Between 1976 and 1978 the Imperial Iranian Air Force (IIAF) took delivery of 79 F-14As from Grumman. These aircraft retained the AN/AWG-9 radar and Phoenix missile capability, but differed in other electronic systems, primarily in having some ECM systems deleted. The aircraft retained their in-flight refueling capability, and the IIAF uses modified Boeing 707 airliners, with a probe-and-drogue system on each wingtip, as tankers. The last of the 80 aircraft Iranian order was retained at Grumman/Calverton for various test programs, and was never delivered to the IIAF. The aircraft was later sent to the storage area at Davis-Monthan AFB, Arizona, and was subsequently refurbished and delivered to the Pacific Missile Test Center (PMTC) at Point Mugu, California.
The procurement started in mid-1972 when the IIAF, under the direction of Iranian Shah Muhammad Reza Pahlavi, began studying the possibility of acquiring an advanced air combat aircraft for territorial defense. Frequent airspace violations by Soviet reconnaissance aircraft such as the MiG-25 Foxbat had prompted the study, the intent of which was to determine if an aircraft could be acquired that would force the suspension of such intrusions.
The close association enjoyed by the Shah with the United States government led to an inquiry via the offices of President Richard M Nixon. Approval for a potential sale to the IIAF was granted by Nixon, and shortly afterwards Grumman and McDonnell Douglas, manufacturers of the F-14 and F-15, respectively, were contacted via their respective Navy and Air Force program offices. The economic advantages of a potential sale of either type of aircraft to the Iranians was not lost to the two services involved since the increased production figures resulting from such a sale would unquestionably lower unit costs. Besides, both programs were under considerable Congressional scrutiny, and a foreign sale would probably ease the political pressures.
In 1973, a strong company sponsored showing at the Paris airshow, and a similarly strong demonstration at Andrews AFB during a US visit by the Shah, began to give Grumman the edge over McDonnell Douglas in the competition for the rapidly evolving IIAF contract. This concentrated marketing effort, coupled with the very real capabilities of the aircraft and its AWG-9/AIM-54 weapons system, eventually led to a firm Iranian commitment. This culminated in the signing of the first contract for 30 F-14As in June 1974, at a cost of $30 million per aircraft, including training and spares. A second contract for an additional 50 aircraft was signed in January 1975, and the total value of the two contracts was in excess of $1 billion. Additional contracts for missiles (AIM-7, AIM-9, and AIM-54), plus ground support equipment and other weapons were also tied to the F-14 sale.
The timing of the Iranian sale proved critical to the Grumman operation. As it were, serious F-14 cost overrun claims by the Office of Management and Budget, the Department of Defense, and other government agencies had placed the company in an awkward position. The money generated by the sale of 80 F-14A’s to the Iranians, coupled with income generated by peripheral agreements concerning pilot training and maintenance and loans from the Bank Melli, provided the means for securing commercial loans after the US government backed away from the advance payment agreement.
However, there were questions about the ethics used in obtaining the Iranian contract. Specifically, Grumman had promised a $28 million ‘commission’ to the government of Iran, which was both a banker and a customer. The commission was promised in a handwritten note from Peter B. Oram, President of Grumman International to General Hassan Toufanian, Iran’s Vice Minister of War. Apparently an earlier agreement had called for a payment of $89 million to an intermediary, but this was subsequently reduced to the $28 million figure. It is not clear if the payment was actually to be made to the government of Iran, or to middlemen who assisted Grumman In securing the F-14 contracts. A widely held belief is that Iran had intended to buy only the first 30 F-14S, then to switch to the McDonnell Douglas F-15 Eagle for subsequent purchases, and this was a major consideration in the payment of the ‘commission’.
It was not uncommon for aerospace companies to pay commissions to middlemen in the hectic contract negotiations of the 1970s. McDonnell Douglas, Lockheed and Northrop all admitted to having paid middlemen anything from several hundred thousand dollars to well over $100 million in order to secure contracts. The law in existence at the time made it illegal to charge any government contract for the payment of commissions, but did not rule out the payment of commissions out of company profit as long as it was reported to the Securities and Exchange Commission, which Grumman apparently did.
