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Aerial supremacy (also known as air superiority) is the degree to which a side in a conflict holds control of air power over opposing forces. There are levels of control of the air in aerial warfare. Control of the air is the aerial equivalent of command of the sea.
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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. 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.
The achievement of aerial supremacy does not guarantee a low loss rate of friendly aircraft, as hostile forces are often able to adopt unconventional tactics or identify weaknesses. For example, NATO forces which held aerial superiority over Kosovo still lost a stealth strike aircraft to a Serbian ground-based air defense system, despite it being considered "obsolete". Several engagements have occurred in asymmetrical conflicts in which relatively poorly-equipped ground forces have been able to achieve aircraft kills despite working against overwhelming aerial supremacy. During both the Iraq War and the War in Afghanistan, insurgents found a greater degree of success in attacking coalition aircraft on the ground than when they were operating above them in the skies.
|Strong forces||Weak forces|
|Aerial supremacy||Aerial incapability|
|Aerial superiority||Aerial denial|
|Aerial parity||Aerial parity|