The McDonnell-Douglas F-4 Phantom, though largely superseded in USAF service by the F-15 Eagle in the air superiority role, proved to be an able and worthy fighter in the Third World War, in the fighter, reconnaissance, and “Wild Weasel” variants. Though out of production at the beginning of the war, Mitsubishi in Japan reopened their production line, and subcontractors in the U.S were able to produce spare parts for the aircraft, as were foreign suppliers such as IAI in Israel.
A list of Phantom variants and users follows:
F-4B: Out of USN/MC service at the beginning of the war. Survivors converted to F-4N versions.
F-4C: Original USAF version. Out of front-line USAF service, but in ANG service in the fighter and fighter-interceptor roles. Heavy wartime attrition resulted in losses replaced by either new-build E models from Japan, or by the Northrop F-20A Tigershark.
F-4D: Improved C version. Still in active USAF service, as well as ANG and AFRES. Wartime attrition replaced by E models from Japan, or by F-20, though some did convert to F-15C postwar. Also used by ROK AF (replaced by F-15K)
F-4E: Ultimate USAF fighter version, with internal M-61A1 Vulcan cannon. Regular AF and ANG service, with attrition replacement via the Japanese production line. USAF versions from Japan often delivered without bombing computer or air-to-ground weapons capability, to satisfy Japanese export law, but such features installed at USAF Depot at McClellan AFB prior to delivery to USAF squadrons.
A number of E models also saw RAF service in North America during the war. JMSDF operated F-4EJ for air defense of Japan. ROK AF operated Es for Air Defense during the war, and during the fall of North Korea in 2010. Turkish AF also operated Es for air defense during “armed neutrality” period, as did the Greek AF.
F-4F: Luftwaffe version of E, originally delivered without Sparrow missile capability. Saw combat during GDR campaign in 1989.
F-4G: “Wild Weasel” SEAD variant. Fitted for and carried Shrike, Standard-ARM, and HARM missiles. Active USAF only during the war, ANG service (Idaho ANG and Nevada ANG) postwar. Attrition replaced via Japan, with SEAD equipment installed at Hill Aerospace Depot at Hill AFB, UT, prior to delivery to squadrons.
F-4J: USN version from 1968 onward. Upgraded to F-4S configuration. F-4J (UK) in RAF service during the war; were replaced by the Tornado F.3, surviving F-4J(UK) being returned to the US.
F-4K: RR Spey powered RN variant of the Phantom, designated FG.1 in RN and RAF service. Once last fixed-wing RN carriers were retired the remaining RN Phantoms were transfered to the RAF. Were operated by RAF Leuchars Wing (43 and 111 Squadrons) until replaced by the Tornado F.3. Surviving aircraft were used as a source of spares for the FGR.2 fleet.
F-4M: RR Spey powered RAF variant of the Phantom. Procured as a replacement for the Hunter and Canberra; initially used in the attack, interdiction and strike role until the Jaguar entered service. Replaced most of the remaining EE Lightning fleet subsequently. Two squadrons served in Canada until replaced by the F-4E(UK). By the end of the war only the three squadrons of the RAF Wattisham Wing still used the FGR.2.
F-4N: Upgraded F-4B. In service with four USN squadrons (VF-21, VF-154, VF-151, VF-161) at war's outbreak; remainder in storage. Served throughout the war, from both carriers and land bases. Replaced by F-14 in all four squadrons postwar.
F-4S: Upgraded F-4J. In USN Reserve, USMC active, and USMC Reserve service at outbreak of war. Replaced during and after the war by F/A-18 in USN and USMC.
RF-4B: USMC Reconnaissance version, used in VMFP-3 throughout the war. Replaced in USMC service by RF-18D.
RF-4C: USAF Reconnaissance version; in USAF and ANG service at beginning of the war. Attrition replacement via Mitsubishi in Japan. Replaced postwar by RF-16C. Export version RF-4E.
WW III Operators:
Luftwaffe (1989 only)
Turkish AF .
Three major users of the F-4 did not officially take part in wartime combat operations: Both Israel and Egypt were “non-belligerents”, that is, neutrals favoring the U.S. Both IAF and EAF Phantoms flew air sovereignty missions to guard their airspace. Iranian Phantoms continued to fly combat missions against Iraq until the Iran-Iraq War petered out in 1986.