Due to the lack of a dedicated reconnaissance version of the F-14, it was decided to fit the TARPS unit originally developed for the A-7 Corsair to 49 Tomcats, which each received extra electrical power and air-conditioning, as well as undergoing modification to the NFO cockpit to add operating controls for the pod. TARPS was carried on the rear left AIM-54 Phoenix station, also neutralising the adjacent station. There were no restrictions on the other missile stations. Carriage of the unit had a negligible effect on performance and handling. The unit could be fitted or removed in 30 minutes.Designed for the low/medium altitude clear air reconnaissance role, TARPS consisted of a 17.29ft (5.27m) shell with a max width of 2.21ft (0.67m). Fully equipped weight was 1,760lb (798kg), with a standard load consisting of a KS-87M conventional frame camera in the nose, with aKA-99 low altitude panoramic camera mounted at the mid point. Next to the KA-99 was an AN/AAD-3A Infra red line scanner, for all weather/all hours reconnaissance missions. TARPS received it's operational debut during the second half of 1982, when TARPS F-14s flew over Lebanon to pinpoint terrorist positions.[N 1]
In mid 1996 an uprated version of TARPS entered testing at NAS Fallon in Nevada. Externally identical to the standard pod, the new version replaced the film cameras with digital ones, allowing any selected image to be transmitted over standard UHF channels to a receiving station. After the end of the demonstration phase in June 1996, the prototype was deployed for operational evaluation with VF-32 in November.
- ↑ This led to criticism of the mission from the Director of the CIA, Admiral Stansfield Turner, who claimed USAF SR-71 Blackbirds could provide more information than the TARPS equipped F-14.