The Air Service consists of classes of helicopters and fixed-wing aircraft. Both types are also found in the various types of Naval aircraft. Naval aircraft are distinguished by their distinctly naval missions - anti-ship attack, anti-submarine (ASW) capabilities, long range patrol and the capability to land on aircraft carriers (ACC).
Helicopters consist of attack, ASW, transport and supply types. Fixed-wing aircraft are represented by the Fighter/Interceptor, Fighters/Bomber, Multi-Role Fighter, Strategic Bomber, UAV, Patrol/AWACS and Transport types.
Some combat Aircraft models are built in variants that specialize in a specific target type. The F-16 Falcon comes in both an Interceptor (A variant) and a ground-attack (C variant).
Aircraft Units are based at air-fields and ACC. Air-fields can contain your aircraft in reserve at reduced maintenance costs. Your helos can refuel and re-supply from any supplied land hex. However your fixed-wing aircraft can only only supply and refuel from your air-fields or those of your allies. Naval aircraft units (NACUs) can refuel and re-supply aboard ACC until the carriers run out of supplies. Your NAC cannot reload missiles from their ACC unless the carrier is steaming within supplied waters.
ACUs are fairly adept at keeping themselves re-fueled since they will usually break off their current mission and automatically fly to the nearest re-fueling point before they run out of fuel.
Because of their high mobility, aircraft do not often need to be transported. However when crossing oceans shorter range fixed-wing and nearly all helos that cannot perform mid-air refueling require transport. Aircraft transport is only possible via aircraft carriers. This can get awkward since ACCs are expensive and each are limited to carrying just a few ACUs (some only one).
NOTE: There is a way to Mod the game to allow aircraft to be carried as cargo. See the SR2020 forum for details.
Unlike land combat units, ACUs cannot capture or hold enemy territory.
ACUs cited in the following text are strongly U.S. Region types due to the fact that these are the ones that I am the most familiar with.
- 1 Special Capabilities
- 2 UAVS
- 3 Tilt Aircraft
- 4 Helicopters
- 5 Fighter/Interceptor
- 6 Fighters/Bomber
- 7 Multi-Role Fighter
- 8 Strategic Bomber
- 9 Patrol/AWACS
- 10 Transport
ACUs may possess specialized capabilities (SCs) that make them suitable for special missions. These SCs are as follows:
Specially equipped aircraft can re-fuel in mid-air. This process is known as in-flight refueling (IFR) or air-to-air refueling (AAR). For helicopters it is called HAR. ACUs that are equipped for IFR display an SC icon that denotes this.
Since helos can land on supplied land hexes and oil-platforms to automatically refuel and supply, it is mostly naval helos that perform HAR.
The best tactic to use for IFR is to have the tanker move to the target destination and then have the client ACU "Escort" the tanker. This may not work for slow-moving aircraft like UAVs and helos, which may not be able to keep up with the tanker.
You can also have the tanker escort the lead plane in a small group, as long as the remaining planes can keep in range of the tanker. IFR ACUs can access fuel from a tanker while one hex away.
I specified a "small" group of client aircraft since prior to Update 6, it was quite possible for a tanker aircraft to off-load too much fuel to its client ACUs, causing the tanker to crash.
You can also station one or more tankers along the route of the client aircraft and have them just circle that hex until the client ACUs pass by.
Some ACUs are labeled as being equipped for Electronic Counter-Measures (ECM), however the game does not actually support this. The same is true for Signals Intelligence (SIGINT) ACUs. The ACUs in question may have excellent spotting and stealth values instead.
Anti-Submarine ACUs are equipped with special sensor equipment such as sonar that allows them to detect and attack enemy submarines. The ASW mission requires an aircraft to fly low and slow across the ocean so only helicopters and certain transport-sized fixed-wing ACUs are designed for the job.
The U.S. S-3B Viking ASW, Russian Su-32FN ASW and the U.S. P-3C Orion III ASW are examples of fixed-wing ASW ACUs. ASW Helos include the U.S. MH-60R Strike Hawk ASW and the U.S. SH-60B/J Seahawk ASW.
However not go to the time and expense of constructing a big dedicated ASW force, because the the enemy submarines in this game are generally inert - they do not patrol but just hang out by their sea-piers.
Long Deck Capable
Long-deck capable denotes a NACU that possesses the SC to land on large aircraft carriers that are equipped with long decks. This is typical of most NACUs except for helos and VTOLs. Aircraft are launched from catapults and are caught while landing by hook beneath the plane that grabs a cable on the deck.
Short Deck Capable
Short-deck ACUs are mainly naval helicopters and VTOL fighter planes that are capable of making short landings and take-offs. SD ACC are smaller and cheaper to build than long-decked CVAs and are attractive to middle-sized Regions that do not have the huge military budgets required to build and deploy CVAs.
LPH and LPD amphibious attack ships are typical short-decked carriers.
