The F-14A can carry up to 14,500 pounds of bombs and rockets, although it was not originally assigned a ground-attack mission. The under-fuselage pallets which ordinarily carry Phoenix missiles can also mount bomb racks for 1000-pound Mk 83 or 2000-pound Mk 84 bombs or other free-fall weaponry. As early as 1972, a Tomcat flew with 18 Mk 82 bombs, plus a complement of missiles. VF-122 dropped the first bombs from a Fleet Tomcat on August 8, 1990. Although the F/A-18 Hornet is the primary air-to-ground aircraft of the Navy fleet squadrons, the F/A-18 is felt to lack a sufficient range/payload capacity, and the air-to-ground capable F-14 Tomcat was felt to be essential to permit a carrier-based air wing to retain its full capacity. However, there were initially some shortages of bomb racks, and it was often true that only one F-14 squadron on each carrier was equipped to carry out a secondary ground attack role, with the other squadron being TARPS-equipped. Software for a ground attack mission has now been installed on all F-14Bs and Ds, as well on some F-14As. Today, the training syllabus includes some emphasis on air-to-ground strike, although such missions would only be carried out in a relatively permissible combat environment because of the high cost of the Tomcat.
For a while, an advanced bomb-equipped F-14 Tomcat was pictured as a replacement for the General Dynamics A-12 Avenger II, cancelled in December 1990.
Initially, the Tomcat could carry only conventional "dumb" bombs, and had no precision-guided munition capability. It was not compatible with guided weapons such as the AGM-84 Harpoon, the SLAM, the AGM-65 Maverick, the Walleye, or the AGM-88 HARM. It initially could not even carry or deliver laser-guided bombs. However, the ability to deliver laser-guided bombs such as the GBU-10, GBU-12, GBU-16, and GBU-24 was added in 1994, although the Tomcat initially had to rely on other aircraft to designate the targets. The first GBU-16 laser guide bombs were dropped from a Tomcat of VF-103 on May 2, 1994. The Tomcat first dropped such bombs in anger when two F-14s of VF-41 attacked targets in Serbia with GBU-16s on September 5, 1995, with F/A-18s painting the target with AN/AAS-38A Nite Hawk laser designators.
The Tomcat lacked any type of FLIR and laser designator which would make it possible to operate at night and to deliver laser-guided bombs autonomously. The Martin-Marietta LANTIRN (Low Altitude Navigation and targeting Infra-Red for Night) pod was selected to provide this capacity for the Tomcat. The LANTIRN pod is attached to the starboard wing glove pylon. The aircraft was equipped with a GPS antenna, and the antenna was linked to a Litton GPS/IMU (Inertial Measurement Unit) that was incorporated into the LANTIRN pod. This allows the pod to find targets without the need for a radar fix. The system was first tested on an F-14B drawn from VF-103 in February of 1995. The F-14B testbed first flew with LANTIRN on March 21, 1995. The first LANTIRN pod was delivered in June of 1996. The first operational cruise with LANTIRN-equipped Tomcats took place that very month.
The LANTIRN pod has its own computer, but must interface with the AN/AWG-15 via a MIL STD 1553B digital databus, so the F-14s must be retrofitted with such a databus before they are compatible with the LANTIRN. The rear cockpit of the LANTIRN-equipped Tomcats are equipped with a Programmable Tactical Information Display (PTID) which can display both radar and LANTIRN information. PTID is not actually required for the use of LANTIRN, although the quality of the image is a lot poorer when seen on the F-14's standard displays. The LANTIRN-equipped Tomcat can be steered to the target by its own onboard INS or by using input from the GPS. If the location of the target is known, the GPS can automatically point the FLIR at the target. The RIO in the rear seat designates the target by using the laser in the pod after the pilot has released the weapon. The LANTIRN can even be used in the air-to-air role, being used in much the same manner as the TCS. However, TARPS-equipped Tomcats cannot carry and use the LANTIRN pod at the same time that the TARPS pod is being carried because the hand controller uses the same console space, but the two units can be swapped back and forth fairly easily.
The LANTIRN does not have all-weather capability, since rain, cloud, and fog severely degrade the FLIR imagery. In order to give the F-14D a true all-weather air-to-ground capability, the radar is currently being upgraded to have air-to-ground mapping capability