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Super Tomcat 21: The Fighter Jet the Navy Said ‘No’ To

Super Tomcat 21
Images of two F-14 Tomcats. Image Credit: US Navy.

Super Tomcat 21, a 2 Minute History: The Grumman F-14 Tomcat is considered by many aviation enthusiasts as one of the most beloved jet fighters in military history.

A supersonic, twin-engine, two-seat, twin-tail, variable-sweep wing fighter aircraft, it was armed with a General Electric Vulcan M61A-1 20mm gun with nearly seven hundred rounds of ammunition and possessed eight hardpoints for carrying ordnance—four on the fuselage and two each side under the wings.

The plane also had the capability to carry short, medium, and long-range air-to-air missiles AIM-9, AIM-7 and AIM-54, and air-to-ground ordnance that included CBU cluster bombs.

“The F-14, with its AIM-54 Phoenix air-to-air missiles, coupled with airborne early-warning aircraft radar, was able to simultaneously intercept, engage and destroy up to six incoming enemy aircraft out to distances of one hundred miles from a carrier task force,” writes the Museum of Flight. “The F-14 was later used in the ground-attack role as well.”

These were surely incredible, next-generation fighter capabilities, but do take note that the U.S. military never got to see the plane’s highly regarded next iteration—the Super Tomcat 21. According to defense writer Tyler Rogoway at the War Zone, “if the Super Hornet hadn’t been built, Grumman’s next-gen Tomcat may have become a reality.”

Super Tomcat 21: Numerous Enhancements

To get a better visual on what the Super Tomcat 21 would have looked like, the War Zone looked to the expertise of aerospace artist Adam Burch from Hangar B Productions to forensically recreate the fighter.

“The Super Tomcat 21 would include a variety of enhancements over the F-14D and it could be produced via remanufacturing existing F-14 airframes or it could be ordered via a new-build arrangement. Most likely a combination of both options would have been used, just like the F-14D,” he notes.

“The ST21 would have incorporated a bunch of highly logical features that would accentuate the Tomcat’s attributes and mitigate its deficiencies. These were largely already available or relatively mature technologies. As a result, Grumman could start delivering ST21s as soon as the mid-1990s,” he continues.

New Realm of Air Superiority

As for several of the proposed modifications, they included F110-GE-429 turbofan engines, single-piece windscreen for enhanced visibility, wide-angle raster-scan HUD capable of projecting FLIR imagery, AN/APG-71 radar with additional upgrades, integration of latest standoff weaponry, as well as AIM-120 AMRAAM, and an upgraded AN/ALE-47 countermeasures dispenser.

Rogoway claims that “a host of other less prominent features would also be included.”

“In all, the ST21 would have been a mighty beast of a multi-role fighter. With drastically expanded fuel capacity, both internally and externally, its range and loiter time would have been increased quite dramatically. … The ST21 would have pushed the Tomcat into a new realm of air superiority fighter and fleet defender. … In fact, no other fighter in the world would have possessed similar long-range target detection and identification capabilities,” he concludes.

Ethen Kim Lieser is a Washington state-based Science and Tech Editor who has held posts at Google, The Korea Herald, Lincoln Journal Star, AsianWeek, and Arirang TV. Follow or contact him on LinkedIn.

Written By

Ethen Kim Lieser is a Washington state-based Science and Tech Editor who has held posts at Google, The Korea Herald, Lincoln Journal Star, AsianWeek, and Arirang TV.

4 Comments

4 Comments

  1. Armando Atienza

    December 3, 2021 at 2:58 am

    No matter what modifications you do to the vegetable F14-Tomcat it still is a 4th generation fighter. It would not stand a chance to the newer 5th generation fighter.. Probably a second chance like the F15EXs , but why bother you already have the F-15EX, To fill that role?

  2. Dusko

    December 3, 2021 at 6:30 am

    Damn shame… It would’ve been better then super hornet by far.

  3. Patrick S

    December 3, 2021 at 9:29 am

    Do you know how many F15 the US Navy have ever used? (easy answer) good point in mentioning the F15EX though : if it has a purpose today for the USAF, then the ST21 would also have one for the Navy.

  4. photobug

    December 3, 2021 at 7:16 pm

    5th gen fighters tend to have far less range, speed, weapon capacity – their only advantage is some stealth. Nice to have some, but also have lots of advanced 4th gen fighters. An advanced Tomcat with greatly improved engines, better yet radar and comms, much longer range without refueling, the latest weapons and more of them would have been very useful and still difficult to shoot down. Higher speed would not have hurt, either. Perhaps engines that could cruise at mach without the afterburners lit, along with vectored thrust. And it could have been made to be harder to spot like the upcoming ‘super’ Super Hornet.

    One other thing. Today’s linear motors might have made for a swing wing system with a lot less maintenance. Modern electronics (a chip or two where there used to be multiple circuit boards) would have cut weight, improved reliability even while providing all sorts of advances like the new Hornet.

    Don’t forget the role that politics had, including Tricky Dicky Cheney making sure his friends got the big contracts.

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