Air Supremacy

Aviation, Air Forces, The High Frontier
Flattop
Joined: 17 Nov 2008, 18:31

27 Apr 2017, 01:35 #1

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China launched its second aircraft carrier recently -- the first built domestically by China -- the latest example of how that nation is seeking to challenge America on the question of air supremacy.  This reminded me of a discussion a while back on that issue.  Air supremacy is not about relative numbers -- aircraft inventories or expenditures.  Rather, air supremacy is the ability to control the air.  China is clearly seeking to achieve local control over the South China Sea in the event of a conflict with the United States.
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Air supremacy is a position in war where a side holds complete control of air warfare and air power over opposing forces. It is defined by NATO and the United States Department of Defense as the "degree of air superiority wherein the opposing air force is incapable of effective interference."
There are three levels of control of the air:
  • Air supremacy is the highest level, where a side holds complete control of the skies.
  • Air superiority is the second level, where a side is in a more favorable position than the opponent. It is defined in the NATO glossary as the "degree of dominance in [an] air battle ... that permits the conduct of operations by [one side] and its related land, sea and air forces at a given time and place without prohibitive interference by opposing air forces."[2]
  • Air parity is the lowest level of control, where a side only holds control of skies above friendly troop positions.
The degree of a force's air control is a zero-sum game with its opponent's; increasing control by one corresponds to decreasing control by the other. Air forces unable to contest for air superiority or air parity can strive for air denial, where they maintain an operations level conceding air superiority to the other side, but preventing it from achieving air supremacy.
Air power has increasingly become a powerful element of military campaigns; military planners view having an environment of at least air superiority as a necessity. Air supremacy allows increased bombing efforts, tactical air support for ground forces, paratroop assaults, airdrops and simple cargo plane transfers, which can move ground forces and supplies. Air power is a function of the degree of air superiority and numbers or types of aircraft, but it represents a situation that defies black-and-white characterization. NATO forces in air superiority over Kosovo lost a stealth strike aircraft to an "obsolete" Serbian air defense system.
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Air_supremacy
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Air superiority is a necessity. Since the German attack on Poland in
1939, no country has won a war in the face of enemy air superiority, no
major offensive has succeeded against an opponent who controlled the
air, and no defense has sustained itself against an enemy who had air
superiority. Conversely, no state has lost a war while it maintained air
superiority, and attainment of air superiority consistently has been a
prelude to military victory. It is vital that national and theater
commanders, their air component commanders, and their surface component
commanders be aware of these historical facts, and plan accordingly.6

To be superior in the air, to have air superiority, means having
sufficient control of the air to make air attacks on the enemy without
serious opposition and, on the other hand, to be free from the danger of
serious enemy air incursions. Of course, variations exist within the
category of air superiority.

http://www.au.af.mil/au/awc/awcgate/warden/wrdchp01.htm
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Air superiority is the single most important factor in deciding the outcome of a modern conventional war.  Military operations on land, sea, or in the air are extremely difficult, if not impossible, for the side that doesn’t control the sky. In the words of Field Marshal Bernard L. Montgomery, “If we lose the war in the air, welose the war and we lose it quickly.”
There’s a difference between air superiority and air supremacy, terms often used synonymously. Air superiority is defined as being able to conduct air operations “without prohibitive interference by the opposing force.” Air supremacy goes further, wherein the opposing air force is incapable of effective interference.
Gaining air superiority isn’t an end in itself. It’s a means to an end: to damage, destroy, or otherwise affect an enemy’s centers of gravity, whatever they may be.
Air superiority must be a commander’s top priority,however.  If surplus airpower is available, it can be allotted to other air campaigns. Such “parallel operations” are unique to airpower and are one of its greatest strengths.
www.airforcemag.com/MagazineArchive/... ... remacy.pdf
Last edited by Flattop on 27 Apr 2017, 01:39, edited 1 time in total.
"It'd be nice to please everyone but I thought it would be more interesting to have a point of view."
-- Oscar Levant
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Flattop
Joined: 17 Nov 2008, 18:31

