"Wild Weasel" was a concept tied to various aircraft serving the United States military in the Electronic Warfare Aircraft (EWA) role. These aircraft were specifically outfitted with equipment to detect Surface-to-Air Missile (SAM) threats and neutralize them - typically with anti-radiation missiles. The series began in 1965 as "Wild Weasel I" during the Vietnam War with North American F-100 Super Sabres and Douglas A-4 Skyhawks and graduated to "Wild Weasel II" and its McDonnell Douglas F-4C Phantom II and Republic F-105F Thunderchief platforms. To generate better success from the approach, the F-4C Phantom II was tried again, resulting 36 conversions from standard fighters for "Wild Weasel IV". With the arrival of the F-4E and - principally - the F-4G Phantom II marks, this shifted to "Wild Weasel V".
In practice, these specialized aircraft accompanied conventional attack aircraft and scanned for SAM threats. This proved a vital role in the skies over North Vietnam where Soviet-originated SAM systems consistently scanned the skies for inbound threats. Once detected, these ground-based units would launch several missiles at the target or targets in the hopes of destroying them. Wild Weasel hunts were typically hair-raising and lethal mission types for American airmen as they led the way as sacrificial lambs of sorts in an effort to clear the path for the incoming bomber herds. One of the most potent SAM systems fielded by the NVA was the SA-2 "Guideline" - a telephone-pole-length missile with a large warhead and Mach-speeds. Between the speed of the incoming Wild Weasel and the missile there proved just seconds to react in most cases.
Some thirty-six F-4C models were converted by the USAF to the "Wild Weasel IV" standard for service in the Vietnam War and armed with 2 x AGM-45 "Shrike" anti-radiation missiles along underwing hardpoints. These weapons worked in conjunction with an ER-142/ALR-53 receiver and AN/ALQ-119 ECM pod used to track signals outputted by scanning enemy radars. The aircraft were put to the test in 1969 yielding mixed results.
In the post-war years, the F-4G model formed the basis of a new breed of Wild Weasel through the "Wild Weasel V" standard. The F-4G Wild Weasels were now based on the improved F-4G airframe, the Phantom regarded by many as one of the finest combat aircraft ever to fly. Though outwardly similar to their conventional combat brethren, the Phantom Wild Weasels initially lost their internal cannon for close-in work. The compartment was used for fitting the AN/APR-38(t) Radar Homing and Warning Receiver (RHWR) system which was later upgraded to the APR-47 series. The regular F-4G Phantoms were themselves born from F-4E conversions and were first flown on December 6th, 1975 - just missing out on service in the Vietnam War. First squadrons were formed for 1978.
As with the original F-4G, the Wild Weasel model featured a two crew tandem-seat cockpit. with the forward position taken by the pilot and the rear position seating the Electronic Warfare Officer (EWO). Since their cannon armament was removed in favor of applicable equipment, the Wild Weasel was compensated fairly by retaining the healthy ordnance-carrying capabilities of the base Phantom II. Along with the ability to carry air-to-air missiles, the aircraft could unleash air-to-ground missiles, rockets, conventional drop bombs or other munitions then available. Its primary weapon became the AGM-88A, B- and C-model anti-radar / anti-radiation "HARM" (High Speed Anti-Radiation Missile) missiles.
With its origins in the F-4 Phantom II fighter-bomber, the F-4G Wild Weasel retained the excellent capabilities of a proven warfighter including high-speed performance and a shared workload with the inclusion of a second crewmember. Like their combat brethren, F-4G Wild Weasels also fitted 2 x General Electric J79-GE-17 series turbofan engines producing 17,900lbs of thrust each with afterburner capability. Specifications included a maximum speed of 1,430 miles per hour and a range of 1,610 miles along with a service ceiling of 58,750 feet.
When deployed in more modern conflicts, the F-4G Wild Weasel continued the SAM-hunting sorties pioneered by previous Vietnam War airmen. It was used in the same way - directly countering enemy radar establishments and dealing with any missile threats ahead of the main bomber force. Additionally, the F-4G Wild Weasel could utilize its sensitive tracking and targeting equipment to direct another fighter-bomber aircraft to a target - this pairing also used in Vietnam and dubbed the "hunter-killer" tactic. F-4G Wild Weasels were utilized to great success against Iraqi air defenses during Operation Desert Storm in 1991 - helping to reduce the "4th Largest Army in the World" to dust.
