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Fighter Aircraft

Air Force doctrine states that the attainment of air superiority is normally one of the first and most important U.S. military goals in a conflict. Without the attainment of air superiority, achieving success in a military campaign is more difficult. Air superiority is the degree of dominance one force possesses over another in the air, governing the extent to which air, ground, and sea forces can achieve campaign objectives.

The Joint Chiefs of Staff, in its assessment of U.S. air superiority capability, divides it into five distinct missions. Two missions involve offensive air superiority operations to defeat enemy fighter aircraft and surface-to-air defenses within enemy territory, and three involve defensive air superiority to protect friendly territory against enemy aircraft, cruise missiles, and theater ballistic missiles.

Control of the atmosphere is achieved by counterair missions, including air-to-air operations by fighter aircraft. Missions that take the initiative to destroy the enemy's ability to operate in the air by attacking systems (or their support systems) designed to operate in the atmosphere are called offensive counterair (OCA). Similarly, defensive counterair (DCA) missions protect against attack from enemy systems that operate in the atmosphere. Strategic air defense is the subset of DCA that defends the homeland from attack by systems operating in the air.

Air control normally is a commander's first campaign priority. Control makes it possible to perform force enhancement missions, especially reconnaissance and surveillance, without unacceptable interference while simultaneously denying the enemy the same opportunity. Control makes possible the air force application role while making it more difficult for enemy air forces to apply firepower against friendly surface forces. Air air control permits friendly surface forces to operate more effectively and denies that advantage to the enemy. The degree of air control is increased by increasing enemy losses to the point the enemy is unable or unwilling to conduct air operations.

Although attacking the enemy in the air may not always be as efficient as other offensive operations, it does offer the opportunity to destroy both enemy platforms and their crews. The extensive time and resources required to produce welltrained crews may make their loss far more important than the loss of aircraft. In addition, loss of personnel is likely to degrade the morale and tactics of surviving crews, allowing this approach to have an effect well beyond the physical destruction it achieves.

And while air superiority missions have many components, and many types of equipment are involved, the acquisition of U.S. fighter aircraft with the capability to defeat enemy fighters and other aircraft is expected to consume about 47 percent of the resources planned for air superiority missions. The Air Force, the Navy, and the Marines all have capabilities to defeat enemy fighters and other aircraft as a part of offensive and defensive air superiority missions using aircraft equipped with air-to-air missiles and guns.

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