Country of Origin: Empire of Japan
Other Users: Iran, China (captured models)
1x Type 112 20mm Cannon
2 to 4x Short Range IR AAMs
4 to 6x Medium to Long Range AAMs
In the late 1970s the Imperial Japanese Navy sought out a new carrier based interceptor. Requirements for the new fighter included a heavy missile load, high speed, and variable geometry wings. The Soviets, Americans, and Europeans had all fielded or begun fielding aircraft with this ability (MiG-23/F-14/Tornado). Mitsubishi created of the famous A6M Zero, won the contract over Nakajimaís prototype. The first production models reached IJN pilotsí hands by 1980. It was given the name Tengu, part bird and human.
Smaller than the American F-14 Tomcat the plane was just as fast and maneuverable. It was far superior to anything in the Soviet and then Russian arsenal. Pilots loved its high speed. At the front of the Tengu was the powerful radar system which allowed for searching for targets up to a hundred miles away. Airborne refueling and drop tanks could extend the Tenguís range. Working with airborne radar off the Giga carriers the Tengu was an excellent interceptor, volleying its long range missiles. A major disadvantage of the Tengu though was the ability to fire and forget missiles. All the medium and long range weapons used by the IJN were semi-radar homers, requiring the Tengu to keep its own radar on the target (unlike the AIM-54 Phoenix). To make up for this problem the Japanese deployed excellent ECM and jamming systems in their carrier air groups. Shorter range combat was conducted with IR all aspect targeting missiles. Normally a Tengu would carry four heat seekers and four radar guided weapons. However the arsenal varied depending on the mission. Combined with Nakajima Sea-Wing bombers, Acihi fighter bombers a Japanese carrier wing had as much striking power as an American one, and far more than a European wing.
The Tengu achieved its first kills in the hands of Japanese pilots during an incident with China. In June of 1981 the Republic of China was conducting naval maneuvers south of the Japanese controlled island of Formosa. The carriers Akagi and Kaga of the 1st Carrier Division were part of a Japanese force off the island. Six Chinese MiG-23s were harassed by a pair of A19 Tengus. One of the ROC pilots fired and the battle began. One Tengu was lost and the other called for back up. In the resulting air battle all six ROC Floggers were lost; along with three MiG-29 Fulcrums that joined the action. Japanese reinforcements consisted of two more Tengus, just three A19s shot down nearly an entire squadron of Chinese planes. Over the 1980s several more Ďincidentsí occurred between Japanese planes and Russian and Chinese ones. In nearly every case the Tengu came out ahead.
The Tengu went to actual war on June 22, 1990. The Kido Butai (Japanís carrier fleet) launched its first air attacks against the Russian Pacific Fleet bases at 5:03AM. Squadrons of Tengu fighters covered the approach. The initial opposition consisted of nearly obsolescent MiG-23s which the Tengu fighters handled easily. As the Russian forces recovered the Far East command sent in more elite Su-27, MiG-31 and upgraded MiG-29s. The resulting air battles ended in an 8:1 kill to loss ratio for Japanese. The Russians lost control of the airspace above the Far East and Japanese forces moved on their objectives.
Japanese aircraft also lead the attack against the Philippines shortly after it was discovered that the Americans were giving covert assistance to the Russian Republic. Here they faced U.S. aircraft for the first time in combat. Due to the surprise attack, the F-15s based at Clark AFB were at a disadvantage and suffered heavy losses to the Tengu. The first clash of the F-14 Tomcat and Tengu occurred during the Second Battle of the Coral Sea. Task Force 77 from the U.S. 7th Fleet moved to cover the transfer of Australian troops to New Guinea. USN fighters provide CAP for the Australian/American force. The F-14s had the advantage at long range with the Phoenix missile. Although designed to kill Russian bombers the missile preformed okay against fighters as well. At closer ranges however the Tomcat and Tengu were evenly matched. In the end the Second Coral Sea was an Allied victory. The K/L ratio was in favor of the USN but only at 3:1.
The Tengu would continue to fight for the remainder of the Pacific War. However the plane did not fail the Empire, but the system to support it. Japanís pilot training program had not been forced to operate under the stress of a full blown war. Even during Japanese participation in World War II, the losses never exceeded the pool of experienced pilots. The Pacific War, with its fronts in Russia, the Philippines, Dutch East Indies, and then the Indian Ocean as the Europeans joined the effort exhausted the Japanís core of experienced pilots. One of the most critical losses was the Battle of Guam. Four of the Kido Butaiís carriers and a supporting invasion force moved on Guam. Admiral Shiradaís goal was to draw out the U.S. 7th Fleet and destroy it.
Russian intelligence however uncovered the Japanese battle-plan. This information allowed the Americans to stage an ambush. The Japanese strike groups moving to bomb Guam were suddenly confronted not with the baseís own fighters, but the fighter power of three USN carriers. Countless Tenguís, Nakajima Sea-Wings, and other IJN planes were shot down. In the resulting battle Admiral Shirada was lost along with three of the four Japanese carriers. With these ships and planes went the elite of the IJN aviators. Japan would never recover from the lost of these men. In the following battles of the war, Japanís pilots were less and less experienced. By the end of the war the USNís K/L ratio was 20:1.
With the end of the Pacific War, Japan has been banned from having any carriers for an undetermined time. The remaining Tengu A19s are all based on land and part of the Naval Aviation component of the JMSDF. Other users of the Tengu include the Islamic Republic of Iran. The IRIAF has an entire fighter wing of Tenguís know locally as the Falcon. American and European intelligence sources cannot determine how many of the aircraft are still flying. The Republic of China had captured quite a few Tenguís on Formosa (modern day Taiwan) following their invasion of the island. Of these examples only two squadrons remain flying today.