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Iran's Aging Fleet Of U.S.-Made Fighter Planes

Iran bought and received 79 F-14 Tomcat fighter planes from the United States in the years before the country's 1979 Islamic Revolution. Some of those jets are still operated by Iran's air force, though the exact number has not been made public. These photos show Iran's last active service F-14s being overhauled at an unspecified location. This year marks the 40th anniversary of their deployment in Iran. (Photos from Iran's FARS news agency)


Iranian F-14 Tomcat fighters, originally from the United States (undated). The F-14 was developed for the U.S. Navy by the Grumman Corporation and had its first flights in 1970.  It is a supersonic, twin-engine, two-seater combat aircraft.
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Iranian F-14 Tomcat fighters, originally from the United States (undated). The F-14 was developed for the U.S. Navy by the Grumman Corporation and had its first flights in 1970.  It is a supersonic, twin-engine, two-seater combat aircraft.

An Iranian F-14 Tomcat fighter (undated). Grumman built three versions of the F-14s between 1969 and 1991 at its factories in New York State. A total of 712 were produced.  
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An Iranian F-14 Tomcat fighter (undated). Grumman built three versions of the F-14s between 1969 and 1991 at its factories in New York State. A total of 712 were produced.
 

The Tomcat is believed to have been named in honor of Vice Admiral Thomas F. (Tom) Connolly, who helped lead its development for the U.S. Navy. The aircraft was central to the plot of the popular 1986 Hollywood film, Top Gun, about the U.S. Navy's best pilots. The U.S. Navy retired the Tomcat from its active fleet in 2006, replacing it with the F/A-18E/F Super Hornet made by U.S.-based Boeing Corporation.  
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The Tomcat is believed to have been named in honor of Vice Admiral Thomas F. (Tom) Connolly, who helped lead its development for the U.S. Navy. The aircraft was central to the plot of the popular 1986 Hollywood film, Top Gun, about the U.S. Navy's best pilots. The U.S. Navy retired the Tomcat from its active fleet in 2006, replacing it with the F/A-18E/F Super Hornet made by U.S.-based Boeing Corporation.

 

Prior to Iran's Islamic Revolution in 1979, the United States delivered about 500 of its latest-generation aircraft to the Shah of Iran, according to Jane's Defence Weekly. ​These included 79 Grumman F-14A Tomcats, 177 McDonnell Douglas F-4Es, 32 F-4Ds, 16 RF-4E Phantom IIs, 141 F-5Es, and 28 F-5F Tiger IIs. With U.S. aircraft, the Shah's Imperial Iranian Air Force was one of the most capable in the region, if not the world, according to Jane's.
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Prior to Iran's Islamic Revolution in 1979, the United States delivered about 500 of its latest-generation aircraft to the Shah of Iran, according to Jane's Defence Weekly. ​These included 79 Grumman F-14A Tomcats, 177 McDonnell Douglas F-4Es, 32 F-4Ds, 16 RF-4E Phantom IIs, 141 F-5Es, and 28 F-5F Tiger IIs. With U.S. aircraft, the Shah's Imperial Iranian Air Force was one of the most capable in the region, if not the world, according to Jane's.

The United States stopped supplying Iran with aircraft and weapons after the fall of the Shah in 1979. International sanctions against the subsequent Islamic-led government meant that Iran had little access to parts and technology to keep these fighters serviceable.
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The United States stopped supplying Iran with aircraft and weapons after the fall of the Shah in 1979. International sanctions against the subsequent Islamic-led government meant that Iran had little access to parts and technology to keep these fighters serviceable.

Iran used the Tomcats extensively in its eight-year war with Iraq in the 1980s. Defense industry reports said that Iran was able to deploy up to 60 F-14s in the early years of the war, but this was reduced to less than 30 by 1986, due to combat losses and attrition. Iran had to cannibalize aircraft deemed beyond repair and reverse-engineer some parts, while sourcing others on the black market, according to Jane's Defence Weekly.  
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Iran used the Tomcats extensively in its eight-year war with Iraq in the 1980s. Defense industry reports said that Iran was able to deploy up to 60 F-14s in the early years of the war, but this was reduced to less than 30 by 1986, due to combat losses and attrition. Iran had to cannibalize aircraft deemed beyond repair and reverse-engineer some parts, while sourcing others on the black market, according to Jane's Defence Weekly.
 

"We can firmly say that the only place in the world that F-14 fighters are overhauled is Isfahan (in Central Iran)," the deputy commander of the Iranian Air Force 8th Air Base, Colonel Asqar Shafiyee, was quoted as saying by Iran's FARS News Agency in February 2015.  
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"We can firmly say that the only place in the world that F-14 fighters are overhauled is Isfahan (in Central Iran)," the deputy commander of the Iranian Air Force 8th Air Base, Colonel Asqar Shafiyee, was quoted as saying by Iran's FARS News Agency in February 2015.
 

Colonel Asqar Shafiyee also said that Iran had mounted a domestically-developed radar system on its F-14 fighters, according to the FARS News Agency.
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Colonel Asqar Shafiyee also said that Iran had mounted a domestically-developed radar system on its F-14 fighters, according to the FARS News Agency.

Iran signed an agreement with China, France, Germany, Russia, Britain, and the United States in July 2015, limiting its nuclear capabilities. That led to a lifting of international sanctions and created high interest among international military contractors in supplying Iran with new military aircraft and technology. According to Jane's Defence Weekly, China, France, and Russia have been especially active in courting Iran for sales of new fighters and weapons systems.  
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Iran signed an agreement with China, France, Germany, Russia, Britain, and the United States in July 2015, limiting its nuclear capabilities. That led to a lifting of international sanctions and created high interest among international military contractors in supplying Iran with new military aircraft and technology. According to Jane's Defence Weekly, China, France, and Russia have been especially active in courting Iran for sales of new fighters and weapons systems.
 

Beyond the F-14s, Iran has been developing its own combat fighters, based on designs of U.S. aircraft already in its inventory, according to Jane's Defence Weekly. These included the Azarakhsh (Lightning), Saeghe (Thunderbolt), and Simorgh (Phoenix). But Jane's said the Qaher (Conqueror/Omnipotent) F-313 "stealth fighter" proved to be fundamentally flawed and hardly fit for flight, let alone combat.
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Beyond the F-14s, Iran has been developing its own combat fighters, based on designs of U.S. aircraft already in its inventory, according to Jane's Defence Weekly. These included the Azarakhsh (Lightning), Saeghe (Thunderbolt), and Simorgh (Phoenix). But Jane's said the Qaher (Conqueror/Omnipotent) F-313 "stealth fighter" proved to be fundamentally flawed and hardly fit for flight, let alone combat.

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