Air superiority

[air-suh-peer-ee-awr-i-tee, -or-, -soo-]
Air superiority is the dominance in the air power of one side's air forces over the other side's during a military campaign. 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." One should note that in military speak, air superiority is different from air supremacy.

Air superiority allows greatly increased bombing efforts as well as tactical air support for ground forces. In addition, paratroop assaults and airdrops can move ground forces and supplies.

With mid-air refueling it is possible to keep a number of attack aircraft airborne and on call for ground support. The aircraft can then assist ground forces often within a matter of minutes of being requested.


In the early 1900s, Italian aerial warfare theorist Giulio Douhet wrote in The Command of the Air that future wars would be decided in the skies. By late 1915 the German Luftstreitkräfte had air superiority, making Allied access to vital intelligence derived from continual aerial reconnaissance much more dangerous to acquire. At the beginning of World War II Giulio's ideas were dismissed by some, but as the war continued, it became apparent that his theories on the importance of aircraft were supported once the Allies attained air superiority.

Air power has since become an increasingly powerful element of military campaigns; military planners view having at least an environment of air superiority as a necessity. For example, Britain's successful air defence in the Battle of Britain during World War II denied the German military air superiority in the English Channel, making a seaborne invasion (planned as Operation Sealion) unlikely to succeed. Achieving total air superiority later allowed the Allies to carry out strategic bombing raids on Germany's industrial and civilian centers, most notably the Ruhr and Dresden.

The element of air superiority has also been the driving force behind the development of aircraft carriers, which allow aircraft to operate in the absences of designated airbases. For example, the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor was carried out by aircraft operating from Japanese aircraft carriers miles away from the nearest Japanese air base.

In the Second World War, some fighters became specialized in roles tasked with destroying other fighters, while interceptors were originally designed to counter bombers. The most important air superiority fighters of Germany were the Me-109 and FW-190, while the Supermarine Spitfire was Britain's primary defensive fighter. Performance and range made the P-51 an outstanding escort fighter which permitted American bombers to operate over Germany during daylight hours. The A6M Zero gave Japan air superiority for much of the early days of the war, but suffered against newer naval fighters such as the F6F Hellcat and F4U Corsair which exceeded the Zero in performance and durability.

In the Korean war, 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 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. In the Falklands conflict, the British Harrier was employed as an air superiority fighter against Mach 2 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 which led the development of the teens series F-14, F-15, F-16 and F/A-18. All made close-combat maneuverablility a top priority, and were equipped with guns which had been deleted from early Phantoms. . The heavy F-14 and F-15 were assigned the primary air superiority mission because of their longer range radars and capability to carry more and longer range missiles than the lightweight fighters.

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 was held in order for the United States Air Force to receive new aircraft to replace their aging F-15 fleet. The YF-23 and the YF-22 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. Various nations across the world are now also building "fifth-generation" aircraft in order to compete against the American F-22 Raptor. The most notable is the Russian Sukhoi PAK-FA

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