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Air supremacy

Air supremacy

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Air supremacy is the complete dominance of the air power of one side's air forces over the other side's, during a military campaign
Military campaign
In the military sciences, the term military campaign applies to large scale, long duration, significant military strategy plan incorporating a series of inter-related military operations or battles forming a distinct part of a larger conflict often called a war...

. It is the most favorable state of control of the air. It is defined by NATO and the United States Department of Defense
United States Department of Defense
The United States Department of Defense is the U.S...

 as "that degree of air superiority wherein the opposing air force is incapable of effective interference."
Friendly Forces Enemy Forces
Air supremacy Air incapability
Air superiority Air denial
Air parity Air parity


There are normally thought to be three levels of control of the air. Air supremacy is the highest, meaning there is complete control of the skies. Air superiority is the next highest, which is being in a more favorable position than the opponent. It is defined in the NATO Glossary as "That degree of dominance in the air battle of one force over another that permits the conduct of operations by the former and its related land, sea, and air forces at a given time and place without prohibitive interference by opposing air forces." Air parity is the lowest level of control, meaning control of the skies only above friendly troop positions.

For those air forces which are unable to contest for air superiority or even air parity a course of action would be Air denial, that is maintaining a level of operations that although it concedes air superiority to the other side prevents it from achieving air supremacy and having a totally free use of the air space.

Air power has since become an increasingly powerful element of military campaign
Military campaign
In the military sciences, the term military campaign applies to large scale, long duration, significant military strategy plan incorporating a series of inter-related military operations or battles forming a distinct part of a larger conflict often called a war...

s; military planners
Military strategy
Military strategy is a set of ideas implemented by military organizations to pursue desired strategic goals. Derived from the Greek strategos, strategy when it appeared in use during the 18th century, was seen in its narrow sense as the "art of the general", 'the art of arrangement' of troops...

 view having at least an environment of air superiority as a necessity. Air supremacy allows greatly increased bombing efforts as well as tactical air support for ground forces. In addition, paratroop assaults and airdrop
Airdrop
An airdrop is a type of airlift, developed during World War II to resupply otherwise inaccessible troops, who themselves may have been airborne forces. In some cases, it is used to refer to the airborne assault itself. Early airdrops were conducted by dropping or pushing padded bundles from...

s can move ground forces and supplies.

World War I


During the First World War
World War I
World War I , which was predominantly called the World War or the Great War from its occurrence until 1939, and the First World War or World War I thereafter, was a major war centred in Europe that began on 28 July 1914 and lasted until 11 November 1918...

 air superiority on the Western Front changed hands between the Germans and the Allies several times. Periods of German air superiority include the so-called Fokker Scourge
Fokker Scourge
The Fokker Scourge was a term coined by the British press in the summer of 1915 to describe the then-current ascendancy of the Fokker Eindecker monoplane fighters of the German Fliegertruppen over the poorly-armed Allied reconnaissance types of the period....

 of late 1915-early 1916 and Bloody April
Bloody April
During the First World War, the month of April 1917 was known as Bloody April by the Royal Flying Corps . The RFC suffered particularly severe losses — about three times as many as the Imperial German Army Air Service over the same period — but continued its primary role in support of the ground...

 (April 1917).

In the 1930s, Italian aerial warfare
Aerial warfare
Aerial warfare is the use of military aircraft and other flying machines in warfare, including military airlift of cargo to further the national interests as was demonstrated in the Berlin Airlift...

 theorist Giulio Douhet
Giulio Douhet
General Giulio Douhet was an Italian general and air power theorist. He was a key proponent of strategic bombing in aerial warfare...

 wrote in The Command of the Air that future wars would be decided in the skies. At the beginning of World War II
World War II
World War II, or the Second World War , was a global conflict lasting from 1939 to 1945, involving most of the world's nations—including all of the great powers—eventually forming two opposing military alliances: the Allies and the Axis...

 Douhet's ideas were dismissed by some, but as the war continued, it became apparent that his theories on the importance of aircraft were supported by events.

World War II



At the beginning of World War II
World War II
World War II, or the Second World War , was a global conflict lasting from 1939 to 1945, involving most of the world's nations—including all of the great powers—eventually forming two opposing military alliances: the Allies and the Axis...

