F-111 Variants in the Third World War
The General Dynamics F-111 Ardvark was the main deep penetration and strike aircraft of the United States Air Force in the Third World War, and saw action in most theaters during the war. Whether as a TAC strike aircraft or Electronic Warfare Platform, a SAC bomber that flew missions into the Western Soviet Union out of England, or a RAAF strike platform that saw combat raiding targets in Indonesia after the breakup of that country and the resulting pirate menace, the F-111 served its users well during the conflict. Each F-111 variant is examined in the following article:
F-111A: Initial production version, used by USAF in Southeast Asia in 1968, withdrawn due to prohibitive loss rate and serious reliability issues. Returned to SEA in 1972 and served admirably during LINEBACKER and LINEBACKER II. Used by the 366th TFW at Mountain Home AFB, Idaho, for crew training and maintaining a Korea contingency. The A was the primary version to see combat in the Northern Theater pending the arrival of the F-111E. Used primarily for crew training from 1986 onwards, with one squadron still seeing regular combat. 366th TFW was the initial F-111 Wing to convert to the F-15E postwar.
F-111B: Aborted USN Interceptor version. Canceled 1968.
F-111C: RAAF variant, used by No. 1 and No. 6 Squadron at RAAF Amberley. Primarily used during the war for anti-shipping strikes against Soviet raiders, and to strike pirate strongholds in Indonesia. RF-111C version used for RAAF tactical reconnaissance mission. Replaced by F/A-18F postwar.
F-111D. Version with new nav/attack system, used by 27th TFW at Cannon AFB, New Mexico. Primary strike version used in Southwestern U.S., serving alongside USMC A-6E Intruders. Refitted with PAVE TACK pod during the war for guidance of laser-guided bombs, and also given GBU-15, along with AIM-9 capability for self-defense. 27th TFW third F-111 Wing to convert to F-15E.
F-111E. Improved A version, used by 20th TFW at RAF Upper Heyford in the U.K. Primary strike version in Northern Theater, and later refitted to carry PAVE TACK pods. Replaced by F-15E postwar, second F-111 wing to transition.
F-111F: Definitive TAC version, used by 48th TFW at RAF Lakenheath. Deployed to Southeastern U.S., and primary strike version for Ninth Air Force. Fitted with PAVE TACK in early 1980s for PGM mission, and also capable of GBU-15 delivery. Remained in USAF service until late 1990s, with 48th TFW returning to U.K.; final USAF wing to transition to F-15E.
EF-111A : Known as “Spark Vark.” Fitted with ALQ-99 ECM system as used in the EA-6B Prowler. 42 converted from A models, and issued to 20th TFW at Upper Heyford and 366th TFW at Mountain Home. HARM and Standard-ARM capability added during the war, and aircraft remained in service until early 2000s with periodic upgrades to avionics and ECM systems. Replaced by USN EA-6Bs assigned to the “Expeditionary” Mission, pending arrival of EA-18G version.
FB-111A: “SAC Vark” 76 aircraft procured for SAC as B-58 replacement. Assigned to 380th BW at Plattsburgh AFB, NY and 509th BW at Pease AFB, NH. Periodic deployments to U.K for strikes against high-value targets in the European USSR and in Eastern Europe, and known as the aircraft that flew the Chernobyl Raid in 1986. 380th BW transitioned to B-1C postwar, while 509th BW became first B-2 unit.