According to a US aviation expert, the Libyan Air Force was "very rash" in using two Soviet-built Sukhoi-22 fighters in an attack on a pair of US Navy F-14 Tomcats in the Gulf of Sidra Aug. 19.
Norman Polmar, an internationally recognized authority on the US Navy, points out that the SU-22 (named for Soviet aircraft designer Pavel O. Sukhoi) is essentially a ground attack fighter and no match for the Grumman F-14 Tomcat which is regarded as one of the world's most advanced interceptors.
"There was no way they should have let SU-22s mix it up with F-14s," says Mr. Polmar.
Military aviation experts explain that the swing-wing SU- 22 (known in the West by its NATO code name "Fitter C") is primarily designed for bombing and strafing and is accordingly armed with two 30-mm cannons and various combinations of bombs, rockets, and missiles.
By contrast, they continue, the F-14 is a formidable fighter which first took to the air in 1970, entering Navy service four years later.
Designed as a long-range fleet defense aircraft, the F-14 can spot and track enemy planes for outside the range of any other fighter's radar, according to its manufacturer.
It can simultaneously fire missiles at six targets while tracking 24 others at the same time, says a Grumman spokesman, who claims that the F-14 is capable of defeating "any threat -- cruise missile, fighter, supersonic bomber -- from seal-level up to 100,000 feet."
Why the Libyans chose to intercept F-14s with SU-22s puzzles many aviation experts here, who note that Muammar Qaddafi has 35 MIG-25 Foxbats at his disposal, not to mention numerous MIG-21s and MIG-23s.
One authority suggests that the Libyan leader was fearful of losing a sophisticated Foxbat after Syria recently lost one to an Israeli F-15 over Lebanon.
A Navy spokesman observers that the Libyan pilots who attacked the F-14s blundered into an elite squadron. The "Black Aces," also known as the "Fighting 41," have enjoyed what he terms "unprecedented success" in air-to-air missile firing from their aircraft.