The site for Iranian training operations was a new base built on a plateau 20 miles southeast of Isfahan. IIAF crews began arriving in the US for initial training In May 1974, and soon afterwards the first Grumman pilots and technicians went to Iran to begin in-country training. The first Tomcats were delivered to the IIAF in January 1976, flying from Calverton via Spain. Operational transition into the F-14 was slow, partially as a result of delays in the construction schedules at the new base, partially due to political uncertainties in Iran. By the 50th anniversary of the Royal House in May 1977. 21 F-14As had been delivered and the 79th aircraft was delivered in late 1978.
MiG-25s were continuing to overfly Iran during 1977 and the Shah decided to demonstrate the capabilities of his new F-14. In August 1977. IIAF crews downed a BQM-34E drone flying at 50,000 feet, and another flying at 500 feet. Shortly thereafter the over-flights stopped. By the time the 79th F-14 was delivered, it was obvious that the Shah faced an uncertain future. On 16th January 1979 the Shah left Teheran, and the exiled Ayatollah Khomenei returned and proclaimed an Islamic Republic on 16th April 1979. This did not immediately stop arms sales to Iran, although many of the more sensitive weapons were delayed, and finally embargoed. The continuing hostage situation, where 52 Americans were held for over a year, did finally result in a total arms embargo and freezing of all Iranian assets by the United States and most European countries.
Following the Iranian revolution, hasty modifications were made to the US Navy’s AN/AWG-9 and Phoenix missile to minimize the usefulness of any data which might have fallen into Soviet hands. Iran had ordered 714 AIM-54A missiles, but only 284 had been delivered at the time of the revolution. The numbers and types of AIM-7 and AIM-9s are harder to judge, but these missiles (or equivalents) are fairly easy to come by on the open arms market, so it hardly matters. In early 1981, almost $150 million worth of F-14 spare parts were impounded in the US, severely hampering Iranian F-14 operations. Several Iranian F-14s are reported to have been downed by Iraq during the war between the two countries. It is difficult to confirm or deny stories from that war, but the F-14S seemed to play at least a minor part in that conflict. Sporadic reports of Iranian F-14S flying were made during the Desert Storm operation, although all stayed well inside Iranian airspace and were not intercepted by US aircraft.
It is rumored that the last Americans to leave Iran severely damaged critical items of the F-14’s avionics, but this story cannot be verified. It is fairly certain that the remaining serviceable aircraft were initially maintained by cannibalizing the other aircraft, since it was very difficult to obtain F-14 parts anywhere except from the US Navy and Grumman. The new Islamic Republic of Iran Air Force (IRIAF) currently claims that between 25 and 30 of their remaining 77 F-14s are operational at any one time, and on 11th February 1985 a mass flyover of Teheran’s Azadi Square proved at least 25 F-14AS (along with 13 F-5Es and 12 F- 4Es) were flyabie. Several sources claim that F-14S used Phoenix missiles to down Iraqi fighters during the Iran-Iraq war.
It appears from published sources that Iran has reverse engineered’ many of the parts needed to keep the F-14s flyable, if not totally operational. Many basic mechanical parts could easily be produced with the manufacturing equipment purchased by Iran before the revolution, and spare parts for the engines could come from commercial sources since a similar core engine is used in several commercial applications and is also produced by SNECMA in France. In addition, numerous individuals have been arrested over the past few years in attempts to smuggle arms, including F-14 and Phoenix parts, to Iran. It is difficult to tell how much equipment actually reached Iran, but the types and amounts seized have been substantial.
The latest reliable reports from Iran indicate that approximately 20 F-14As are operational, with the remainder being cannibalized for parts to keep the rest flying. These reports do not indicate the state of operations these aircraft are capable of performing, and it is unlikely that the AN/AWG-9 radar or ECM systems are totally functional. Some eyewitness accounts indicate that the cannibalized aircraft are in sad shape.