AIM-54 Phoenix

AIM-54 Phoenix

Main Points:

  • Primary Navy long-range AAM for 30 years.
  • An F-14 could attack as many as six separate targets simultaneously with Phoenix.
  • Sold to Iran, it could have been used against the U.S. A counter countermeasure program was developed.

One of the world’s most technologically advanced tactical guided missiles, the Phoenix was the first operational radar-guided air-to-air missile that could be launched in multiple numbers against different targets from an aircraft. The Phoenix, coupled with the AWG-9 fire control system, was the heart of the F-14 Tomcat, the only aircraft that carried the Phoenix.  The AWG-9 could track up to 24 targets simultaneously and launch up to six Phoenix missiles nearly simultaneously. With a range of over 100 miles, the Phoenix gave the F-14 the greatest standoff engagement capability of any fighter in the world.

Beginning in 1962, Phoenix was designed and produced by Hughes Aircraft, with Raytheon joining the program in 1988. Much of the testing was done on the Sea Range at at Point Mugu, CA.  The Phoenix/AWG-9 was originally intended as the main armament of the F-111B, then planned to become the Navy’s air superiority fighter and long-range interceptor. While the Phoenix test program continued, the F-111B was canceled, and the Phoenix and AWG-9 were incorporated into the new F-14 Tomcat, which was to take over the role of the F-111B.

In 1973, a milestone was accomplished for Phoenix with the first full-scale testing on an F-14 on the Point Mugu Sea Range. Within 38 seconds, the Tomcat launched and simultaneously guided 6 Phoenix missiles, at 6 separate targets 50 miles away, scoring four direct hits.

During the 1980-1988 Iran-Iraq war, the Iranians (who had purchased F-14s and Phoenix missiles prior to the Shah’s fall) shot down a variety of Soviet-made aircraft with Phoenix. This led the U.S. to a “crash” program at Point Mugu to develop counter-countermeasures so that the new F-14/AIM-54C Phoenix could not be compromised by the earlier AIM-54As owned by Iran.  Other than the Iranian firings, the only confirmed combat use of the Phoenix was the use of it by 2 F-14Ds engaging Iraqi MiG-25 Foxbats.  Both missiles missed.

The AIM-54 Phoenix served the U.S. Navy for 30 years as its first long-range air-to-air missile. It was retired from service in 2004, and the Tomcat was retired in 2006. When production ceased, more than 5,000 Phoenix missiles of all versions had been built.