In an alternate timeline...
Grumman's successful updating of the F-14B and F-14D variants would pave the way for plans to create evolved versions of the Tomcat. Taking advantage of its growth potential, the F-14D "Quickstrike" and eventually, the ASF-14 were projected successors of the existing F-14 frame.
These advanced Tomcats were proposed as alternatives to the NATF (Naval Advanced Tactical Fighter) Program. Itself facing a significant challenge of navalizing the F-22. The need for a next generation NAVAIR machine further gained significance in light of the sudden termination of the VLO A-12 and the rejection of the "Super Hornet" proposal. The US Navy's NATF was subsequently left with a selection of advanced Tomcat variants to meet an extensive operational requirement. By 1994, a completely new proposal had emerged to meet NATF needs. With assistance from Lockheed Martin, the newly merged Northrop Grumman presented the F-28, befittingly named "Tomcat II". USN leadership was notably impressed and the green light was given for production.
In many ways, the F-28 is a drastic redevelopment of the previous ASF-14 aided with experience gained from the A-12 and F-22. Basing the F-28 on the existing F-14 frame proved to be a cost saving measure in its own right. Technologies and systems initially created for the ASF-14 were refined for the Tomcat II. Composite construction, advanced fly-by wire and high power propulsion systems with TVN potential are significant highlights. However, the F-28's inherent VGW configuration marks a compromise of "partial stealth" that characterizes the airframe in the Generation 4.5 classification. Still, the F-28 adopts internal weapons bays and other RCS reduction measures to improve its VLO capability.
By 1996, the YF-28 prototype would make its maiden flight. Expectations for the Tomcat II were high and a notable PR campaign briefly overshadowed the USAF's F-22 in the public spotlight. US allies also took notice of the F-28's progress, certainly mimicking the prominence of its predecessor. Following an extensive development phase, the production spec F-28A's entered USN service in 2004 with much appraisal. Navy deployment has the F-28 replacing the aging F-14's, augmenting F/A-18's in strike ops and acting as a tanker if deemed necessary. The Tomcat II is also referred to as the “Puma” to differentiate it from “Legacy Tomcats”. The inherent versatility of the new airframe also spawned the creation of the EF-28B Stalker electronic warfare variant.
In 2011, the Royal Australian Air Force receives its first batch of F-28A’s becoming the type's first foreign user. Potential buyers in Europe and Asia have also shown great interest in the Tomcat II. With superb adaptability and performance, the F-28 is a high point in naval fighter development, unrivaled in its performance class.
"We're back, baby!"
Design by Jetfreak, use with permission.