Aiming for an Improved Future with the F-14 Tomcat: The SUPER TOMCAT 21

The F-14 Tomcat, an iconic fighter jet known for its roles in air superiority and fleet defense, was retired many years before other 1970s fighter jets. However, in the early 1990s, Grumman proposed a significant upgrade known as the “Super Tomcat for the 21st Century” or “ST21.” This advanced iteration aimed to enhance the performance and capabilities of the Tomcat, making it relevant even in modern combat scenarios.

Origins of the ST21

The ST21 concept emerged from a necessity. By 1988, the U.S. Navy needed a fighter that could not only dominate the skies but also deliver powerful ground attacks. At that time, a collaborative effort between McDonnell Douglas and General Dynamics led to the development of the A-12 Avenger II, a stealthy flying wing aircraft intended to meet this requirement. Unfortunately, the A-12 project was plagued by budget overruns and technical delays, leading to its cancellation in 1991.

With the A-12 program’s termination and the impending retirement of the A-6 Intruder, the Navy faced a gap in its strike capabilities. Grumman saw an opportunity to upgrade the existing F-14 fleet to fill this void. This upgrade proposal, known as the F-14 Quick Strike, aimed to enhance the Tomcat’s ground attack capabilities by integrating advanced targeting pods and improving its radar systems.

Enhancements and Capabilities

The proposed ST21 upgrade included several key enhancements:

Advanced Avionics: Integration of an infrared navigation and targeting pod similar to the LANTIRN system used by the F-15E and F-16.

Improved Radar: Upgrades to the onboard radar to enhance ground attack capabilities.

Increased Armament: Addition of more hardpoints for standoff munitions, allowing the Tomcat to carry a broader array of weapons.

These improvements aimed to transform the F-14 from a pure air superiority fighter into a versatile multi-role aircraft capable of both air-to-air and air-to-ground missions.

Challenges and Competition

Despite the promising capabilities of the ST21, the F-14 Tomcat had a reputation for high maintenance costs and occasional reliability issues. The Navy was hesitant to invest further in a fleet that was already considered costly to operate. Additionally, McDonnell Douglas was developing a new fighter aircraft based on the successful F/A-18 Hornet lineage. This new aircraft promised advanced capabilities while maintaining a familiar design, which was seen as a more cost-effective solution compared to upgrading the F-14.


The Super Tomcat 21 represented a significant advancement in fighter jet technology, offering enhanced performance and multi-role capabilities. However, due to financial constraints and the emergence of competing aircraft designs, the ST21 was never realized. The legacy of the F-14 Tomcat remains strong, but its potential evolution into the ST21 serves as a fascinating what-if scenario in the history of military aviation.

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