The Developing Fight for Tactical Air Control
28 Mar 19
Original source – War on the Rocks
A new echelon in the contest for air control has emerged from the maturation and proliferation of affordable small unmanned aerial systems. In 2017, the self-proclaimed Islamic State and forces supported by the U.S. military fought one of the first battles for tactical air supremacy, a contest between sub-$1,000 commercial drones, jerry-rigged jammers, and small arms. While the Islamic State held air superiority below 2,000 feet, the United States and its allies maintained air supremacy above. In Ukraine, Russian separatists and Ukrainian soldiers are fighting a similar contest for tactical air control, but with more sophistication. Russian and Ukrainian innovators, not Americans, have developed a variety of small unmanned aerial systems capable of electronic warfare and strike missions and are pioneering tactics for their use.
Traditionally, the terms air control, air superiority, and air supremacy have applied to the entire air space, but no longer. The emergence of increasingly capable and affordable small-unmanned aerial systems has begun to democratize access to the air domain and create two echelons of air control: one tactical, one operational. This development offers enormous opportunity to actors unable to contest control of the air space against military powerhouses like the United States, NATO, China, or Russia. Equally, it provides a pathway for modern militaries to increase the supply of airpower assets and efficiently distribute their support to ground and sea forces. For the United States to continue its near-perfect record of achieving air supremacy, the U.S. Department of Defense should do more than invest in counter-unmanned aerial systems technology. It needs to doctrinally define this new level of air control and task a military service, or services, with dominating it in future conflicts. READ MORE.