Reviewed by LCDR Bryan Hayes, USN (Ret.)
In the Claws of the Tomcat is a thoroughly researched and detailed book about U.S. Navy F-14 operations in the Middle East, including Operation Desert Storm and other less-known encounters between U.S. aircraft and Iranian and Iraqi adversaries. I highly recommend it to serious students of naval aviation as well as aircraft modelers interested in accurately depicting the F-14.
This book’s greatest strength is its reliance on interviews with aviators who flew the missions described in its pages. The interview subjects include not only U.S. Navy pilots and radar intercept officers (RIOs), but also Iranian and Iraqi airmen. This provides perspectives seldom found in American aviation histories and adds to the quality and utility of the work. Author Tom Cooper appropriately complements and fact-checks “sea stories” and personal recollections with operational details of the respective campaigns and missions.
Cooper is an Austrian historian with a background in the transportation industry and the author of more than 20 books on military aviation. He has a particular research interest in lesser-known air forces of the Middle East and Africa.
The technical portions of the book are highly detailed and describe aircraft, radars, and weapons systems belong in to both the United States and its adversaries. If you have ever wanted to know the operating frequencies or NATO nomenclature of Iraq’s P-35M and P-37 radars, this is the book for you. However, the author does more than recite technical specifications, and he uses the information effectively to support the historical narrative. Examples include explanations of why the F-14’s radar system limitations prompted Iraqi pilots to employ particular air-to-air tactics, and how incompatibilities between U.S. communications and electronic warfare systems contributed to friction and likely resulted in missed “kill” opportunities for Tomcat pilots. Readers will come away from this book with a greater appreciation of the complexity of modern air-to-air combat and the importance of radar, early-warning aircraft, communications, and other systems.
The book includes seven plates of full-color aircraft illustrations (also by Cooper), as well as a useful selection of maps and diagrams. The former will be most useful to aircraft modelers, while the latter will help any readers to visualize the operating environment and aircraft tactics.
The book’s few flaws are minor. A few acronyms included in the text are omitted from the introductory list of abbreviations. In addition, the author’s discussion of the geopolitical context of the Gulf War is lightly referenced and makes a dubious claim about Iraq’s strategic purpose for invading Kuwait. These errors do not detract from the overall quality of the book.
In the Claws of the Tomcat is a fine work that pays appropriate attention to both human and technical factors influencing U.S. Navy F-14 operations in the Middle East. I recommend it to any historian, aviation enthusiast, or modeler who is interested in this fascinating aircraft.
In the Claws of the Tomcat: US Navy F-14 Tomcat in Combat, 1987-2000 (Tom Cooper, Helion & Company, Warwick, Great Britain, 2021).