Unmanned Air Vehicles (UAVs) are small, cheap remote-piloted ACUs that in SR2020 are classed either as fighter or patrol planes. Another term for UAVs is Low Observable High Altitude Endurance (LOHAE) because of their high stealth and loiter-time.
A high loiter-time over target is accomplished by a relatively short range but a low speed.
Although the Fighter class UAVs are stealthy, their attack values are low due to limits on their payload weight. Patrol UAVs on the other hand are both stealthy and many have exceptional spotting values.
Tilt-rotor aircraft are a variety of Short-Take-Off and Landing (STOL) aircraft. These are propeller-driven ACUs that can tilt their engines and props upwards in order to accomplish helicopter-like take-offs and landings. Once airborne the rotors gradually swivel forward and the aircraft transitions into normal high-speed fixed-wing flight.
Tilt-wings are as useful as transport helos and have greater speed and range.
There are re-configured types for different missions:
- The TL 110 OV-22 Osprey is an example of a tilt-rotor long-range Patrol class ACU. *The TL 101 MV-22 Osprey Transport also has ground-attack abilities.
- The stealthy TL 105 CV-22 Osprey Transport also has ground attack stats.
- The TL 107 V-44 Stork Transport is designed for large cargo loads.
The Attack Helicopter class consists of a variety of rotary-winged aircraft that can take-off and land vertically from any platform. All of the ACUs in this class are armed and include ground attack helos, ASW helicopters and Lifter ACUs. They range from the light .9 ton MD500 Defender helo to the huge 10 ton TL 78 Russian Mi-28 Havoc helicopter.
Helos in general are incredibly versatile, performing ASM, land-attack, transport, supply, patrol and observation missions. SR2020 helos can land, re-fuel and re-supply themselves from any friendly supplied land hex or oil-derrick/platform.
Attack helos have intrinsic ground attack values for performing close air support for land units, suppressing enemy tanks and other armor. However most of the ground attack types have low combat times (2 hours) due to their small size and payload. An exception is the TL 98 AH-64D Apache-Longbow which has a 4-hour CT.
The TL 95 Mi-24 Hind helo and similar types also have a close-air attack mode.
The lower tech-level Attack helos are the most effective as hovering missile-platforms that can deliver missiles in both land and sea attack modes. As their tech-level increases the so does the helo's attack values.
ASW helos detect and kill ocean-going submarines. Most ASW helos also have a strong surface attack stat as well. SR2020 submarines are passive and rarely leave port, so ASW helos are of little use except as surface attack ACUs.
Lifters are large high-tech hover-craft with the altitude and range capabilities of helos. They lack the over-head rotors of helos but instead use multiple fans contained inside their airframes to create powerful down-draft forces. Lifters such as the TL 119 Marietta Lifter are fierce fighters with high soft, hard and close-air values. In addition they have good stealth and long combat times.
Some helos in this class are multi-purpose such as the UH-60A (S-70A) Blackhawk, which has ground attack values and can also transport troops and supplies.
The Fighter/Interceptor class consists of front-line anti-aircraft ACUs that can also accomplish ground and sea-attack roles. Interceptor ACUs intercept and attack enemy aircraft. Interceptors may patrol friendly territory for invading ACUs or they may be assigned as an element of an bombing strike force to protect the bombers and other less well AA armed aircraft.
Interceptor aircraft have high anti-air attributable to their built-in long-range anti-aircraft weapons such as missiles. They also have superior and speed and move-range specs.
Interceptors are mid-air targets, saved from close-air attack, unless they perform ground or surface attacks, so they should not be used in the surface role. Several Interceptor class ACUs such as the Russian Foxbat is capable of high-air attack.
The Fighter/Bomber class of ACUs are primarily ground-attack aircraft. In this role they may utilize built-in attack capabilities, or be armed with discreet bomb and missile units.
While approaching their targets, FB ACUs are mid-air targets, but when they perform their ground-attacks they convert to become close-air targets. What this means is that in nearly all cases you must keep you fighter ACUs out of the target hex.
Why? Two reasons: most all Infantry and Tank units have some close-air attack values. If you fly your F-22A Raptor Unit over a hex with seven garrison units, then each garrison will pop-out and attack your expensive F-22 ACU with an attack value of 6 times 7. That is a close-air attack of 42 against the ACU, which will do serious damage.
Mult-Role aircraft are capable of fulfilling both anti-air and ground-attack missions. However their versatility often costs them in shorter move ranges.
Vertical Take-Off and Landing (VTOL) are fixed-wing jet aircraft that can land and take off without run-ways. They accomplish this by swiveling their jet exhaust nozzles downwards to create an upward thrust on the aircraft. In general VTOL AC can take off and land wherever a helo can, but VTOL are much faster than helos.
In SR2020 they are ACUs that do not require air-fields to land and can be transported aboard short-decked aircraft-carriers (ACC).
