Since the FAC(A) mission increases exposure of aircraft and crew to surface-to-air threats, it is this robust DECM suite that benefits the Tomcat most. The ALR-67 with Engineering Change Proposal (ECP)-510 has given the Tomcat a credible radar-warning capability by increasing data throughput and upgrading its threat library. Radar warning receiver (RWR) performance has been enhanced further with ECP-1231 that improves the line-loss problems that have plagued the Tomcat for so long. This ECP has given the Tomcat a true RWR reactive capability.
Another-but no less important modification that F-14Ds have received has been BOL Chaff, a Swedish invention that puts chaff rounds in the AIM9 Sidewinder missile rails, increasing the Tomcat's chaff load by 160 rounds. It still is controlled through the ALE-39, so it is programmable and fully integrated into any electronic protection game plan. This allows the aft buckets to be used exclusively for flares and Genex, further improving the F-14D's survivability in a high-threat arena. With this increase of expendables coupled with the unsurpassed thrust-to-weight ratio of the Fl 10-powered Tomcat, crews now can react defensively to pop-up threats in and around the target area and then return-a capability unavailable before. Normally, after one aggressive defensive maneuver coupled with the appropriate countermeasures, FAC(A) aircraft were out of energy and out of expendables. The F-14D changes all of that.
The third part of this massive DECM upgrade is the addition of the airborne self-protection jammer (ASPJ). F-14Ds were designed from the ground up for the system; when the program was canceled, the Super Tomcat had to do without. After the O'Grady shoot down in Bosnia and the revival of the ASPJ, F-14Ds received racks and two additional weapons replaceable assemblies that enhance rear quarter performance. With the latest in jamming algorithms, the ASPJ adds another dimension to the Tomcat's DECM arsenal.
Several additional modifications give the Super Tomcat enhanced weapons delivery capability. The first; night vision goggle kits and the associated night vision goggles (NVGs) that turn night into day . The new AN/AVS-9 NVGs deployed with Carrier Airwing Two, allow crews to correct to nearly 20/20 vision in extremely low light levels. This helps them acquire extremely hard-to-see targets, localize threats, gain visual on ingressing covert combat search-and rescue assets as well as pinpoint the position of a potential downed airmen.
This NVG capability, coupled with the low altitude navigation and infrared targeting at night (LANTIRN) system allows crews to exploit the precision of GPS to locate targets. It also ensures superb target area situational awareness. The F-14D is currently the airwing commander's first choice to serve as the combat search-and-rescue rescue mission commander platform. The LANTIRN system also allows the FAC(A) crew to stand off from targets and bring precision weapons to bear. Laser-guided artillery rounds (Copperhead) as well as the Navy's GBU series give the FAC(A) unsurpassed flexibility in attacking targets day and night; while keeping the FAC(A) and the strikers out of harm's way.
Communications are another of the Tomcat's strengths. With standard U.S. Navy secure (KY-58) and antijam (UHF/ VHF ARC-182) radios as well as two joint tactical information distribution system (JTIDS) voice channels; crews can transmit and receive on four separate frequencies, three of which are antijam and secure. The most important part of this communications suite is the long range relay inherent in the JTIDS voice. Any JTIDS unit in the net will automatically relay the transmission giving these JTIDS-equipped Tomcats the most impressive communications suite of any tactical aircraft on the battlefield.
The training that Navy FAC(A)s receive is standardized by the Tomcat Strike Weapons and Tactics School Atlantic in Oceana, Virginia. FAC(A)s attend the Navy/Marine Corps Tactical Air Control Party (TACP) school at the Naval Amphibious Base in Coronado, California Following the completion of this three-week school, they attend a Combined Arms Coordination Course taught by the Tomcat school at Oceana. Upon the completion of these ground schools, crews then complete a rigorous nine-flight upgrade syllabus. These freshly minted FAC(A)s then have the opportunity to employ their newly honed skills during their respective airwing strike detachments to Fallon, Nevada. It is here that they control the assets that they will work with on deployment and in combat. FAC(A)s routinely control all of the CAS, noncombatant evacuation operations, and CSAR assets. In addition, they conduct killer scout and battlefield area interdiction missions.
With the Navy's emphasis on the littoral and the amphibious operating area and closer-than-ever cooperation between carrier battle groups and amphibious ready groups, the Navy's organic FAC(A)s flying F-14Ds are a flexible, capable and well-trained asset.