During the late 1970s the Grumman F-14 Tomcat was widely regarded as the most important aircraft in the US Navy. Only the Tomcat was felt to be capable of defending the Carrier Battle Group from long-range cruise missile carriers, with its unmatched potential to fire off a salvo of up to six ultra long-range Phoenix air-to-air missiles against high- or low-flying targets, and then to deal with any leakers with AIM-9s or the internal 20-mm cannon. However, the credibility of the Phoenix has been dented by a poor showing in combat and trials, while the F-14 still cannot carry today's leading air-to-air missile the AIM-120 AMRAAM. AIM-54s fired at long range by F-14Ds in two recent, separate engagements at Iraqi MiG-25s and MiG-23s missed their targets.
The original F-14A (which outnumbers the re-engined F-14B and F-14D) remains severely constrained by the unreliability and limitations of its TF30 engines. The Tomcat's tactical reconnaissance capability has been enhanced in recent years by the addition of a digital TARPS reconnaissance pod and by the ongoing development of real-time data-links. The US F-14 force began assuming a limited clear-weather attack capability in 1992. Since 1995 the LANTIRN laser designation pod has been integrated across the F-14 fleet, in combination with a basic bight vission compatible cockpit. Work is progressing on integrating GPS-guided munitions, including joint directed air munitions.
The F-14 has seen combat during operations over Bosnia and southern Iraq, usually mounting combat air patrols and also flying air-to-ground and reconnaissance sorties.
All F-14As were replaced by F/A-18E/Fs in 2003, the F-14Bs followed in 2007, and the last F-14Ds in 2008. The sole export customer was Iran, and of 79 F-14As received in the late 1970s, the IRIAF has a reported 28-30 in active service. These are based at Bushehr to protect Iran's vital oil installations.
The Hawk surface-to-air missile has been integrated onto at least two aircraft, possibly as a Phoenix replacement, and there remain rumors that Iran is developing a major F-14 upgrade.