In August 1984, the Navy awarded Grumman a $984 million fixed-price contract for improved versions of the F-14 and A-6. The new Tomcat would be known as the F-14D or Supertomcat.
The F-14D designation had originally been unofficially assigned to a cost-reduced, stripped version of the Tomcat, proposed at a time when the rapidly-increasing cost of the F-14A was causing great concern. This project never achieved fruition, and since the designation was never officially used, it was available for the next production version.
The same July 1984 contract that resulted in the interim F-14A(Plus) also initiated development of the F-14D. Grumman was the prime contractor for the F-14D avionics, radar, and engine upgrade, with General Electric and Hughes Aircraft as major subcontractors for the engines and radar, respectively.
The F-14D avionics and radar upgrade was designed to overcome the major systems limitations associated with the F-14A. The earlier weapons system was built around a central processor with dedicated, non-standard, interfaces to fixed-capability subsystems such as the AN/AWG-15 fire control system. The AN/AYA-6 central processor in the F-14A has also reached its throughout limit and is approaching its memory utilization limits. The sub-systems themselves were designed to have a fixed capability and are not easily modified to accept new or expanded requirements.
The new Hughes AN/APG-71 radar system is a major upgrade to the AN/AWG-9 with improved ECCM capability and was initially referred to as the AN/AWG-9 Block V. It incorporates monopulse angle tracking, digital scan control, along with new raid assessment modes. The AN/APG-71 also features non- cooperative target identification and is able to counter sophisticated ECM by means of a low- side-lobe antenna and side-lobe blanking guard channel, monopulse angle tracking, frequency agility and a new high-speed digital programmable signal processor based on the one developed for the USAF’s MSIP-II F-15C AN/APG-70 radar set. In fact, the entire radar set shares a great many components with the AN/APG-70, greatly reducing engineering and manufacturing costs. Provisions are also made for incorporating the AIM-120A AMRAAM missile, although progress towards this has been slow.
The F-14A’s cockpit displays are replaced with modern state-of-the-art display systems. The pilot’s cockpit includes a new wide field- of-view HUD that reintroduces a combining glass instead of projecting the image directly onto the windscreen. The new HUD features a field of view of 30° horizontal and 23.5° vertical. A cockpit television sensor (CTVS) allows recording of HUD information along with real- world imagery through the windscreen. Two multiple function displays (MFD) are installed in the front cockpit, one on the centerline below the HUD and one in the upper right part of the instrument panel. Either the HUD or the centerline MFD can be selected as the primary flight instrument. The aft cockpit includes one MFD in the right hand vertical console in addition to a new radar digital display and the existing tactical information display on the centerline.
The Supertomcat can make an operational sortie 150 miles from the carrier, loiter for two hours, and retain sufficient fuel reserves for several passes on its return to the carrier.
During early 1989, Grumman conducted a classified investigation into methods to reduce the F-14D’s radar signature. The effort was geared mainly toward reducing the radar signature from a head-on aspect using readily available materials and techniques. Some ground tests were conducted in the spring of 1989, followed by flight tests in late 1989. The results of the tests remain classified, although no obvious exterior modifications have resulted from it.