, the main combatants took different views on the importance of air power. Adolf Hitler
Adolf Hitler
Adolf Hitler was an Austrian-born German politician and the leader of the National Socialist German Workers Party , commonly referred to as the Nazi Party). He was Chancellor of Germany from 1933 to 1945, and head of state from 1934 to 1945...

 saw it as only a helpful tool to support the Heer
German Army
The German Army is the land component of the armed forces of the Federal Republic of Germany. Following the disbanding of the Wehrmacht after World War II, it was re-established in 1955 as the Bundesheer, part of the newly formed West German Bundeswehr along with the Navy and the Air Force...

, the German army. The Allied powers
Allies of World War II
The Allies of World War II were the countries that opposed the Axis powers during the Second World War . Former Axis states contributing to the Allied victory are not considered Allied states...

, however, saw it as being a more important part of warfare, specifically long-range strategic bombing
Strategic bombing
Strategic bombing is a military strategy used in a total war with the goal of defeating an enemy nation-state by destroying its economic ability and public will to wage war rather than destroying its land or naval forces...

 which they thought could cripple Germany's industrial centers.

After the Battle of France
Battle of France
In the Second World War, the Battle of France was the German invasion of France and the Low Countries, beginning on 10 May 1940, which ended the Phoney War. The battle consisted of two main operations. In the first, Fall Gelb , German armoured units pushed through the Ardennes, to cut off and...

, the Luftwaffe
Luftwaffe
Luftwaffe is a generic German term for an air force. It is also the official name for two of the four historic German air forces, the Wehrmacht air arm founded in 1935 and disbanded in 1946; and the current Bundeswehr air arm founded in 1956....

 achieved air supremacy over Western Europe
Western Europe
Western Europe is a loose term for the collection of countries in the western most region of the European continents, though this definition is context-dependent and carries cultural and political connotations. One definition describes Western Europe as a geographic entity—the region lying in the...

. The Battle of Britain
Battle of Britain
The Battle of Britain is the name given to the World War II air campaign waged by the German Air Force against the United Kingdom during the summer and autumn of 1940...

 represented a concerted attempt by Germany to establish air superiority over Britain, which it never achieved. Through home-territory advantage and Germany's failure to push home its strategy targeting Britain's air defences, Britain was able to establish air superiority over that territory - superiority that it never lost. It also denied the German military air superiority over the English Channel
English Channel
The English Channel , often referred to simply as the Channel, is an arm of the Atlantic Ocean that separates southern England from northern France, and joins the North Sea to the Atlantic. It is about long and varies in width from at its widest to in the Strait of Dover...

, making a seaborne invasion (planned as Operation Sea Lion) impossible in the face of Britain's naval power. Strategically, the overall situation at home and abroad at the end of the battle might be considered air parity between Britain and Germany. After this air battle, known as the Battle of Britain
Battle of Britain
The Battle of Britain is the name given to the World War II air campaign waged by the German Air Force against the United Kingdom during the summer and autumn of 1940...

, the Germans switched to a strategy of night bombing raids which Britain echoed with raids over Germany.

During Operation Barbarossa
Operation Barbarossa
Operation Barbarossa was the code name for Germany's invasion of the Soviet Union during World War II that began on 22 June 1941. Over 4.5 million troops of the Axis powers invaded the USSR along a front., the largest invasion in the history of warfare...

 the Luftwaffe again achieved air supremacy for some time over the Soviet Union
Soviet Union
The Soviet Union , officially the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics , was a constitutionally socialist state that existed in Eurasia between 1922 and 1991....

. As the war dragged on, the USA joined the fight and the combined Allied air forces gained air superiority in the West, eventually gaining air supremacy. Russia did the same on the Eastern front, such that the Luftwaffe could not effectively interfere with Allied land operations. Achieving total air superiority later allowed the Allies to carry out ever-greater strategic bombing
Strategic bombing
Strategic bombing is a military strategy used in a total war with the goal of defeating an enemy nation-state by destroying its economic ability and public will to wage war rather than destroying its land or naval forces...

 raids on Germany's industrial and civilian centers, most notably the Ruhr
Ruhr
The Ruhr is a medium-size river in western Germany , a right tributary of the Rhine.-Description:The source of the Ruhr is near the town of Winterberg in the mountainous Sauerland region, at an elevation of approximately 2,200 feet...

