STATUS: Retired, Out-of-Service
MANUFACTURER(S): McDonnell Douglas - USA
OPERATORS: Australia; West Germany; Greece; Japan; Iran; Israel; South Korea; Spain; Turkey; United Kingdom; United States
LENGTH: 62.99 feet (19.2 meters)
WIDTH: 38.58 feet (11.76 meters)
HEIGHT: 16.70 feet (5.09 meters)
WEIGHT (EMPTY): 28,274 pounds (12,825 kilograms)
WEIGHT (MTOW): 61,793 pounds (28,029 kilograms)
ENGINE: 2 x General Electric J79-GE-17 afterburning turbojet engines developing 17,900 lb of thrust.
SPEED (MAX): 1,432 miles-per-hour (2305 kilometers-per-hour; 1,245 knots)
RANGE: 1,612 miles (2,594 kilometers; 1,401 nautical miles)
CEILING: 58,750 feet (17,907 meters; 11.13 miles)
RATE-OF-CLIMB: 48,000 feet-per-minute (14,630 meters-per-minute)
Detailing the development and operational history of the McDonnell Douglas F-4 Wild Weasel Electronic Warfare Aircraft (EWA).
Entry last updated on 2/21/2018.
Authored by Staff Writer. Content ©www.MilitaryFactory.com.
"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.
McDonnell Douglas F-4 Wild Weasel (Cont'd)
Electronic Warfare Aircraft (EWA)
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.
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Relative Maximum Speed Rating
This entry's maximum listed speed (1,432mph).
Graph average of 1125 miles-per-hour.
Graph showcases the McDonnell Douglas F-4 Wild Weasel's operational range (on internal fuel) when compared to distances between major cities.
Useful in showcasing the era cross-over of particular aircraft/aerospace designs.
Unit Production Comparison
Comm. Market HI*: 44,000 units
Military Market HI**: 36,183 units