‘I Still Can’t See Him!’
Iran's F-14 crews in combat
During the eight years of war between Iran and Iraq in the 1980s, one Western-made aircraft distinguished itself by performing beyond anyone’s wildest imagination.
The Grumman F-14 Tomcat, bought by the late Shah of Iran in the mid-1970s, carried the main weight of air-to-air engagements throughout the war.
The Shah had intended for the F-14 to act as a deterrent against Soviet MiG-25 reconnaissance aircraft that regularly intruded in Iran’s sovereign air space, and also as a deterrent against a rising Iraqi air force.
During the war with Iraq, reportedly more than 160 Iraqi jets fell prey to the F-14 and its deadly arsenal of Hughes AIM-54A Phoenix long-range air-to-air missiles.
In my new book Air Combat Memoirs of the Iranian Air Force Pilots, I compile first-hand accounts of some of these engagements. We’ve reprinted one story here — that of F-14 radar intercept officer Capt. Parviz Moradi.
Departing from 8th [Tactical Fighter Base] Isfahan as Dragon 5 flight piloted by then-major Amir Aslani to perform the day’s [combat air patrol] over oil facilities near Kharg Island, we were vectored by ground based radar controllers to sweep the skies in anticipation of enemy intruders.
Most of the time our combat air patrols were done within the distinct shapes of parallel triangles. The base of the triangle was towards our own soil, while the two other arms of the triangle faced the enemy territory. This tactic would give us a better radar sweep and plenty of time to detect incoming enemy aircraft.
Heading 90 degrees back after completing our first turn, Bushehr radar warned us that an enemy jet was right behind us. Going in afterburner, we did a sharp left turn to face the enemy head-on. I started sweeping the sky electronically, scanning the scope in order to locate the enemy jet. Shortly after our left turn, I managed to find an Iraqi jet on my Tactical Information Display. As soon as I locked on him, the sole Iraqi jet turned and ran back to Iraq. This happened one more time.
Since we knew Iraqi SIGINT/ELINT posts were listening in on our conversation with ground radar controllers, I decided to hatch a plot to deceive the next Iraqi fighter. Through the intercom, I told Maj. Aslani of my plan. “Sir, I have a plan. We are going to ignore our radar controllers’ warnings and we are going to delay our eventual turn toward the enemy fighter as long as possible in order to draw them further inland. Also, I request to be doing all the talking with radar controllers from now on.”
Maj. Aslani agreed with my plan and gave me the thumbs up. We did our routine turn once again inside the triangle and headed back towards base. As radar controller wasn’t in on our plan he started to panic. “Dragon 5, enemy fighter is right behind you. Turn 270 degrees now!” I stayed silent. Seconds passed and once again an anxious radar controller came on to repeat the same warning. “Dragon 5 flight, you’re being pursued. Turn 270 degrees now!” We stayed quiet yet again.
These warnings continued. “Dragon 5 flight, can you read me? Enemy jet right behind you. Danger close. Turn 270 degrees right now!”
The radar controller’s warnings were also helpful. His continuous warnings gave us the possible location of this specific intruder that by now had come far inland in the hopes of hunting us. Moments later while maintaining our radio silence, I mic’d to Maj. Aslani. “Now!” And he immediately went to afterburner, turned towards the enemy jet and started an aerial duel. Even though, I now could see the Iraqi jet, I declared on radio so all sides could hear it. “I can’t see the bandit. Where is it?”
My plan worked. Apparently the Iraqi side thinking we really couldn’t see him came closer and was now in our trap. He must have thought we had a radar malfunction or were complete idiots. But it was too late. I had been able to run [track while scan radar mode] on him. He had no chance. I did a quick radar lock and my pilot Maj. Aslani launched it. At the same time, ground radar was screaming at us to disengage and run back.
Our missile hit the Iraqi fighter head on as I shouted in the radio. “Enemy target destroyed. Long live Iran!” There was dead silence on the radio for a minute then we could hear the ground radar controllers breaking in cheers and clapping, which meant they were confirming our kill as well. It was crazy.