Earlier, I theorized about an air battle over Iran and posted the results of several informal Command demonstrations that supported the seemingly obvious conclusion. The third generation fighters in the Iranian Air Force are not match for those of their likely opponents. But those were not the strongest or most recent planes.
First are the MiG-29s. Fulcrums get a kind of undeserved reputation as hopelessly inferior to F-16s simply because of the way they were designed-as the next type of short-range point defense fighter with very limited ground attack ability that was designed to work inside a Soviet integrated system rather than the F-16’s offensive multirole design. If I was to put MiG-29s on that Bushehr tethered intercept in their element, they’d do better.
F-14s are the most dangerous components of the Iranian air force, though not because of their threat to enemy fighters. They’re more dangerous than F-4s, to be sure, and I’ve frequently upped the proficiency to symbolize the prestigious nature of their assignments. But against an enemy F-15, they just go from “loses, but has a small chance of taking one down with it” to “loses, but has a somewhat better chance of taking one with it”.
They’re still a 1970s fighter that, Top Gun reputation aside, was more of a clunky missileer than a aerobatic champion in actual service. No, the biggest threat the F-14 poses is to support aircraft. The ability (assuming availability, of course) to fire long-range AIM-54 missiles is one that threatens the multitude of necessary but vulnerable platforms on the other side-AWACS, tankers, intelligence planes. The F-14 can also function as a sort of semi-AWACS by itself thanks to its huge radar.
The capabilities of these two types of planes are not to be exaggerated-their weaknesses are still known, there aren’t that many of them in service compared to the Phantoms and Tigers, and they have known serviceability issues. That being said, they are more capable.