The F-14 Tomcat heavy fighter, developed after the collapse of the F-111 project
At that time, Soviet bombers could attack US carrier battle groups from a very long range without needing to penetrate the anti-aircraft fire zone of escorting warships, or short-range fighters. Unfortunately, the F-111 was unsuccessful as an aircraft carrier-based fighter. In particular, the F-111 was unsuitable for the air superiority mission.
In the mid-1960s, the US Navy began working on a replacement project, and the F-14 Tomcat was chosen, which helped to address the threat posed by Soviet bombers. It combined the long-range and high-speed capabilities of the F-14 with the AIM-54 Phoenix missile; can destroy targets at extremely long range. However, from the start, the F-14 faced a series of problems, such as erratic engine operation, the aircraft being too heavy and expensive to use. Its variable sweep wing design made the F-14 a difficult monster to control.
The F-14 was fiercely contested by a new Air Force heavy fighter, the F-15 Eagle. Unfavorable developments on the Vietnam battlefield made the US Navy intend to stop the project. A simple alternative was to keep the F-4E Phantom in the interception and air superiority role. The F-4 was more than enough for such missions, although it lacked the range and long-range interception capabilities of the F-14. In fact, the F-4 remained in service with the US Navy until the F/A-18 was put into service.
Another alternative would be to develop a naval version of the F-15 Eagle, the F-15N. But the US Navy firmly said “no” to the Air Force F-15. Fortunately for the F-14 program, the Essex-class carriers were nearing the end of their life. At this time, the US Navy has developed a new class of aircraft carriers with a larger displacement, completely powered by nuclear power; That was the USS Carl Vinson class aircraft carrier, in 1974.
Most importantly, the US Navy finally solved the problems with the F-14, and the Tomcat became a super fighter for the Navy. The F-14, with its AIM-54 super-long-range air-to-air missile, had become a counterpoint to the Soviet fleet of cruise missile bombers. The F-14 Tomcat has become an iconic fighter, and has served the US Navy for more than thirty years, before being retired entirely in 2006.
Over time, the F-14 transitioned from its original long-range air defense role to a ground attack mission. However, due to the complex design and high operating costs, especially the collapse of the Soviet Union, the US Navy lost its competitors, and the success of the Super Hornet made the F-14 redundant in the 2000s.
However, before the rise of Russia and especially the growth of the Chinese Navy, the US Navy currently lacks a long-range interceptor like the F-14. Currently, the main threats to carrier strike groups come not only from bombers, but also from ballistic missiles. And the US Navy currently does not have a fighter jet that can handle long-range air defense. In such a context, the US Navy increasingly realized that removing the F-14 too soon was a mistake that was difficult to correct. Rivals Russia and China now have too many weapons that could threaten the safety of the US aircraft carrier fleet.