27 Apr 2017, 01:36 #2

American air supremacy is in a bear market of long-term decline with no end in sight. The RAND Corporation recently determined: “continuous improvements to Chinese air capabilities make it increasingly difficult for the United States to achieve air superiority within a politically and operationally effective time frame. . . .” These improvements are part of the reason the Center for Strategic and International Studies considers that: “ at the current rate of U.S. capability development, the balance of military power in the [Asia-Pacific] region is shifting against the United States.”
Worse, with Russia resurgent, American air supremacy is also declining in Europe. General Frank Gorenc, USAFE Commander notes:
    "The advantage that we had from the air, I can honestly say, is shrinking. . . . This is not just a Pacific problem. It’s as significant in Europe as it is anywhere else on the planet . . . . I don't think it's controversial to say they've closed the gap in capability."
America’s current air supremacy rests on the F-15 fighter fleet complemented by small numbers of F-22s. The elderly F-15s are though having problems handling the latest, new-build Russian and Chinese fighters. In assessing performance against the Russian Su-35 fighter (now being acquired by China), the National Interest’s Dave Majumdar observes: “Overall, if all things were equal, even a fully upgraded F-15C with the latest AESA upgrades would have its hands full . . . .”
Does air supremacy matter? Air supremacy will not win a war but it will stop a war being lost. America has not won a war without air supremacy—a point that has been widely recognised. It’s no surprise that China sees air superiority as one of the key “Three Superiorities” that can decide a conflict’s outcome. Nor is it a surprise that a major part of Russia’s force modernisation is fighter development and procurement.
http://nationalinterest.org/blog/the-bu ... fast-15458
"It'd be nice to please everyone but I thought it would be more interesting to have a point of view."
-- Oscar Levant
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blackirishkarma
Joined: 09 Aug 2013, 03:20

28 Apr 2017, 14:52 #3

There are three levels of control of the air:
  • Air supremacy is the highest level, where a side holds complete control of the skies.
  • Air superiority is the second level, where a side is in a more favorable position than the opponent. It is defined in the NATO glossary as the "degree of dominance in [an] air battle ... that permits the conduct of operations by [one side] and its related land, sea and air forces at a given time and place without prohibitive interference by opposing air forces."[2]
  • Air parity is the lowest level of control, where a side only holds control of skies above friendly troop positions.
Interesting concepts. I would suggest that there is quite a bit of subterfuge in some of these articles and in the political and military spending discussions they bring about. To be clear, Air Supremacy doesn't exist until we remove the other side's air capability so it isn't "in long term decline" unless we mark that decline from the last time we eliminated one of our opponents ability to launch any sort of air strike AND their ability to shoot down our planes with conventional weaponry. This plainly makes the RAND statement about a bear market ludicrous on its face. 

Our ability to maintain Air Superiority will always depend on our success DURING a conflict as all major military powers in the world presently have air combat capabilities. We will never have Air Superiority or Air Supremacy at the outset of a conflict with any nation that has an air combat capability. Air Supremacy can only come about after we eliminate our opponents ability to launch air strikes AND threaten our air power with conventional ground based weapons. Air Superiority can only come about after we are able to minimize our opponents ability to affect our air capabilities during the conflict. It isn't feasible to suppose that we will ever have it previous to the conflict starting with any nation that has an air warfare capability at the time a conflict starts. 

I would also add that WWII, Korea, and Viet Nam were all examples of conflicts wherein the vast majority of the conflict was spent in an Air Parity situation. It seems to me that is where all such conflicts between major powers from this point forward will start. 

 
Last edited by blackirishkarma on 28 Apr 2017, 14:56, edited 1 time in total.
The increase of misery in the present state of society is parallel and equal to the increase of wealth..... Unknown member of Parliament 1840's
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