually larger and more advanced. Not really the same aircraft.
  3. Maintenance. Facilities on a carrier are restricted, simply due to space. If they can reduce the number of airframes to support on a ship, and still accomplish the mission, good.
  4. Lack of mission for the AIM-54, which was the primary reason for the F-14.

The chief reason was to save money. At the turn of the 21st Century, the Navy saw shifting to the new F/A-18E/F Super Hornet for all seaborne tactical strike operation (and eventually electronic warfare with the new EA-18 Growler aircraft) offered the Navy a fleetwise annual savings north of $1 billion over a multi-airframe tactical aircraft fleet.

There have been several proposals to update the existing F-14 airframes and even purchase a new state of the art variant of the F-14 called the Super Tomcat 21, which Grumman had proposed as the base of a new family of strike fighter aircraft based upon the F-14D. The Super Tomcat 21 would have included a host of new features such as

  • F110-GE-429 turbofan engines. This 29K pound thrust class engine, a modification of the same variant found in later block F-16s and now some Strike Eagle derivatives, albeit with a longer exhaust pipe tailored to the Tomcat, would give the ST21 supercruise performance (>Mach 1 without the use of gas-guzzling afterburner) while carrying a relevant air-to-air loadout. Some state M1.2-1.4 supercruise would have been possible.

  • Enlarged and recontoured leading-edge gloves with an additional 2,200lbs of fuel storage each.

  • Underfuselage-mounted Ford Aerospace (now Lockheed Martin) Night Owl targeting pod/FLIR and navigation pod.

  • Single-piece windscreen for enhanced visibility.

  • Wide-angle raster-scan HUD capable of projecting FLIR imagery.

  • Glass cockpit.

  • New mission computers and graphics processors.

  • On-Board Oxygen Generations System (OBOGS)

  • AN/APG-71 radar with additional upgrades ported over from the AN/APG-70 used on the F-15E. Expanded range and capabilities over the original AN/APG-71 in F-14D, which itself was an outgrowth of the AWG-9.

  • Digital Flight Control System (DFCS).

  • Wet wing pylons capable of carrying 300-gallon external tanks.

  • Ability to carry 425-gallon external tanks on nacelle hardpoints if it was developed. Existing tank size 280 gallons.

  • Larger multi-segmented fowler-flaps.

  • Enlarged and extended slats on wing leading-edge.

  • Bring-back to ship capacity increased from 9k lbs to 16k lbs.

  • Reduced approach speed and better slow-speed control.

  • Integration of latest standoff weaponry, as well as AIM-120 AMRAAM.

  • Upgraded AN/ALE-47 countermeasures dispenser.

  • Integration of the BOL countermeasures dispensers into the outboard pylons as a mission configuration option.

Such an aircraft would have provided the Navy with the capabilities of, more or less, a navalized F-15E Strike Eagle. But even with all the advanced upgrades that the Super Tomcat 21 would’ve offered, it was still seen as obsolete in the advent of stealth technology, which the Navy really wanted to get available in fighters on its carrier decks.

It is possible that the Navy may have bought Super Tomcat 21s or similar A/C utilizing Low Observable Technologies as a replacement for existing F-14s had the planned successor to the A-6E Intruder, the McDonnell Douglas/General Dynamics A-12 ‘Flying Dorito’ not been such an failure. Facing massive cost and weight overruns and the Navy unable to justify it, the A-12 program was terminated in 1991 by then Defense Secretary Richard Cheney. The proposed NATF, or Navalized Advanced Tactical Fighter variant of the F-22 airplane, then in development in the ATF fly off, was abandoned by 1994 - a victim of post-Cold War defense cuts.

Faced with dwindling defense budgets in the Clinton administration, the Navy was looking for a more conservative and cost-effective option, which it found in a modernized variant of the F/A-18 airplane. This also offered the advantage that the Navy could package and develop the jet under the existing F-18 program, eliminating the need to ask Congress for additional funds for a new and risky fighter program. Finally with Joint Advanced Strike Technology (JAST) program, which eventually morphed into the Joint Strike Fighter / F-35 family, the new modernized F/A-18 airplane offered the navy a more fiscally sound interim solution for fleet defense needs until JSF and other stealth aircraft were operating from their carrier decks.