 and Dresden, and to prosecute the land war successfully on both the Eastern and Western fronts.
The element of air superiority has also been the driving force behind the development of aircraft carrier
Aircraft carrier
An aircraft carrier is a warship designed with a primary mission of deploying and recovering aircraft, acting as a seagoing airbase. Aircraft carriers thus allow a naval force to project air power worldwide without having to depend on local bases for staging aircraft operations...

s, which allow aircraft to operate in the absences of designated airbases. For example, the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor
Attack on Pearl Harbor
The attack on Pearl Harbor was a surprise military strike conducted by the Imperial Japanese Navy against the United States naval base at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, on the morning of December 7, 1941...

 was carried out by aircraft operating from Japanese aircraft carriers thousands of miles away from the nearest Japanese air base.

Some fighter aircraft
Fighter aircraft
A fighter aircraft is a military aircraft designed primarily for air-to-air combat with other aircraft, as opposed to a bomber, which is designed primarily to attack ground targets...

 specialized in combating other fighters, while interceptors were originally designed to counter bombers. The most important air superiority fighters of Germany were the Bf-109 and FW-190, while the Supermarine Spitfire
Supermarine Spitfire
The Supermarine Spitfire is a British single-seat fighter aircraft that was used by the Royal Air Force and many other Allied countries throughout the Second World War. The Spitfire continued to be used as a front line fighter and in secondary roles into the 1950s...

 and Hawker Hurricane
Hawker Hurricane
The Hawker Hurricane is a British single-seat fighter aircraft that was designed and predominantly built by Hawker Aircraft Ltd for the Royal Air Force...

 were the primary ones on the British side. Performance and range made the P-51 Mustang the outstanding escort fighter which permitted American bombers to operate over Germany during daylight hours, shooting down 5,954 aircraft, the most of any American fighter. The A6M Zero
A6M Zero
The Mitsubishi A6M Zero was a long-range fighter aircraft operated by the Imperial Japanese Navy Air Service from 1940 to 1945. The A6M was designated as the , and also designated as the Mitsubishi A6M Rei-sen and Mitsubishi Navy 12-shi Carrier Fighter. The A6M was usually referred to by the...

 gave Japan air superiority for much of the early days of the war, but suffered against newer naval fighters such as the F6F Hellcat
F6F Hellcat
The Grumman F6F Hellcat was a carrier-based fighter aircraft developed to replace the earlier F4F Wildcat in United States Navy service. Although the F6F resembled the Wildcat, it was a completely new design powered by a 2,000 hp Pratt & Whitney R-2800. Some tagged it as the "Wildcat's big...

 and F4U Corsair
F4U Corsair
The Vought F4U Corsair was a carrier-capable fighter aircraft that saw service primarily in World War II and the Korean War. Demand for the aircraft soon overwhelmed Vought's manufacturing capability, resulting in production by Goodyear and Brewster: Goodyear-built Corsairs were designated FG and...

 which exceeded the Zero in performance and durability. The Hellcat shot down the second highest number of enemy aircraft, 5,168 while the land-based Lockheed P-38 was third, shooting down 3,785 in all theaters.

Korean and Vietnam Wars



In the Korean War
Korean War
The Korean War was a conventional war between South Korea, supported by the United Nations, and North Korea, supported by the People's Republic of China , with military material aid from the Soviet Union...

, the swept-wing jet-powered MiG-15 soon outclassed initial superiority of United Nations forces. The United States introduced its own swept-wing F-86 Sabre which claimed kill ratios as high as 10 to 1 against the MiGs.

In the 1950s, the United States Navy tasked the F-8 Crusader
F-8 Crusader
The Vought F-8 Crusader was a single-engine, supersonic, carrier-based air superiority jet aircraft built by Vought for the United States Navy and the U.S. Marine Corps, replacing the Vought F7U Cutlass...

 as their close-in air superiority fighter, though this role would be taken over by the F-4 Phantom, designed as an interceptor. The USAF had developed the F-100 and F-104 as air superiority fighters, but these did not have the range or performance to counter the MiG threat encountered over Vietnam
Vietnam War
The Vietnam War was a Cold War-era military conflict that occurred in Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia from 1 November 1955 to the fall of Saigon on 30 April 1975. This war followed the First Indochina War and was fought between North Vietnam, supported by its communist allies, and the government of...