They are designed for launch and landing from ACC or from small land bases or improvised camps that lack air-strips. Most are associated with Navy or Marines Corps operations. Most are Fighter/Bombers use for close-air support of land units or to attack naval vessels.
On ACCs Short-Take-Off Vertical Landing (STOVL) ACUs do not require catapults for launch. Instead they launch from a "ski-jump" run-way that places a steep upward-sloped ramp at the end of a short runway or carrier deck. When the STOVL hits the "ski-jump" it is boosted into the air and hopefully into flight.
The British Harrier jet is an example of a VTOL ACU. The real-life F-35B Lightning II is a STOVL ACU.
Although Fighter/Bomber class types such as the F-111F Aardvark are designed to deliver bombs for close-in air support and for precision targets; Strategic Bombers (SBs) are used when you want to drop a ALOT of bombs. While Fighter/Bombers can destroy infantry and tank units and damage structures, SB ACUs can destroy structures and decimate whole hexes when used properly.
SB ACUs have a large intrinsic ground-attack value due to built-in bomb weaponry. But they also make excellent missile platforms since they can carry a lot of discreet missile units as well as bomb units.
Some veteran gamers have been known to fight battles with nothing but stand-off missiles and SB units. SBs do not need to fly directly over a hex in order to attack it with their intrinsic attack, so they can avoid close-air damage from non-AA land units.
They are still vulnerable to regular AA however and so should utilize stand-off missiles when attacking AA or hexes defended by it. AA is disproportionally powerful in SR2020 and must be neutralized or avoided. ACU and especially SBs are expensive and take a long time to repair so they should be used cautiously.
SBs are also vulnerable to attack by enemy Interceptor and fighter ACUs and so should travel with their own Interceptor escorts.
The Patrol/ASWACS class of ACUs are designed for long range patrol and surveillance. Fixed wing (Air mission type) Patrol ACUs include Airborne Early-Warning & Command (AEW&C), Airborne Warning And Control System (AWACS), ASW, Joint Surveillance and Target Attack Radar System (JSTAR) and several tilt-engine types. All have large spotting ranges and some like the TL 141 E-12 Astronomer C3I have an incredible spotting type of 225.
There also Patrol class UAVs and small observation helos.
In RL, AWACS specialize in tracking enemy aircraft and E-8A JSTARS spot and track ground targets. In the game they are just give large spotting values which apply to both air and land spotting.
ASW patrol ACUs have submarine spotting ability as well as surface spotting. Many can actually attack submarines and some surface ships as well.
Several patrol planes such as the OV-10A/C Bronco have ground and air attack values as well as high spotting values.
The Transport class of ACUs consists of large fixed-wing "heavy lifters", large high lift- capacity helicopters, tilt-wing ACUs and Tanker ACUs. Large Transport planes can supply Land Units and ships. They can also transport land units (including small tanks) between air-fields. Transport planes are also good for dropping airborne units like Marines and Special forces on airborne assault missions.
Fixed-wing Transport ACUs are mostly un-armed, however several of the Russian Ilyushin transport have anti-air weaponry. Many of the transport helos however have ground attack abilities and a few can attack close-air targets as well.
The various types of Transports are described below.
Transport helos transport both cargo (supplies) and other units such as "foot-pounder" Units - Marines and Special Forces. Transport helos are versatile because they do not require air-strips and therefore can transport supplies and units between nearly any land hexes.
A land attack tactic known as "Vertical Envelopement" involves rapidly landing foot-units such as Marines into a target enemy hex aboard transport helicopters.
Transport helos are also supply aircraft and are very handy for re-supplying land units that become stranded in remote locations due to lack of supply.
Leaving your helos under DM command is a dodgy business - when the DM answers a call for air-transport from a large number of foot or other units, it will cast a wide net when it summons transport aircraft for the pick-up. Even helos thousands of miles away may be summoned. These distant helicopters can easily run out of fuel and crash while attempting to move to the distant transport site.
On the other hand if your units are confined to a single Region or continent it is very convenient to have the DM run the air-taxi service. The DM is also fairly good at automatically supplying your units via helo and cargo planes.
Air-tankers are flying gasoline stations that can re-fuel specially equipped aircraft in mid-air. ACUs that are equipped as tankers display a SC icon that denoting this. See the previous topic on Mid-Air Refueling.
A tanker can be ordered to "Escort" the lead plane in a small group, as long as the remaining planes can keep in range of the tanker. Client aircraft can access fuel from a tanker while one hex away.
Prior to Update 6, it was quite possible for a tanker aircraft to off-load too much fuel to its client ACUs, causing the tanker to crash. In this case it is necessary to calculate the total amount of fuel that each ACU can hold and assure that there is enough in the tanker to service each client and to fuel itself for the mission. Otherwise you will need to lay on more escort tankers.
As long as the tanker is not mobbed all at once by many ACUs, it will automatically return to base (RTB) when it runs low on fuel, then return to orbit its station.