Control of the Air

Foremost among the air power roles, control of the air encompasses offensive and defensive activity, the balance between the two being determined by the prevailing situation.

This control translates into the ability to act at will, which the experience of the West's armed forces tells us is usually decisive.

The importance of controlling the air has resulted in enormous investment in offensive and defensive systems by first world and emerging nations in the period since the outbreak of World War 2. In a contemporary context, the London 2012 Olympics highlighted another dimension to control of the air, which is equally necessary, but allows a different kind of freedom of action.

For the West, the Cold War sharpened the focus on controlling the air, particularly by exploiting technology, in order to mitigate the numerical superiority of the Warsaw Pact’s ground forces.

The 1991 Gulf War highlighted what could be achieved, to the point where Iraqi forces, both air and ground, were completely immobilised and Coalition forces could act at will. The ground action that finished the Iraqi forces occupying Kuwait, occurred at such a pace that it is difficult to imagine it being done more quickly or with so few friendly casualties.

With the recent 30th anniversary year of the Falklands War, we are also reminded of the price to be paid for not having control of the air; during that conflict the UK suffered seven ships sunk and ten seriously damaged. This and other recent experiences mean that the very idea of Western countries engaging in conflict, other than for national survival, without a high degree of control of the air, is almost inconceivable.

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