On April 9, 1972, Iraq and the Soviet Union signed an historic agreement. The USSR committed to arming the Arab republic with the latest weaponry. In return for sending Baghdad guns, tanks and jet fighters, Moscow got just one thing — influence … in a region that held most of the world’s accessible oil.
In neighboring Iran, news of Iraq’s alliance with the Soviets exploded like a bomb.[...] The administration of U.S. president Richard Nixon was all too eager to grant the shah’s wish in exchange for Iran’s help balancing a rising Soviet Union. Nixon and his national security adviser Henry Kissinger visited Tehran in May 1972 — and promptly offered the shah a “blank check.” Any weapons the king wanted and could pay for, he would get — regardless of the Pentagon’s own reservations and the State Department’s stringent export policies.
That’s how, starting in the mid-1970s, Iran became the only country besides the United States to operate arguably the most powerful interceptor jet ever built — the Grumman F-14 Tomcat, a swing-wing carrier fighter packing a sophisticated radar and long-range AIM-54 Phoenix air-to-air missiles.[...]Today Iran’s 40 or so surviving F-14s remain some of the best fighters in the Middle East. And since the U.S. Navy retired its last Tomcats in 2006, the ayatollah’s Tomcats are the only active Tomcats left in the world.
The F-14 was a product of failure. In the 1960s, the Pentagon hoped to replace thousands of fighters in the U.S. Air Force and Navy with a single design capable of ground attack and air-to-air combat. The result was the General Dynamics F-111 — a two-person, twin-engine marvel of high technology that, in time, became an excellent long-range bomber in Air Force service.
But as a naval fighter, the F-111 was a disaster. [...]In 1968, the Defense Department halted work on the F-111B. Scrambling for a replacement, Grumman took the swing-wing concept, TF-30 engines, AWG-9 radar and long-range AIM-54 missile from the F-111B design and packed them into a smaller, lighter, simpler airframe.
Voila — the F-14.
TFA [nationalinterest.org] goes on in some depth both about the historical importance of the F-14 as it flew nearly 50 years ago, as well as the challenges Iran has faced in creating an entirely new supply chain, and eventually new upgrades, to keep a fleet of dedicated interceptors from the last century in service.