Coming into service from 1974, the AIM-54 Phoenix air to air missile developed for defence of the U.S. Navy’s provider strike teams is nearly unanimously thought of probably the most succesful missile of its type to be fielded throughout the Chilly Conflict. The missile was the primary and for 15 years the one one on the earth with energetic reasonably than semi energetic radar steerage, offering an efficient ‘hearth and neglect’ functionality as fighters launching them may break lock and evade whereas the missile guided itself to the goal. This alone supplied a really vital benefit over all rival missile sorts. The benefit was compounded by a large 60kg warhead, which proved ample to destroy small formations of fighters with a single hit, a properly as an unrivalled 190km vary. The AIM-54’s very massive measurement, nonetheless, meant solely the U.S. Navy’s heavyweight F-14 Tomcat fighters may carry them whereas all different American fighters such because the F-15 used a lot much less potent AIM-7 missiles. Except for counting on semi energetic radar steerage, the AIM-7 additionally had smaller warheads, simply 36 p.c of the vary at 70km, and have been considerably slower.
Though the Soviet Air Drive was set to area a superior missile to the AIM-54, particularly the R-37 with energetic radar steerage and a fair larger velocity and longer 400km vary, this was solely set to enter service round 1995 and was cancelled as a result of superpower’s collapse and Russia’s subsequent financial decline. The AIM-54 demonstrated its distinctive efficiency benefits throughout the Iran-Iraq Conflict, with Iran having been the one nation prepared to accumulate the world’s most costly and heaviest fighter the F-14 and making intensive use of its distinctive air to air missile to dominate the skies. The Phoenix’s distinctive efficiency benefits have been meant primarily to safe the U.S. Navy’s provider grounds from lengthy vary missile strikes by Soviet bombers, but it surely additionally proved extremely succesful in opposition to small fighter sized targets even at longer ranges. Its success led the U.S. Navy to contemplate creating a variant that may very well be launched from the decks of its floor ships to enhance the protection of overflying F-14s and supply an extra layer of air defence.
The Sea Phoenix program which started within the early-mid Nineteen Seventies concerned integrating the F-14’s AN/AWG-9 hearth management radar – probably the most able to any fighter on the earth on the time – onto plane carriers. This system was meant to interchange the Sea Sparrow which was equally an adaptation of the AIM-7 for fleet defence. Launching the AIM-54 from floor ships would have had quite a lot of disadvantages over these launched from F-14s. Launching from quick and excessive flying fighters contributed significantly to the missiles’ ranges, and the F-14’s personal very excessive endurance meant that they might launch the missiles from very far out to sea a good distance from their provider teams. Regardless of its shorter vary the missile would nonetheless have been doubtlessly invaluable to offer an extra line of defence for carriers past the outer line supplied by the F-14s. Three 12-cell launchers have been set to be put in on every provider offering 360-degree protection, and would have been comparatively easy to develop with 27 of the 29 main parts of the system needing virtually no modification to be tailored to be used on ships.
With the F-14’s AWG-9 able to monitoring as much as 24 targets in track-while-scan mode and fascinating as much as six with Phoenix missiles, the Sea Phoenix would have inherited this functionality. It will have doubtless been capable of hearth extra missiles concurrently, for the reason that restriction of six missiles was due to not avionics however reasonably to their sheer weight which means the Tomcat couldn’t carry extra. The Sea Phoenix system reached a sophisticated testing stage on the Naval Weapons Heart China Lake in California, and in 1974, “efficiently detected and tracked a number of targets at each excessive and low altitude from the ship’s deck.” It was reportedly examined each from ships and from floor primarily based launchers, with the U.S. Marine Corps being a possible shopper for the latter. This system’s excessive value, the AIM-54’s comparatively restricted capabilities at shorter close-in ranges, and the upcoming improvement of the AEGIIS defence system, all contributed to in the end canceling the Sea Sparrow program. The F-14 itself, though seeing its efficiency improved significantly with the induction of the F-14D variant in 1991, would itself see a really early retirement in 1991 alongside the final AIM-54 missiles within the U.S. Navy in 2006 as a result of its excessive operational prices and the perceived lack of a menace from close to peer adversaries with the Soviet Union having collapsed. This left the Iranian Air Drive as the only remaining operator of the AIM-54, which it retired within the mid-2010s in favour of an improved indigenous by-product, the Fakour 90, which stays probably the most lasting legacy of the Phoenix missile program as we speak.