The first time the F-14 Tomcat’s gun was used in combat was during ’12 Strong’

Those who know the film by Chris Hemsworth 12 Strong will know that it tells the incredible story of the special forces team that rode on horseback against the Taliban in revenge for 9/11. The film depicts a close air support fire run by an Air Force F-15 Eagle during the Battle of Mazar-i-Sharif. In reality, the CAS mission was flown by a Navy F-14D Tomcat. Moreover, it was the first time that the F-14 gun was used in combat.

Air Force special forces soldiers and forward air controllers accompanied the Northern Alliance to attack al-Qaeda and the Taliban after 9/11 (US Army)

On November 5, 2001, Cdr. Chip “Biff” King, commander of Strike Fighter Squadron (VFA) 213 “Black Lions”, and his radar intercept officer, Mike “Tung” Peterson, flew a mission over Afghanistan from the USS Carl Vinson (CVN-70). Along with his wingman, King expended all his bombs and prepared to return to the ship when he received an urgent radio call.

The first time the F-14 Tomcat's gun was used in combat was during '12 Strong'
The F-14 carried an internally mounted 20mm Vulcan M61 cannon on the left side of its nose (Miguel Ortiz)

On the ground, a small team of US Special Forces and their Northern Alliance allies were engaged with a numerically superior enemy of al-Qaeda and Taliban fighters. The forward air controller on the ground called for immediate close air support to drive the enemy from his position. King advised the CAF that he only had his Vulcan M61 20mm cannon with which to perform the CAS. The CAF replied that he needed ammunition close to immediate danger on his position and cleared King for a strafing run.

The first time the F-14 Tomcat's gun was used in combat was during '12 Strong'
Special Forces soldiers with Northern Alliance fighters in Mazar-i-Sharif, November 2001 (US Army)

With this, the airborne warning and control system aircraft cleared King to descend low into the valley while his wingman remained high to provide cover. The CAF reported that he was leaving the air as the friendly force withdrew, underscoring the desperate situation on the ground. “Capf. King told me he watched in awe through his HUD as enemy troops charged in the open toward friendly forces,” wrote artist Rick Herter who King commissioned to draw and paint the historic action.

The first time the F-14 Tomcat's gun was used in combat was during '12 Strong'
The preliminary drawing of “Meting Out Justice!” depicting the historic shooting of King (Rick Herter)

King lined up his F-14 and began the first of what would be four strafing runs on the advancing enemy. He told Herter that he could clearly see the enemy fighters on foot, on horseback, and using trucks with big guns. In fact, King and Peterson were so low they could see the enemy firing at them as the Tomcat’s cannon dumped 20mm high explosive shells into their charge. Thanks to King’s CAS mission, the enemy attack was blunted and the friendly forces were able to retreat safely.

Comments are closed.