Commonly you’ll see people comment on Firestarter videos or other experienced gameplay that the players use alarmingly little AA. The reason for this is ASF.
Initially I presented radar AA as the antiplane AA, counterpart of IR which deals with helos. But then SEAD entered the picture – when radar can’t even shoot at bomber trains escorted by SEAD, can it really be the final solution to planes? On the other hand, sticking with IR has its own problems – without very good positioning it usually won’t even be able to graze defensive bombers. And neither can actually prevent an airstrike; they’ll kill the bomber during its evac, sure, but that’s little consolation if you lose a superheavy to a 100pt AT plane.
So how do air superiority fighters compare to the ground options? They have the following advantages:
- ASF is the best AA type at preventing airstrikes altogether. The strategic advantage gained in stopping a big push by eliminating key elements is sometimes worth throwing away a bomber for. The best way to ensure this doesn’t happen to your own pushes is to use ASF to kill the bomber before it hits you.
- Air superiority fighters offer the best air detection in the game. With no AA, you’ll only see the bombers as they evac after performing their attack. With ground AA, you’ll see them as they start getting in range to perform their attack. With ASF, you’ll see them half a map away and have much more time to react. ASF also counters the otherwise invisible nighthawk.
- ASF are the most cost-effective way of covering the entire map. For 120 points you can put one weak AA piece on each of three fronts, or you can get a Mirage that will cover the entire map for you. This makes them especially good on games with normal to low point density. Even with just two fronts, an ASF has a kill chance that you will need multiple radar pieces to equal.
- You won’t get your ASF picked off by mortars, stunned by MLRS or suppressed by SEAD. Your ASF won’t get stuck behind the push because of terrain or enemy ATGM.
That said, ASF also has the following weaknesses:
- ASF is far more vulnerable than ground-based AA. When you buy a mistral, chances are it will survive most of the game. When you buy a Mirage, its survival is not as certain.
- ASF is far more micro-intensive than ground-based AA. Ground AA needs to be kept near the front and, if radar, turned on as enemy planes are spotted. ASF needs to be kept track of (Do you have an available fighter or is it rearming? Can you afford a fighter? How many fighters does the enemy have?), called preemptively, and microed in a way that doesn’t get it killed by enemy AA.
- Enemy ASF can contest your attempts at gaining air superiority.
- Although ASF can charge and kill individual helos in desperation, IR AA is necessary to provide consistent defense against those.
So in conclusion: ASF is the most effective way of fighting enemy bombers, but it requires far more micro than conventional AA and is quite fragile. The part that’s relevant to pushing is what I want to stress most – if you’re attacking and your superheavy has to spend more than a moment in the open, you must make sure to have ASF circling nearby as that is the only way to protect your tank from AT planes.