This article provides advice and strategy for how best to use airpower in the game. For a review of statistics and game mechanics, see the Air combat reference.
Interceptors are squadrons of fast single-seat single-engine aircraft designed to find and shoot down enemy planes. They have highest Air Attack of all air units and their high Air Defence and Air Detection attributes make them natural hunters. They should be present in air forces of all countries but usually don't need to be very numerous. Building vast numbers of Interceptors is advised only if potential enemies are likely to have numerous air forces (Germans, Americans, British, Soviets). If most of fighting will be done against countries with weak air force, heavy investment into Interceptors should be avoided and Industrial Capacity saved for building bombers instead.
Interceptors have relatively low range and use two types of missions. "Air Intercept" makes them launch and attack enemy planes already detected over the territory under their control which is the mission which should be preferred in areas covered with Radar and against enemy bombers attacking a wide front of friendly units. "Air Superiority" is a mission of patrol where Interceptors fly over selected territory, look for targets and engage them. A good use of Air Superiority is to hang a squadron of Interceptors over enemy airfield making them automatically engage all planes taking off from there forcing enemy to fight with heavy stacking penalties when both his bombers and fighters are fighting together. While not hunting enemy planes, Interceptors should be assigned superiority missions over enemy territory to serve as scouts or use their weak Soft Attack to harass enemy troops on the ground.
Rocket Interceptors (R INT)
The main benefit of Rocket Interceptors is their high speed (so they will reach most enemy air wings in time), but they suffer from high fuel costs and a limited range. But because they are so fast they don't need to stay in the air all the time to have air superiority, instead they should be set to intercept, so they would attack any spotted plane. Good radar reconnaissance makes this even more effective. Since the planes are only in air when actually engaging enemy planes, this will actually save you fuel, compared to standard Interceptors.
Multi-Roles are an interesting variant of Interceptors, also single-seat, single-engine but with 20% longer range and better ground attack values allowing them to serve fighter-bomber purpose better. They have around 60% of Air Attack of Interceptor which makes them a less popular choice but they have a few advantages over their smaller and faster brothers. Most of all, they are more durable in air combat so can spend more hours in the air and less on the ground repairing. Also, due to ability to equip twice more light bombs, their Soft and Hard Attack is considerably higher than this of INTs allowing them to help more against enemy ground troops when enemy planes are grounded. Their better range allows for wider area of scouting.
They are best suited for countries that don't expect much enemy resistance in the air and thus want their intercepting planes perform better in other tasks like scouting or bombing. Alternately for countries that are leadership-poor they may serve as replacements for CAS and/or TAC while using fewer techs to keep the hardware up to date.
An interesting use for them is to pair two multi-role wings with two CAS wings. This makes for a good ground attack force that's far more capable of operating in the face of enemy interceptor cover than a CAS-only unit thanks to the good air defence value of the multi-roles. Also, the fact that they share practicals makes it fairly easy for majors like Germany to 'spam' them and have a huge ground attack potential.
Carrier Air Group (CAG)
A mixture of Fighters and Bombers which can be based on a Carrier but also can station in a normal airfield performing its missions from there (hunting Italian convoys from Malta for example). Jack of all trades, master of none. Their main job is "CAG duty" which is serving Carriers as guns with 200 km range in ship to ship combat. They work great when used against naval targets both in port ("Port Strike" mission attacking a Naval Base and the ships docked in it) and at sea ("Naval Strike" and "Convoy Raiding" missions). Their weak (comparable with Interceptor) Soft and Hard Attack means they aren't helping much bombing ground units.
Their good Air Attack and Air Defence would suggest they may be useful hunting enemy planes but they are only good against bombers due to lack of upgrades improving their Morale and Organisation meaning enemy Interceptors and Multi-roles will tear them to pieces.
Building them is advised only for nations who plan building Carriers in the future. Otherwise, other types of planes should be picked. Their high mobility and decent range makes them a great tool to be used where other planes can't help yet, especially helping naval invasions or for enemy navy harassment.
Basic Strategic Attack CAGs are equipped with allows them to attack enemy infrastructure in a way similar to TAC and STR attacks but with much lower efficiency. Very often it's more beneficial to the troops on the ground if CAGs attack enemy supply rather than enemy troops.
To rebase CAG to a Carrier, select your CAG wing and right-click a province your empty Carriers are in (sea province or province with harbor in which they are docked), then select "Rebase to Carrier" mission and wait for CAGs to move there.