As with most other aircraft selected for the dangerous Wild Weasel role, the F-4 Phantom II series inevitably reached its technological apex in U.S. service and was inevitably replaced by the newer and more capable General Dynamics F-16 "Fighting Falcon" multirole fighter. With the F-16 now beginning to show its age despite an excellent service record with multiple operators, it is expected that the in-development Lockheed F-35 "Lightning II" 5th Generation Fighter will eventually replace the Cold War players in the same role in time.
Status Retired, Out-of-Service
Production 116 Units
McDonnell Douglas - USA
Australia; West Germany; Greece; Japan; Iran; Israel; South Korea; Spain; Turkey; United Kingdom; United States
- Electronic Warfare (EW)
62.99 ft (19.2 m)
38.58 ft (11.76 m)
16.70 ft (5.09 m)
28,274 lb (12,825 kg)
61,793 lb (28,029 kg)
(Showcased weight values pertain to the McDonnell Douglas F-4 Wild Weasel production model)
2 x General Electric J79-GE-17 afterburning turbojet engines developing 17,900 lb of thrust.
1,432 mph (2,305 kph; 1,245 kts)
58,750 feet (17,907 m; 11.13 miles)
1,612 miles (2,594 km; 1,401 nm)
48,000 ft/min (14,630 m/min)
(Showcased performance values pertain to the McDonnell Douglas F-4 Wild Weasel production model; Compare this aircraft entry against any other in our database)
2 x AGM-88 HARM anti-radiation missiles
2 OR 4 x AIM-9 Sidewinder short-range air-to-air missiles.
Other mission-specific weaponry included the AIM-65 Maverick air-to-surface missile, conventional drop bombs, cluster bombs, rocket pods and countermeasures pods. Fuel tanks could also be carried in place of ordnance.
(Showcased armament details pertain to the McDonnell Douglas F-4 Wild Weasel production model)
XF4H-1 - Prototype Model Designation of which two produced.
F4H-1F - Preproduction models fitted with General Electric J79-GE-2/2A engines generating 16,150 lbs; series would later become the F-4A model designation of which 45 produced.
F4H-1 - Production Model Designation fitted with J79-GE-8 engines generating 17,000lbs standard thrust; series would later be redesignated as the F-4B model series.
F-110A - Initial Production Designation for United States Air Force strike variant; redesignated as the F-4C model series.
F-4A - Production Model Designation of redesignated F4H-1F preproduction model variant.
F-4B - Redesignation of the F4H-1 model series; 649 produced.
F-4C - Redesignation of F-110A for strike fighter role in the United States Air Force; fitted with J79-GE-15 powerplants; 635 produced.
F-4D - USAF version of the United States Navy base F-4C model.
F-4E - USAF model fitted with J79-GE-17 powerplants of which 1,405 models produced; featured improved radar systems, internal 20mm cannon and leading edge slats.
F-4F - Air Superiority Model for West German export.
F-4G - USAF "Wild Weasel" Radar-Suppression Role Model.
F-4J - United States Navy Model fitted with J79-GE-10 engine series generating 17,900lbs of thrust; featured revised wing element and tail section assembly; 512 produced.
F-4K - Royal Navy (United Kingdom) Export Model based on the F-4J but fitted with Rolls-Royce Spey turbofan engines of which 52 were produced.
F-4M - Royal Air Force Export Model based on the F-4K model.
F-4N - Modernization Conversion Model fitted with updated avionics and similar features based on the F-4B base model.
F-4S - Modernization Conversion Model fitted with updated avionics and similar features based on the F-4J base model.
RF-4B - United States Marine Corps Designation for Reconnaissance Variant.
RF-4C - USAF Tactical Reconnaissance Variant of which 499 produced.
Phantom 2000 - "Super Phantom" model produced by the Israel Aircraft Industries (IAI) based on the F-4E base model.
FG.1 - British designation of the F-4K base model.
FGR.2 - British designation of the F-4M model.
* Ribbons not necessarily indicative of actual historical campaign ribbons. Ribbons are clickable to their respective campaigns/operations.
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