. In the Falklands conflict, the British Harrier jet was employed as an air superiority fighter against Mach 2-capable Dassault Mirage jets.

In the 1960s, the limited agility of American fighters in dogfights over Vietnam led to a revival of the concept of the dedicated Air superiority fighter
Air superiority fighter
An air superiority fighter is a type of fighter aircraft intended to gain air superiority in a war, by entering and seizing control of enemy airspace. Air superiority fighters are designed to effectively engage enemy fighters, more than other types of aircraft...

 which led the development of the "Teen Series" F-14, F-15
F-15 Eagle
The McDonnell Douglas F-15 Eagle is a twin-engine, all-weather tactical fighter designed by McDonnell Douglas to gain and maintain air superiority in aerial combat. It is considered among the most successful modern fighters with over 100 aerial combat victories with no losses in dogfights...

, F-16 and F/A-18. All made close-combat maneuverability a top priority, and were equipped with guns which had been absent from early Phantoms. The heavy F-14 and F-15
F-15 Eagle
The McDonnell Douglas F-15 Eagle is a twin-engine, all-weather tactical fighter designed by McDonnell Douglas to gain and maintain air superiority in aerial combat. It is considered among the most successful modern fighters with over 100 aerial combat victories with no losses in dogfights...

 were assigned the primary air superiority mission because of their longer range radars and capability to carry more missiles of longer range than the lightweight fighters.

1980s to present



In the 1980s, the United States opted for a newer fighter capable of gaining air superiority without being detected by the opposing force. The ATF
Advanced Tactical Fighter
The Advanced Tactical Fighter was a demonstration and validation program undertaken by the United States Air Force to develop a next-generation air superiority fighter to counter emerging worldwide threats, including Soviet Sukhoi Su-27 and Mikoyan MiG-29 fighters under development in the 1980s...

 was held in order for the United States Air Force to receive new aircraft to replace their aging F-15
F-15 Eagle
The McDonnell Douglas F-15 Eagle is a twin-engine, all-weather tactical fighter designed by McDonnell Douglas to gain and maintain air superiority in aerial combat. It is considered among the most successful modern fighters with over 100 aerial combat victories with no losses in dogfights...

 fleet. The YF-23 and the YF-22
YF-22
The Lockheed/Boeing/General Dynamics YF-22 was a single-seat, twin-engined prototype fighter aircraft designed for the United States Air Force . The YF-22 was a finalist in the USAF's Advanced Tactical Fighter competition; two prototypes were built. The YF-22 won the contest against the Northrop...

 were chosen as the finalists for the competition. The F-22 was the subsequent result of the program and has been dubbed the "fifth generation" of fighter aircraft.

In the Gulf War
Gulf War
The Persian Gulf War , commonly referred to as simply the Gulf War, was a war waged by a U.N.-authorized coalition force from 34 nations led by the United States, against Iraq in response to Iraq's invasion and annexation of Kuwait.The war is also known under other names, such as the First Gulf...

, the Iraqi Air Force
Iraqi Air Force
The Iraqi Air Force or IQAF is the military branch in Iraq responsible for the policing of international borders, surveillance of national assets and aerial operations...

 was almost completely obliterated in the opening stages, losing most of its aircraft and command and control capability, to precise Coalition strikes as well as to Iraqi troop desertion to Iran. Meanwhile, the Iraqis shot down relatively small numbers of opposing American aircraft.

Methods


Although the destruction of enemy aircraft in air to air combat is the most glamorous aspect of air superiority this has not been, and is not, the only method of obtaining air superiority. Historically by far the most effective method of gaining air superiority is by the destruction of enemy aircraft on the ground and the destruction of the means and infrastructure by which an enemy may mount air operations, e.g. through the destruction of fuel supplies, the destruction of runways and the sowing of air-fields with area denial weapons. A historical example of this is Operation Focus in which the outnumbered Israeli Air Force dealt a crippling blow to the Egyptian, Jordanian, and Syrian Air Forces.