Close Air Support (CAS)
Close Air Support are squadrons of short-range single-engine usually diving bombers used to accompany land armies and attack enemies and aid them in combat from close proximity. They are the cheapest sources of Soft and Hard Attack among air units in the game, they also share the same practical with Interceptors, Carrier Air Groups and Multi-Roles, making them a good addition to air forces of nations who can't afford heavier aircraft. They don't have Soft Attack of Tactical Bombers but they are also considerably cheaper allowing their numbers to make up for their lack of firepower. "Ground Attack" is the most often used mission of CAS.
They excel in fighting against tanks, having highest Hard Attack among planes. The only limit for their usage in the game is the number of airports in the area they will be operating on since their extremely low range and speed demands airports to be placed not farther than a few provinces behind the front. Thus they are more suitable for European nations than the rest of the world. While not busy bombing enemy armies, they can be used to hunt passing by convoys from airports close to shipping lanes. Their weak air combat skills mean they need absolute air superiority to be used effectively since even a small number of Interceptors can ground many CAS in no time.
Tactical Bomber (TAC)
Tactical Bombers are twin-engine long-range aircraft which main purpose is attacking enemy armies in a numerous ways smaller planes aren't capable of. Their very high Soft Attack allows them to decimate enemy infantry's organisation with Ground Attack mission and this is the most often employment of this type of planes. TACs can also launch Interdiction missions (attack enemy units on the move to slow them down), Runway Cratering (bombing enemy airports to render them useless for enemy air force), Port Strikes (bombing enemy ports and ships docked in them), Logistical Strikes (attack enemy infrastructure and supply), Strategic Strikes (attack enemy factories and resource mining operations) and Installation Strikes (attack enemy Radars, Nuclear Silos and Rocket Test-sites) making them a much more versatile tool than single-engine planes. Especially useful among those is the Logistical Strike which, if well-aimed at enemy supply depot or main supply route, can immobilise millions of soldiers for months needed to repair damaged depots, roads and bridges. It also can be used to bomb enemy frontline units to make them move from their fortified positions and seek supply behind the front.
Very long range of TAC makes them a natural choice for areas where airports aren't common occurrence and their vastly higher Air Defence allows them to survive combat CAS have no chance of surviving allowing them to get through enemy Interceptors and carry on with their mission. Despite their very high price they are worthy of place in air force of smaller countries, especially in the more remote areas of the world in which case they should be licensed from more modern allies.
Naval Bombers are twin-engine long-range torpedo bombers. The difference between them and TACs is that they sacrifice their Strategic Attack and Ground Attack values to improve on their Sea and Sub Attack values to be able to perform much better against enemy ships. Their main purpose is attacking enemy fleets, hunting enemy convoys and bombing enemy naval bases with ships docked in them. They also perform very well hunting enemy submarines.
Despite "Bomber" in their name, their Soft and Hard Attack values are comparable with those of Interceptor thus making this planes very weak against ground units. Lack of strategic attack capability other than Port Strike and medium range makes Carrier-based CAG a much better choice to bring the fight to enemy naval bases.
Still, land-based NAVs can hunt plenty of convoys and can very successfully harass passing-by enemy fleets so nations controlling many islands with airfields on them should consider constructing at least skeleton force of NAVs but with very low priority for upgrades.
Strategic Bomber (STR)
Strategic Bombers represent four-engine very long-range flying fortress heavy bombers designed to hit enemy where it hurts the most, in his industrial base deep in his hinterland reminding his population there's a war going on. They have only basic values of Soft Attack and Hard Attack making them very weak against land units. They have no Sea attack capability whatsoever. They use their extremely long range (almost twice the TAC range) and their high durability to fly past enemy defences and perform strategic bombings on his installations despite provincial AA attacks. They are mostly associated with Strategic Bombing used to destroy enemy factories and resource depots but they perform as well in missions that require bombing enemy airfields (Runway Cratering), infrastructure and supplies (Logistical Strike) and radars/rocket silos/nuclear reactors (Installation Strike).
Their high price and research tree separate from single-engine and twin-engine trees makes them a very costly tool so only handful of wealthiest nations can afford researching and fielding them. Others should consider licensing and building at least one or two throughout the game to be able to perform Logistical Strikes immobilizing enemy army as well as to hit his industrial base with Strategic Bombing.
Transport Plane (TRA)
Transport Planes are long-range four-engine aircraft with no combat value whatsoever. They have no offensive skills and no defence whatsoever, they are the weakest of all planes. Thus it's best to either not use them close to enemy planes or attach them escort that can defend them in case of an interception. Multi-roles having only slightly smaller range and good defensive values are best for this job.
