Iran’s air force is the last remaining operator of the F-14 Tomcat an aircraft that served as the United States Navy’s dedicated fleet defense fighter from 1973 up until 2006. Iran received 79 F-14s when the Shah was in power and when Iran and the United States were strong allies yet since hardliners took power in Iran in 1979 the countries cut off ties with one another. Iran’s military support from the US was cut off. 38 years later the backbone of Iran’s air force is made up of older American aircraft. F-4D and E phantoms make up the primary strike force along with a hand full of SU-24s, F-5s function as light attack aircraft while F-14As Mirage F-1s and Chinese made F-7s and Russian made Mig-29s make up the air defense force. Iran operates a unknown number of F-14s (globalsecurtity.org) estimates anywhere between 25 and 44 make up at least two squadron’s. The guardian council in Iran has favored the militant hardline IRGC (Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corp) over the older Artesh (Iranian army)as a result the government of Iran have put Iran’s Air Force on a lower priority.
The capability the F-14 gives the Iranian Air Force is the ability to detect aircraft from up to 200 miles away and engage aircraft at 100 miles away with both the AIM-54 Phoenix and the alleged Iranian made copy known as the Fakour90. It is possible that Iran might have been able to manufacture copy’s of previously delivered American equipment such as the TOW missile. This capability gives F-14s stand off capabilities that only rivals that of the Mig-31. For close range combat the F-14 has the Aim-9 Sidewinder and the M-61 Vulcan cannon.
In comparison to modern jet fighters such as the Eurofighter Typhoon or F-15S possessed by Iran’s regional rivals like Saudi Arabia the F-14 losses in any visual engagement despite having a thrust to weight ratio of 1.0 with 50% fuel the aircraft has a G limit of 6.5. The F-14As TF30 engines have also been known to burn out while flying at certain angels of attack this makes the F-14 very limited in dog fights instead the F-14 is better suited for beyond visual range engagements. Eurofighter Typhoons can pull 9gs and -3g maneuver’s with a thrust to weight ratio of 1.15 giving it exceptional maneuverability. EF2000s are also protected by a sophisticated electronic warfare system called the Praetorian DASS which can possibly jam 1970s era phoenix missiles. The F-15Ss performance is also superior to the F-14A in visual range as the F-15S can pull 9gs and has a thrust to weight ratio of 0.93 due to conformal fuel tanks and the weight it adds.
Iran has tried in the past to replace its F-14s with Mig-31s yet pressure from the IRGC likely prevented such a sale, Iran also recently discussed interest in Su-30s yet it is likely the hardliners cut down this idea in favor of the IRGC Air Forces ballistic missiles program. Historically since the Iranian revolution the IRGC have been favored as they were created after the revolution and are known by some as a 4th generation army that combines unconventional and conventional tactics together.
The Iranian Air Force F-14s are likely to remain in service until they reach their limited flight hours and push their design limits. If the government of Iran decides to purchase new aircraft when the arms embargo is lifted in 2020 as a result of the P-1+5 Comprehensive Plan of Action they will likely seek replacement aircraft from Russia, or China. If this path is chosen SU-30s SU-35s or T-50s from Russia would most likely be chosen to replace the older American made types delivered during the Shah era.