The fighter exists to create and maintain air superiority so that friendly forces may go about their business without having to worry about being bombed and strafed by enemy air – and so that friendly ground troops may have close air support to back them up when the going gets tough.
In the large and relatively sparsely populated WWIIOL:BE gameworld air superiority is a fleeting state, and air supremacy is hardly ever achieved: there are seldom enough pilots around to perform all of the necessary missions, and enterprising enemy pilots usually manage to find a way through even the most tightly knit aerial cordons.
Air superiority, in game terms, is normally a local issue with one side outnumbering and out-performing the other, usually low and in close vicinity to the ground attack objective. Only when local air superiority has been won does the run-of-the-mill WWIIOL:BE fighter pilot seek to establish a more lasting effect by extending his reach to the closest or most active enemy airfield – though most pilots prefer to stick around and strafe if the opportunity arises rather than concentrate on creating a more lasting state of air superiority.
Since local air superiority is generally neither here nor there, because people die in droves, run out of ammunition and occasionally return to base, the battle over the contested town normally assumes a see-saw character with neither side managing to maintain a constant grip on the situation.
Be that as it may, and be that so because pilots likes to fly alone and where they bloody well please, here are the typical missions, or combination of missions, that you will fly – whether you are aware of it or not.
The aircraft carry a variety of weapons, so it is good to be familiar with what they carry and how much.
The Fighter Sweep is a free-ranging foray deep into enemy territory with the objective of finding, deflecting and preferably destroying enemy air assets before they can make themselves useful in the frontline or against friendly bombers on strategic missions.
- Fighter sweeps are per definition conducted by fighters in formation whereas a lone fighter on the same kind of mission would rather be said to conduct a Reconnaissance or a single Patrol.
- The fighter sweep should ideally fight a mobile combat, i.e. avoid bogging down in lengthy and largely static free-for-all “furballs” but employ drag-and-bag tactics instead, and strive to keep moving along a predetermined track or in a designated sector. This is far from the norm however, as most fighter sweeps you will see or partake in are likely to dissolve in general fighting over a ground battle objective or enemy airfield.
Combat Air Patrol
Combat Air Patrol (CAP) is similar in nature to the Fighter Sweep though usually more tightly centered on a ground battle objective.
As a rule, the CAP fighter should only engage enemy air assets and refrain from getting involved with Close Air Support, and ideally seek to engage the enemy well before they can influence the situation at the ground target proper. Therefore the wise CAP fighter should patrol along a track or in a box pattern astride the enemy ingress route, with enough distance to the ground target as to allow him to defeat the enemy before he arrives at his target.
The online norm is however to keep a host of friendly aircraft orbiting more or less directly overhead the ground battle, usually at altitudes below 3,000 ft/1 km, a practice that is sub-optimal for a number of reasons:
- Positioned low and close to the objective, the CAP fighter is not only purely defensive but entirely predictable as well.
- Enemy air approaching at virtually any altitude is guaranteed a free first strike and may even disengage before the CAP fighter becomes aware of their presence.
- If enemy air is not a factor, the CAP fighter is sorely tempted to act in the CAS capacity: leaving the field fully open for later arriving enemy air; causing him to suffer loss of position, energy and SA, aside from the very real risk of getting nailed by AA fire.
Barrier Combat Air Patrol
In the interest of establishing and maintaining local or regional air superiority, the well-coordinated fighter force should devote one third of its assets to CAP, one third to CAS, and the last third to Barrier Combat Air Patrol (BARCAP). Thus the entire force gets to fight under optimal circumstances, with as much opposition as they can handle.
BARCAP is an extension of the CAP as discussed above, projected further away from the ground battle and closer to the enemy origin (their airfields and/or rendezvous points). Thus the BARCAP force interdicts the enemy flow well before the opponents have a chance of making themselves felt in the frontline.
The benefits of a coordinated BARCAP effort are numerous:
- The enemy is pinned to an entirely unproductive fight at an entirely inconsequential location
- The BARCAP force chooses when and where to fight
- The BARCAP fighters engages with advantages of position, energy and surprise
- The enemy must divert considerable forces to combat the BARCAP and must thus suffer diminishing returns in his other missions
The main bone of contention is which priority to attach to the BARCAP mission. The online norm is to give CAP and CAS priority because the bulk of players are primarily focused on the ground war. Few pilots realize that BARCAP makes the CAP and CAS effort so much easier and effective, and should indeed precede it. However, since the ground objective and its surfeit of tasty targets is normally closer to the friendly airfield than the flight to the enemy airfield, most pilots opt for the conveniently close fight.
Armed Reconnaissance – Rhubarb
The Armed recon mission has a general “search and destroy” objective in and just beyond the ground frontline and is best flown in the low altitude band from the deck up to 3000 ft (1 km) – sufficiently low to spot ground targets and sufficiently high to escape small caliber AA.
Flying in the weeds (hence the term “Rhubarb”) is a lot of fun, though the amount of fun can easily become overwhelming in the face of stiff enemy opposition. At low altitude a lot of your attention is soaked up by observation and by avoiding unhealthy contact with ground objects, and anyone with a bit of altitude will soon put you on the defensive.
The armed recon mission can be described as a fast low altitude sweep to catch both enemy ground and air units, and is best performed in sufficient strength (4+ fighters) to counteract the disadvantage of being found low and relatively slow.
The primary targets for the armed recon flight are vehicles and guns on resupply or reinforcement missions from divisional HQs to frontline Brigades/Kampfgruppen: your targets will be largely road-bound. In addition low-flying troop transports, and enemy units issuing from Forward Bases in the rear of an occupied town, are worthwhile targets when the operational situation provides the opportunity.
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