During the Iran-Iraq War, the F-14 was used by Iran to control the air. However a shortage of air to air missiles meant that Iranian engineers had to turn to the only other alternative they could find; Raytheon HAWK surface to air missiles. They would attempt to fire these from the Tomcats.

BACKGROUND

Up until the late 1970s, Iran was often perceived as one of the United States most important allies in the Middle East and had furnished the country with much of its weaponry. Their neighbour – Iraq – between 1980 and 1990, built up a huge military force in the face of the Iran-Iraq war with procurements from the Soviet Union, France, China and a host of other nations.

The United States had been providing around 1.4 billion dollars of arms to Iran between 1955 and 1971 including fighter jets. One of the most important pieces of equipment sent over in the mid-1970s was the F-14 Tomcat, when the Shah of Iran placed a 2 billion dollar order for 80 F-14s.

However this supply of equipment would be halted, when in 1979 the Iranian government saw a rapid change in structure with the Islamic Revolution. The final F-14 order was kept in the United States, while American engineers in Iran were told to leave the country and take the equipment needed to keep the F-14s in the air.

Then – in September 1980 – the Iraqi military invaded Iran. The Iraqis believed that the invasion would be a short operation fought against an unorganised militia. The stated goal was to prevent any sort of Islamic revolution from spreading to secular Iraq. In actuality, the invading force came up against heavy resistance, and lead to the eight year long Iran Iraq War, which saw the widespread use of chemical weapons by Iraq, and widespread destruction to civilian towns and villages.

However, during the rushed evacuation from Iran, American engineers had managed to sabotage many of the Phoenix missiles. Without them the F-14 was far more limited in its ability. Not only that, but the Iranians relied on massive smuggling networks to supply F-14 parts from the US. The F-14 was notorious for its heavy maintenance, particularly in regards to its TF30 engines. Nevertheless, the supply networks kept the aircraft flying. During the early 1980s, Iran had even asked Israel for help – despite the new Iranian governments vocal opposition to the nation. Israel managed to create a supply line by purchasing F-14 components from American dealers, and then send them to Iran. This supply line closed, when the Iranian backed Hezbollah militia began firing rockets at Israel. Thus, Iran’s supply of F-14 components became even more restricted.

Apart from the obvious pain of maintenance, one of the biggest problems facing F-14 pilots was the lack of long range armament. With a shortage of Phoenix missiles – and a lack of proper long range alternatives – the F-14s were forced to get up close to their adversaries. Although F-14 pilots saw success using these tactics, it was not a preferable situation, since the Iraqis had also been attempting to outfit their MIGs with long range standoff weapons. As the war drew on, the F-14 slowly took a back seat, limited by these factors. However, this would change.

HAWK MISSILE

In response to this, the Iranians began looking into alternatives for the now-rare Phoenix missile. One of the primary options was the MIM-23 Hawk, a surface to air missile system developed by Raytheon in the 1950s. Iran had access to a number of these missiles, and after some consideration, the decision was made in 1985 to start a research program to convert these surface to air missiles into something which could be utilised by the F-14.

Two issues arose. Firstly, both the crew and the designers were uncertain of whether or not the missile – which was obviously far larger than the AIM-7 Sparrow the F-14 was designed to have mounted – would cause damage to the aircraft upon release. Both the weight and the massive rocket engine could potentially damage the wing, or at least cause damage to the hard point. The second issue was guidance; the F-14A used the AN/APG-79 radar system, which was incompatible with the Hawk. Two teams were set up. The first was to be headed by experienced fighter pilot Major Fereidoun ‘Ferry’ Ali-Mazandarani, who had two RIOs and 10 specialist personnel under him. The second team was to be made up of another 9 Iranian Air Force personnel.

Throughout 1986, research aimed at solving these two problems continued. The first solution was to reinforce the hard points on the aircraft to allow for the increased weight and drag of the larger missile. The first flight occurred shortly after, with Mazandarani in the cockpit. He performed some manoeuvres to test the aerodynamics and soundness of the new set-up and landed the aircraft. Having proved that the F-14 could actually carry these missiles, the next test was planned; firing the missile.

The designers realised that the massive rocket engine would destroy the pylons of the f-14. The solution was to drop the missile before the rocket engine ignited. This would be necessary regardless, as the Hawk supposedly had to rotate 90 degrees clockwise after release in order for its radar system to work properly. Shortly after, a the first test firing would occur. An F-14 would take off, piloted by Mazandarani with Captain Mohammad Oghbaei as RIO to shoot down a BQM-34 target drone. The F-14 would be flanked by two F-4s, which would record the live firing using their electro optical cameras, while a Dassault falcon would fly directly underneath equipped with cameras and telemetric gear to record the missiles firing. A Boeing 707 would also circle for refuelling. According to those who were there, the plan was to take off in the afternoon. However, before the test, the Falcon pilot announced he would not fly, fearing that the missile could destroy his aircraft if the rocket failed to engage. After several hours of debate without a conclusion, the daylight had faded. Calling air force commander Colonel Houshang Seddigh that night, Mazandarani was told to reschedule for 8AM the following morning, with the commander saying he would use his own Falcon aircraft, and co pilot himself. Taking off from Tehran the next morning, the F-14 managed to lock up the drone and fire. The order was given to fire the second missile. Both successfully fired and tracked.

