Getting into service from 1974, the AIM-54 Phoenix air to air missile developed for defence of the U.S. Navy’s service strike teams is sort of unanimously thought-about essentially the most succesful missile of its type to be fielded through the Chilly Struggle. The missile was the primary and for 15 years the one one on the earth with lively moderately than semi lively radar steerage, offering an efficient ‘fireplace and neglect’ functionality as fighters launching them might break lock and evade whereas the missile guided itself to the goal. This alone supplied a really important benefit over all rival missile sorts. The benefit was compounded by an enormous 60kg warhead, which proved enough to destroy small formations of fighters with a single hit, a nicely as an unrivalled 190km vary. The AIM-54’s very giant dimension, nonetheless, meant solely the U.S. Navy’s heavyweight F-14 Tomcat fighters might 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 lively radar steerage, the AIM-7 additionally had smaller warheads, simply 36 % of the vary at 70km, and have been considerably slower.
Though the Soviet Air Pressure was set to area a superior missile to the AIM-54, particularly the R-37 with lively radar steerage and a fair greater pace and longer 400km vary, this was solely set to enter service round 1995 and was cancelled because of the superpower’s collapse and Russia’s subsequent financial decline. The AIM-54 demonstrated its distinctive efficiency benefits through the Iran-Iraq Struggle, with Iran having been the one nation keen to accumulate the world’s costliest and heaviest fighter the F-14 and making in depth 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 service 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 think about growing a variant that could possibly 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 Seventies concerned integrating the F-14’s AN/AWG-9 fireplace management radar – essentially the most able to any fighter on the earth on the time – onto plane carriers. This system was meant to switch 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 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 service 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 service offering 360-degree protection, and would have been comparatively easy to develop with 27 of the 29 main elements of the system needing nearly 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 interesting as much as six with Phoenix missiles, the Sea Phoenix would have inherited this functionality. It could have doubtless been in a position to fireplace extra missiles concurrently, for the reason that restriction of six missiles was due to not avionics however moderately to their sheer weight that means the Tomcat couldn’t carry extra. The Sea Phoenix system reached a complicated testing stage on the Naval Weapons Middle 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 based mostly launchers, with the U.S. Marine Corps being a possible shopper for the latter. This system’s excessive price, the AIM-54’s comparatively restricted capabilities at shorter close-in ranges, and the upcoming improvement of the AEGIIS defence system, all contributed to finally 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 attributable to its excessive operational prices and the perceived lack of a risk from close to peer adversaries with the Soviet Union having collapsed. This left the Iranian Air Pressure as the only real remaining operator of the AIM-54, which it retired within the mid-2010s in favour of an improved indigenous spinoff, the Fakour 90, which stays essentially the most lasting legacy of the Phoenix missile program at this time.