Transport planes serve two purposes in the game:
- Air supply. With their long range (comparable with TAC's range after upgrades) TRAs are able to supplement normal ground supply routes when they are broken in any way. They can supply cut-off units within enemy territory, they can deliver additional supplies from a nearby depot to invasion forces, they allow player to hand-pick provinces to which supply delivery is prioritized and so on.
- Paratroopers. Transport Plane is the only plane type that can perform para-drops on enemy territory allowing to use Paratrooper elite infantry to wreak havoc behind enemy lines cutting his supply off, digging in in strategically favourable positions and attacking his front from behind along with the push of player's own front infantry.
Even for nations who aren't wealthy enough to perform four-engine research, it's beneficial to license at least one or two squadrons of transport planes along with paratroopers. They will be a priceless asset in the war.
Flying Bomb (V1)
Flying bombs are early cruise missiles. Their rudimentary guidance systems are not accurate enough to strike specific tactical targets, but they can be used to destroy an enemy's industry and infrastructure; as such, they have high Strategic Attack but no other offensive capability. Their high speed and lack of a vulnerable pilot makes them difficult to shoot down; however, they can only be used once.
Flying Rocket (V2)
Flying Rockets, on the other hand, are early ballistic missiles. Although somewhat more expensive than Flying Bombs, they pack a bigger punch, have longer range, and are virtually impossible to intercept.
Selection of air units for your country depends on the following considerations:
- Country's IC and Leadership
- Number of airports in the area where you are planning to fight your wars
- Air power of your future enemies
- Army composition of your future enemies
Minor and medium countries should avoid venturing into twin-engine and four-engine research areas sticking with single-engine group in which they have INT, FTR, CAG and CAS to choose from which allows for building a versatile air force at small cost. To build small number of bigger planes, licenses should be used. To allow more wider usage of CAS, low-level airports should be placed in key locations along with the advancing army.
Major powers, especially those outside of Europe need to field TACs to aid their offensive helping to break enemy in the hardest battle and to perform basic strategic attacks. European superpower due to abundance of airfields in this area can consider going for quantity rather than quality and stick with CAS instead of TAC, especially if a nation with a lot of tanks will be the future enemy. Majors outside of Europe (UK among them) don't have that much choice and should stick with TAC.
Majors with lots of overseas possessions having to fight wars far away from friendly airfields are the only countries who should build Carriers and many CAGs. If a country possesses many airfields along enemy shipping lanes, CAS, land-based CAG and NAV can be used to attack enemy fleets and convoys which is much cheaper and safer than using ships (especially submarines) to do this job. NAV is a very specialized type of a plane and its construction in most cases is better avoided and even if some basic amount of them is built, they shouldn't be a priority for upgrades unless enemy fleets are based in close proximity to friendly airports and strikes there can be performed on regular basis and with low cost (across the Channel for example).
Four-engine research should be performed only by the wealthiest countries. Others should license small amounts of four-engine aircraft from their faction's leader.
Air units are best left to units of one or two wings to avoid overstacking and to increase flexibility. Units should contain air wings that have the same range and mission capabilities. The exceptions are transports and CAS, which you may want to mix with multi-role fighters to save them from enemy fighters. Strategic bombers and TAC should be left on their own. If you need to protect them, send in interceptors and/or multi-role fighters on air superiority missions before sending in the bombers. Putting interceptors with the bombers just makes the bombers try to be interceptors.
There are several reasons not to put fighters in the same exact stack as your bombers.
- If they are merged, and if your stack is engaged in combat, it will stick around to keep fighting. If the bombers are separate, they will carry out their mission and go home while the fighters stay and fight.
- Bombers engaged in combat lose some efficiency in fighting. But if your fighters are tying down the enemy in air combat while the bombers run their own missions uncontested, it is much better.
- Fighters on their own conduct air to air combat better, because they get their air superiority mission bonuses.
- If you run a proper air superiority campaign, your fighters will probably be tying down enemy fighters over their own airfields to prevent them from running any missions at all. Your bombers will probably be busy elsewhere (unless you are bombing airfields, but that won't take more than a day).
Bear in mind that putting fighters on air superiority over the province you intend to bomb is just fine. It will protect the bombers. But don't merge your stacks, and usually you want to bring the fight to enemy fighters and not even give them a chance to reach your bombers.
Every wing beyond the first incurs a significant stacking penalty. Due to this penalty, the most efficient stack size is simply one wing of aircraft (representing 100 fighters). Due to the stacking penalty, you do not want to have super-stacks flying around. The stacking penalty is 10% for every wing above the first one. The most effective stack size though cannot be told beforehand, as the optimum shifts towards higher stack sizes the more bonuses you get from technology, experience and leaders.