There remained two problems; the ignition time after release, and the effectiveness of the F-14 radar synchronising with the Hawk. Since the Iranians did not have the necessary equipment to automatically re-time the missiles release system, a makeshift testing method was developed. The F-14 was suspended by a crane, whilst a trench was dug under the pylon containing the Hawk. The disarmed and rocket-disabled missile would then be dropped into the trench, and engineers would manually adjust the timing for engine engagement.

Despite their best efforts the ignition timing issue persisted. The Hawk was designed to receive target information from the SAM radar system before firing. Radar guided F-14 missiles were designed to receive target information whilst flying from the F-14 itself. To bridge the gap between these two systems, engineers designed a hardware interface which would allow the missile to understand the information being sent from the F-14 radar, and vice versa. This innovation was put to the test shortly after, when Mazandarani again tested the missile against a drone, and this time the missiles would be fully armed. It was said that this took place at 20,000 to 25,000 feet, with a range of 45 kilometres between the F-14 and the target. It was a complete success. However, skeptcism remained among higher ranking officers, including Colonel Shahram Rostami – Deputy Director of Air Force Operations – who decided to fly the F-14 himself to test the new missile system. His flight resulted in another successful splash, confirmed on the ground by Mazandarani and Director of Air Force Operations Colonel Abbas Babaii, who both drove out to inspect the effectiveness of the drone hit.

These tests would continue, finally culminating in an actual combat mission on September 16th, 1986. Air Force Command wanted to prove that the missile was effective in combat before expanding the program. Mazandarani – who at this point had 10 kills in the F-14 – was chosen by Colonel Babaii as the man for the job. After arriving at Beshehr Air Base, he took off with his Radar Intercept Officer in the back – 1st lieutenant Ansareen – on a mission to intercept an Iraqi aircraft. According to Mazandarani, he acquired a lock and fired the first of his two Hawk missiles, only to find out that the first missile was a dud – supposedly one of the test missiles loaded by mistake – and it headed straight to the ground after launch. He quickly fired the second missile at 20 nautical miles, which managed to keep lock and hit the enemy aircraft, which then disappeared from the F-fourteen’s scope. Signal Intelligence confirmed a kill shortly afterwards. Mazandarani remembers later being told that he had shot down a Dassault Super Etendard piloted by a Captain A. Kamal Hussein. This was an impressive achievement, as the Super Etendard was known to be a capable aircraft. This marked the re-emergence of the Tomcat during the later years of the Iran-Iraq War as a formidable adversary, so much so that Saddam Hussein announced that any Iraqi pilot who shot down an F-14 would receive a new Mercedes.

SEDJIL

Following this success, the Iranian Air Force decided to convert more of these Hawks, this time as part of a national program known as the Sky Hawk missile program – or Sedjil in Iranian. Details surrounding the program are not clear, however it is known that the missile would officially enter service in April 1988, and that it likely improved upon the initial converted Hawks with a focus on radar optimisation.

While the Iranian government rarely releases any information relating to these weapons systems, two testimonies exist of victories being achieved with the full operational Sedjil missile, although neither have been verified. The first is the claimed shoot down of two aircraft flying in close formation using a single Sedjil missile. This was achieved by Lt Col Asadollah Adeli. Although this was never officially confirmed, it is plausible, as Adeli is known to have shot down three MIG-23s flying in close formation using a single Phoenix missile some time earlier in the war – something he became internationally known for, even being invited by the US Navy to talk about the event after he moved to America. The second claimed victory using the Sedjil was recorded by the Iranian military and was highlighted by Brigadier General Fazollah Javidnia in his book “Battle in the sky”, in which a F-14 managed to shoot down an Iranian MIG-29A in 1988.

YASSER

Following the success of the Sedjil program, another modification program was undertaken, in which Hawks were converted to air to surface missiles. This process included taking the warhead out of the Hawk, and replacing it with the front section of an M117 bomb. This missile would become known as the Yasser. Unlike the Sedjil, there is little information surrounding how this missile actually worked, since the front half of the hawk appears to have been completely removed. Despite this, the missile did appear to have tail fins capable of moving, suggesting that the Yasser can indeed track a target. How this is done is uncertain, whether it was radar guided, beam guided, or manually controlled. It could be fired at targets up to 15 miles away, giving it a longer range than the AGM-65 Maverick.

From the sparse information available, it seems that pilots did not favour the missile due to poor accuracy. Very few were deployed, and following its inability to accurately and consistently strike targets, it was withheld from widespread rollout in the field.

Both the Yasser and Sedjil remain somewhat of a mystery. Following their limited service in the Iran-Iraq War, they were rarely seen again.