‘Top Gun’ Fighter Pilots Can Drop Bombs For First Time
ABOARD THE USS INDEPENDENCE (AP) _ U.S. Navy F-14 fighters, the ″Top Guns″ of aerial dogfights, are now carrying bombs for the first time as they police the skies over southern Iraq.
The 1,000-pound Mark-83 bombs hanging beneath the sleek grey Tomcats are part of the U.S. Navy’s program to equip their aircraft for as many roles as possible in the post-Cold War.
″We are a true multi-role airplane now, whereas before we were mainly air- to-air and photo reconnaissance,″ said Lt. Jeff Naven, 28, of Fort Dodge, Iowa, an F-14 pilot. ″Now, we can do a lot. We’re very versatile.″
Because of long-term budget problems delaying funding for most futuristic aircraft, every segment of the U.S. military is looking to stretch out the life of its equipment, and to find more uses for it.
The F-14 always had the capability to be a bomber as well as a fighter, but Congress took years to approve equipping it as an attack aircraft - and then only with traditional bombs like the Mark-83, not precision laser-guided bombs.
Naven said the Tomcats weren’t ready for bombing missions during the Persian Gulf War, but now the pilots and maintenance crews have been trained and Operation Southern Watch is their first test.
So far, not a shot has been fired - or a bomb dropped - because Saddam Hussein has not challenged the ″no-fly″ zone over southern 0 to Iran for safekeeping. The F-14s were left with a back-up role: making sure ground- attack planes didn’t get shot down.
The F/A-18 Hornets, the Navy’s newest aircraft, also have dual roles as fighters and bombers.
″In Desert Storm, we had a lot of air-to-ground. We were really busy with that,″ said Lt. Bob Boyer, 29, of Jonestown, Pa., who flew more than 30 combat missions in a Hornet. ″Now, here it is pretty much solely an air-to- air missions. We’re just as busy as we were for that.″
Some pilots have had difficulty adjusting to the different roles, which don’t always follow the training manuals.
Lt. Cmdr. Joe Kuzmick, 33, of Tampa, Fla., navigator on an A-6 Intruder, said the Navy’s night attack bomber has taken a back-seat in Southern Watch. The Intruder has been around since Vietnam and specialized in dropping laser- guided weapons during the gulf war.
″It’s an unusual twist of events because normally those (air-to-air) aircraft are in a support role for us,″ he said.