I finally got through this one using the suggested F-14. I used a combination of CN2's advice and Compassghost's advice.
I cleared the main nodes with j-strikes then cleared the SAM sites with the radar guided until I got to the hub, then I switched back to j-strikes for the hub. Then I went back to taking out the 2 SAM sites closest to the bombers (in the path) with radar guided missiles and the afterburner lit and boogied back to defend the bombers taking out a couple of the interceptors with radar guided missiles from long range and then just stuck close to the bombers and shook off any missile locks and took out the last SAM sites. After the bombers finished their run I took out a few more fighters.
I'm still at level 16 even though I thought I was at 17 but I can live with that.
The easiest method for this level is to destroy all the S.A.M. sites prior to escorting the bombers. You will notice that once you arrive at the radar site the timer will disappear. When the timer stops, fly around and destroy all the S.A.M.'s, then fly back and destroy the radar. This will begin the cutscene, and three new S.A.M.'s will appear directly in the flight path of the bombers. Destroy these sites before the bomber gets within their range. However, your first priority should be the fighters, and you should engage them by entering their engagement circle. I like to use the radar guided missiles, and shoot down at least one fighter before entering their engagement circle. Alternatively, since this method makes the level too easy, just focus on destroying the three sites that are directly in the flight path of the bomber, once again making sure that you first engage the fighters. I hope this helps.
the key to taking out any kind of sam site is speed. as soon as you get near the sam, switch to your joint strikes (because you have loads). max out your throttle and hit the deck. if you go in low level at high speed then you can lock onto the sam and shoot before it finishes locking you. it will get a shot off but if you're going fast and low then it will go overhead and miss you (plus you get the SEAD challenge). if its one of those pesky cruisers, then you'll need some target switching skill: as soon as you launch at the sam, then switch to targeting the AA and you should take that out as well. but low and fast is the key, and that applies for all missions. another hint for that mission is to find the hub, leave it standing, hunt down the other sams, then go back and take it out. save all your radar guided missiles for the fighters. it doesnt really matter the plane you use; i could use any plane with radar guided and win on expert. once you know the key to beating sams, the game is super easy, just as long as you dont get hit by one (instakill)