Today in the face of continued developmental problems with the F-35C, the Navy continues to upgrade the F-18 Super Hornet with the Advanced Super Hornet program.

As for the F 15, it, too, sojourns on simply because the Air Force does not have an available option currently as a replacement. Both the F-22 and F-35 aircraft programs are problematic and costly, greatly reducing the number of aircraft that were purchased. In the case of the F-22, the need for 750 Raptors to counter a Soviet threat which no longer existed. A limited asymmetric war on terror in the 2000s also made the F-22 something of a dinosaur despite being the most sophisticated fighter aircraft on the planet; an airplane with no war left to fight. Perpetual development troubles and setbacks with F-35, reducing annual procurements and limiting fleet size. This leaves the Air Force with no other choice currently but to upgrade it’s existing F-15, F-16, and A-10 fleet of aircraft until a more suitable replacement becomes available. It would be a sad irony indeed, if F-22 squadrons began to be replaced by F-15EX units!

UPDATE: Dear God, my predictions are coming true!


  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Good discussion. As someone who spent the majority of their AF career in acquisition, I can say the answer is always about the money. Missions change. Solutions change. The entire process is driven by the budget cycle. It's a never-ending cycle under the obscurely named Future Years Defense Plan (FYDP). It used to be the Five Year Defense Plan until they went to a two year cycle stretching it to 6 years. Labeled it "Future Years" instead of "Six Year" so they could keep the same acronym. The only thing that's assured is that you won't get what you ask for. $\endgroup$
    – Gerry
    Commented Mar 30, 2022 at 21:30

There are two main parts to answer this question:

First part is a list of reasons as in the other answer:

  • F-14 was too optimized for one reason, BARCAP (Barrier Combat Air Patrol: when an interceptor rushes from a point to a far-away target to stop its advance), that seemed to be less needed in the 1990s. And it was difficult to adapt its airframe (the F-15 was more adaptable because it had more room, while the F-14 is tiny)
  • F-18 was a good replacement for all missions, while the F-16 or the F-22 had problems in replacing F-15: F-22 was too expensive, F-16 was already stretched in multiple allied sales (and was anyway not an equivalent of the F-15).

Second reason is that, sometimes, high-level decision-makers take a decision that appeared later to be a blunder. This case could be made, and has been made, about the retirement of F-14. Because F-18 lacks range and speed to do efficient BARCAPs, that seems to be needed again against re-emerging threats (cruise missiles, bombers). F-18 is not adapted to fight against CHinese fighters above Taiwan while their carrier will have to escape balistic missiles. The point here is that reasons that motivated the retirement of F-14 in the past could be challenged with today's point of view.

  • 3
    $\begingroup$ "the F-14 is tiny" -?? $\endgroup$ Commented Mar 26, 2022 at 9:28
  • $\begingroup$ Yes the F-15 had more room and was more adaptable than the F-14, which needed heavy modification of its center (move of the motors...) in order to place new things (especially new electronic défensive devices). Of course, including the wings, F-14is not tiny $\endgroup$ Commented Mar 26, 2022 at 13:23
  • $\begingroup$ "multiple allied seelings" - care to clarify that one? Looks like a typo, but I'm not sure for what. $\endgroup$
    – FreeMan
    Commented Mar 28, 2022 at 11:47
  • $\begingroup$ I suppose "sellings" should have been "sales", but I still don't understand the point. The F-16 is one of the "teen fighters". It wouldn't replace the F15, it was a cheaper single-engine alternative. And for that reason, the F16 too is still sold. $\endgroup$
    – MSalters
    Commented Mar 29, 2022 at 7:23
  • $\begingroup$ Can you please define BARCAP? $\endgroup$ Commented Mar 29, 2022 at 16:37

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