This disruption can be carried out through both ground and air attack. During the Cold War
Cold War
The Cold War was the continuing state from roughly 1946 to 1991 of political conflict, military tension, proxy wars, and economic competition between the Communist World—primarily the Soviet Union and its satellite states and allies—and the powers of the Western world, primarily the United States...

 for example, the Soviet Union claimed that it could achieve air superiority despite the inferiority of its fighters by over running NATO air-fields and parking their tanks on the runways. The Soviet Union also planned to use its Spetsnaz
Spetsnaz
Spetsnaz, Specnaz tr: Voyska specialnogo naznacheniya; ) is an umbrella term for any special forces in Russian, literally "force of special purpose"...

 special forces in attacks against NATO airfields in the event of conflict.

Attack by special forces is seen by some commanders as one way to level the playing field when faced by superior numbers or technology; attacking German aircraft and airfields was the main role for which the British Special Air Service
Special Air Service
Special Air Service or SAS is a corps of the British Army constituted on 31 May 1950. They are part of the United Kingdom Special Forces and have served as a model for the special forces of many other countries all over the world...

 were formed, a role it repeated in the Falklands conflict during the Raid on Pebble Island
Raid on Pebble Island
The Raid on Pebble Island took place on 14-15 May 1982 during the Falklands War. Pebble Island is part of the Falkland Islands.-Background:Immediately after the Argentines had seized the Falkland Islands they established a small airbase on Pebble Island using the local airstrip on which were based...

. Given the disparity in effectiveness between their own fighters and the South Korean and US fighters they would face, North Korea maintains a large force of infiltration troops, who in the event of a war with the south would be tasked with attacking coalition air fields with mortar, machine gun and sniper fire.

To protect against conventional and unconventional ground attack, most air forces will train airmen in infantry skills. In smaller air forces these may be airmen who receive infantry training in addition to other tasks or airmen who belong to units such as the RAF Regiment
RAF Regiment
The Royal Air Force Regiment is a specialist airfield defence corps founded by Royal Warrant in 1942. After a 32 week trainee gunner course, its members are trained and equipped to prevent a successful enemy attack in the first instance; minimise the damage caused by a successful attack; and...

 and United States Air Force Security Forces whose main task is the protection air fields and of aircraft on the ground.

See also

  • Air superiority fighter
    Air superiority fighter
    An air superiority fighter is a type of fighter aircraft intended to gain air superiority in a war, by entering and seizing control of enemy airspace. Air superiority fighters are designed to effectively engage enemy fighters, more than other types of aircraft...

  • SEAD
    SEAD
    Suppression of Enemy Air Defenses , also known as "Wild Weasel" and "Iron Hand" operations in the United States, are military actions to suppress enemy surface-based air defenses , primarily in the first hours of an attack.One fourth of American combat sorties in recent conflicts have been SEAD...

    , "Suppression of Enemy Air Defenses"
  • Offensive counter air
    Offensive counter air
    Offensive Counter-Air is a military term for the suppression of an enemy's military air power by destroying or disabling the aircraft—preferably on the ground. This includes disablement achieved by damaging the infrastructure or logistics.Operations include attacks on air bases...

  • Command of the sea
    Command of the sea
    A naval force has command of the sea when it is so strong that its rivals cannot attack it directly. Also called sea control, this dominance may apply to its surrounding waters or may extend far into the oceans, meaning the country has a blue-water navy...

  • No-fly zone
    No-fly zone
    A no-fly zone is a territory or an area over which aircraft are not permitted to fly. Such zones are usually set up in a military context, somewhat like a demilitarized zone in the sky, and usually prohibit military aircraft of a belligerent nation from operating in the region.-Iraq,...

  • Battleplan
    Battleplan
    Battleplan is a military television documentary series examing various military strategies used in modern warfare since World War I. It is shown on the Military Channel in the U.S. and UKTV History...

    (documentary TV series)
  • Operation Focus
    Operation Focus
    Operation Focus was the opening airstrike by Israel at the start of the Six-Day War in 1967. It is sometimes referred to as "Sinai Air Strike" since the focus was primarily on airfields around the Sinai Peninsula. At 07:45 on June 5, 1967, the Israeli Air Force under Maj. Gen...


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