WASHINGTON — The U.S. F-14 and Soviet-made Libyan MIG-23 fighters that clashed Wednesday over the Mediterranean entered production at roughly the same time, more than 15 years ago, and fly at similar speeds and altitudes.
However, the two-man American planes carry more sophisticated radar and weaponry than the single-man MIG, according to available information.
The F-14 Tomcat, which began aircraft carrier trials in 1972, remains "the premier all-weather, day-night air defense fighter in the world," according to the Navy. Production by the Grumman Corp. is expected to continue into the 1990s.
The MIG-23, known by its NATO designation as the Flogger, entered active duty in 1973, according to "Jane's All the World's Aircraft." It is flown by all the air forces in the Moscow-led Warsaw Pact, and by 1987 it had been sold to 12 other countries, according to Jane's.
The Flogger's 46-foot wingspan, fully extended at takeoff, sweeps back to about 25 feet wide as the fighter cruises at Mach 2, twice the speed of sound, or about 1,400 m.p.h., at its maximum altitude of 59,000 feet, according to Jane's.
The MIG-23 is armed with one 23-millimeter GSh-23-L twin-barrel gun and can carry four R-60 Aphid and two R-23 Apex air-to-air missiles, Jane's said.
Before Wednesday's incident, Libya had about 131 MIG-23Es, as well as other Soviet-built fighters: 44 MIG-21s, 67 of the more advanced MIG-25 Foxbats and 92 Sukhoi 20/22 fighters. Additionally, Libya had 22 French-made Mirages, according to "The Military Balance," published by the London-based International Institute for Strategic Studies.
Like the MIG-23, the American F-14 is a "variable-geometry," or swept-wing aircraft, taking off with wings spread to 64 feet and flying with the wings swept back to 38 feet as it approaches a top speed of 2.34 times the speed of sound, or 1,544 m.p.h. at its ceiling of 50,000 feet.
The Tomcat carries a pilot and a radar weapons officer. It is armed with an M-61 Vulcan 20-millimeter gun and can carry four Sparrow and four Sidewinder air-to-air missiles, or a different mixture of Sparrow, Sidewinder and Phoenix missiles, or it can carry bombs, the Navy said.
One of the F-14's strongest points is its sophisticated radar system, which is capable of looking down and over great distances while tracking 24 targets at once, according to the Navy. The AWG-9 weapons tracking system can fire up to six Phoenix missiles while continuing to scan the airspace, the Navy said.