Examples: With 0% additional bonuses from tech/experience/leaders, the stack size that packs the most punch is five or six wings, with 30% bonuses it becomes seven wings and with 50% it becomes eight wings. For further details confer Air combat reference.
Since you normally want a compromise between efficiency and effectiveness, you would settle for stack sizes between four and six planes.
Also be aware of the air leader command limits, which are 4/8/12/16. So usually the two lowest ranks are absolutely sufficient, but as soon as two groups operate in the same area and may end in the same air battle one of the two air leaders should be promoted accordingly, if this situation is to occur more often. Higher ranks are nearly useless as there is no reason fo a player to have those huge stacks with those huge penalties.
- TFH update: Stacking penalties cannot reduce efficiency below 20%. The cap limits them to an 80% stacking penalty, which leaves 20% efficiency. If you throw enough planes at the problem (like 20), you can actually overcome the stacking penalty and do respectable damage. There is no longer a 0% efficiency situation with 10 or more planes.
Air Combat Experience
The Air Combat Experience Knowledge Level which is crucial for research of Air Doctrines increases very quickly with air combat. Even one stack engaged in regular combat will be enough to grow and maintain your Air Combat Experience above 20. Knowledge gain comes from number of missions flown regardless of size of force that flown it. So if bombers are split into smaller groups, they will get more Air Combat Experience than if they were merged.
Strategic Bomber Defense
There are two issues here. Firstly there is the IC and resource hit from being bombed. Secondly there is the national unity hit. In most cases you will be Germany defending from the UK and can usually ignore the NU hit. However, if you do take it seriously one of the issues is that just hurting the bombers with a single intercept is no good. You want to hit the bombers lots of times because each time you do you'll get NU + points.
Split all your interceptors into 1 squadron and set each to defend a region on continuous defensive mode. Select your regions in 3 bands. The first band should be just in from the channel coast - Lille/Antwerpen etc. - not on the coast as you'll keep getting hit by British defensive fighters on Aggressive. The second band should be another 2 provinces in and the 3rd band should go over the Ruhr. This approach means that in theory any bomber can be intercepted 6 times though in practice you'll usually hit them 2-3 times. With all the other factors listed below (including heavy stacks at key locations such as Dresden) you can pretty much ignore this part of the war.
As of 1.2 I've seen no sign of massive American bomber fleets but it should work for them too.
- Try using two stacks of 3 set to defend area
- Research doctrines for fighter interception, bomber concentration, ground control
- Research tech to increase fighter attack
- build Radar, higher level the better
- Research the radar efficiently technologies
- build AA in provinces you want to protect
- Research Heavy AA technology
Finding Air Bases
To see all the air bases hidden by units, select the air unit map mode, then zoom outwards. Eventually, you will be able to see the air bases without the units on top of them.
Finding your Air Units
Due to changing circumstances (e.g. an enemy air attack, a successful land battle) Air units may have to be re-tasked to different targets at least once per day, and if you have many units it is hard to keep track of them all. To find the unit, click on the "+" button in the top-right hand corner of the screen and work your way through the list. Click on the icons for land and sea units first (at the top of the list) so they won't be listed. Before clicking on the unit, hover over its name, this will cause a pop-up to appear that will give you some useful information about its location and mission. You can also find all the air units in the statistics screen. Once you have found the unit. look at the unit screen. It lists there the unit's current location (click on it to go there) and its base.
Determining their Missions
If a unit is "resting" or "returning" it may be hard to determine what they are doing. You may have to keep a note of which targets have a full quota of 4-5 air units attacking them, to avoid over-stacking. If the current location and the base of a unit shown on its screen are the same, then it's OK to give it a new mission. Otherwise it may be on its way to/from a target, so click on its location to see what it is up to. A unit that is "resting" may ignore any orders until it recovers enough organisation to be able to attack again or it might be doing that because it is night time and you ordered it not to attack at night (huge penalty). Sometimes a unit can be "resting" and still be over its target, so be careful to check its location.
To see the range of your air unit on the map, select it, then change the map view to air unit mode and then you can see it as a circle around that unit's base. Alternatively, select it, right click the province it is in, in the mission order window select "reserve" as the mission but DO NOT hit accept. The map will change to show you the planes maximum effective range from the airbase it is currently in.
Note that Air map circles only show when you are in your own land. In allied land they don't show and when you are exploiting the reserve mission it doesn't show in enemy territory, either.
You can rebase to anywhere in the world but your air unit will lose 50% of its organisation if it does. However you can rebase planes with the "reserve" mission by right clicking an airbase in range of the reserve mission range and the plane will rebase to the new airfield without taking an org penalty. You can even do this to enemy airfields..