It’s no secret that, although I was in an EA-6B Prowler squadron, my favorite fighter is the F-14 Tomcat. Tomcats are popular in wargames too, but far too often I think they are not used correctly. I remember flying Tomcats in J.D. Webster’s Air Superiority (GDW, 1987) and all-too-often being shot down.
What I hadn’t learned then, but understand now, is that the F-14 Tomcat is better thought of as a weapons system and not a dogfighter. In this respect the think that Hollywood pseudo-documentary about the U.S. Navy made in the mid-1980’s, Top Gun, created a misleading picture of what at Tomcat is best at doing.
The Tomcat was developed for what the Navy called the “Outer Air Battle.” A good part of that development must be credited to a Center for Naval Analyses analyst, Christine Fox, who was the real-life inspiration for the character “Charlie” in Top Gun. Outer Air Battle was designed to take advantage of the entire F-14 Tomcat weapons system, which was an integration of radars and missiles and other systems with the goal of, to use a colloquialism, “shooting the archers and not the arrows.” There is perhaps no better dramatization of this than the “Dance of the Vampires” chapter in Tom Clancy’s Red Storm Rising. (The Harpoon version is available on wargamevault.com).
A Tomcat is best used to kill bandits “before the merge” (the “merge” being what is shown in Top Gun). Here is the process explained by former F-14 Radar Intercept Officer Ward Carroll.
So what does all that have to do with Blackbirds?
I took in a new book this past week. Lockheed SR-71 Blackbird – Origins and Evolution is written by Scott Lowther and published by Tempest Books. This is actually a “bookazine” or a 130-page magazine-style publication. As the author explains on his website,
This is my first published book. Woo! It covers the development of the SR-71 from well before the program started , including the “Suntan” concepts and several Convair high speed reconnaissance platforms, up through the development of the “Archangel” series that led to the CIA’s A-12, through the Mach 3 interceptor designs and the SR-71 itself. From there it also includes a number of proposed derivatives and unbuilt concepts… an A-12 used to launch satellites, the SR-71 as a carrier for a manned hypersonic scramjet vehicle, the use of the “SR-71C” as a flying wind tunnel, etc.Aerospace Projects Review Blog, 20 May 2021
The variant that intrigued me the most was the A-12CB, or A-12 “Carrier Borne” version. Yes, there was a concept to convert the A-12 variant to a carrier-launched (and recovered) aircraft for reconnaissance…and maybe strike? The A-12CB below is shown fitted with a carrier catapult bridle and solid rocket motors for launch and an arrestor hook for landing.
Scott Lowther goes so far in his book to provide us a glimpse of what A-12CB operations aboard an aircraft carrier might of looked like. I can’t imagine the Air Boss being happy at all with the prospect of moving even one of these beast about the flight deck.
As much as the A-12CB design intrigues me, I find myself torn between my wargame impulses and reality. How would the A-12CB be used in a wargame? When “on mission” the A-12 or SR-71 is fast and very, very hard (not impossible, but very, very hard) to intercept. It’s not a dogfighter so what’s the fun in that? Do we have a scenario where the A-12CB is recovering and jumped like so many Me262 shootdowns in World War II? Again, not much fun in that.
At the end of the day it might be better to use Lockheed SR-71 Blackbird – Origins and Evolution to inspire some tabletop role-playing game (RPG) adventures using one of my favorite systems; James Bond 007 from Victory Games (1982). More than a few of the variants found in Lowther’s book could be inspiration for a U.S.-sided version of the movie Firefox (1982).
Feature image Tempest Books via RMN
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1 thought on “Wargame SITREP 230423 N2 Intel – Navy Blackbird”
Reminds me of how there was a carrier U-2 (that actually was used operationally, if only once)