An air superiority fighter, also spelled air-superiority fighter, is a type of fighter aircraft designed for entering and seizing control of enemy airspace as a means of establishing complete dominance of one side's air forces over the other side's (air supremacy). Air superiority fighters are designed to effectively engage enemy fighters, more than other types of aircraft. They are usually more expensive and procured in smaller numbers than multirole fighters.
During World War II and through the Korean War, fighters were classified by their role: heavy fighter, interceptor, escort fighter, night fighter, and so forth. With the development of guided missiles in the 1950s, design diverged between fighters optimized to fight in the beyond visual range (BVR) regime (interceptors), and fighters optimized to fight in the within visual range (WVR) regime (air superiority fighters). In the United States, the influential proponents of BVR developed fighters with no forward-firing gun, such as the original F-4 Phantom II, as it was thought that they would never need to resort to WVR combat. These aircraft would sacrifice high maneuverability, and instead focus on remaining performance characteristics, as they presumably would never engage in a dogfight with enemy fighters.
Combat experiences during the Vietnam War proved BVR proponents wrong. Owing to restrictive rules of engagement and the failings of 1960s missile and radar technology, air combat often devolved into close-range dogfights, one for which American fighters and pilots were unprepared. The lessons from this conflict spurred a rethinking of design priorities for fighter aircraft, in which the U.S. Navy's TOPGUN and the U.S. Air Force's Red Flag programs, developed specifically to teach pilots the lessons of dogfighting, were created.
In order to maximize their combat effectiveness and strategic usefulness, air superiority fighters usually operate under the control/co-ordination of an Airborne early warning and control (AEW&C) aircraft.
After lessons learned from combat experiences involving modern military air capacity, the U.S. Navy's VFAX/VFX and U.S. Air Force's F-X (Fighter Experimental) reassessed their tactical direction which resulted in the U.S. Navy's F-14 Tomcat and US Air Force's F-15 Eagle. The two designs were built to achieve air superiority and significant consideration was given during the development of both aircraft to allow them to excel at the shorter ranges of fighter combat.