Combat air patrol

Combat air patrol (CAP) is a type of flying mission for fighter aircraft.

Two F-15 Eagles from the Massachusetts Air National Guard's 102nd Fighter Wing fly a combat air patrol mission over New York City in support of Operation Noble Eagle

A combat air patrol is an aircraft patrol provided over an objective area, over the force protected, over the critical area of a combat zone, or over an air defense area, for the purpose of intercepting and destroying hostile aircraft before they reach their target. Combat air patrols apply to both overland and overwater operations, protecting other aircraft, fixed and mobile sites on land, or ships at sea.

Known by the acronym CAP, it typically entails fighters flying a tactical pattern around or screening a defended target, while looking for incoming attackers. Effective CAP patterns may include aircraft positioned at both high and low altitudes, in order to shorten response times when an attack is detected. Modern CAPs are either GCI or AWACS-controlled to provide maximum early warning for defensive reaction.

The first CAPs were characteristic of aircraft carrier operations, where CAPs were flown to protect a carrier battle group, but the term has become generic to both Air Force and Navy flight operations. Capping operations differ from fighter escorts in that the CAP force is not tied to the group it is protecting, is not limited in altitudes and speeds it flies, and has tactical flexibility to engage a threat. Fighter escorts typically stay with the asset they are supporting and at the speed of the supported group, as a final reactive force against a close threat. When an escort engages, the supported force is left unprotected.


CAP types

RAF Tornado GR4 over Iraq during Operation Telic.

Numerous types of combat air patrols have been employed by US military forces since World War II:

  • BARCAP: "Barrier Combat Air Patrol", in fleet terms, a mission flown between a carrier battle group and the direction from which it is most likely that an enemy attack will come. Also refers to fighter aircraft placed between a friendly strike force and an area of expected airborne threat, also known as a "MiG screen".
  • CAP/Strike: Aircraft with a primary CAP role and a secondary strike role; such aircraft are permitted to jettison strike ordnance and actively pursue any enemy aircraft sighted, and are not restricted to defensive encounters.
  • FastCAP: Combat air patrol to protect fighter strike aircraft.
  • FORCAP: "Force Combat Air Patrol", a patrol of fighters maintained over the strike force, essentially an escort.
  • HAVCAP: "High Asset Value Combat Air Patrol", flown to protect a "high-value asset" such as an AWACS aircraft or aerial refueling aircraft during its specific time on station.
  • MiGCAP: Used primarily during the Vietnam War, a MiGCAP is directed specifically against MiG aircraft. MiGCAP during Operation Linebacker became highly organized and threefold:
    • an ingress MiGCAP of 2-3 flights (8-12 fighters) that preceded the first supporting forces such as chaff bombers or SAM suppressors and remained until they departed the hostile zone;
    • a target area MiGCAP of at least 2 flights that immediately preceded the actual strikers; and
    • an egress MiGCAP of 1 or 2 flights that arrived on station at the projected exit point ten minutes prior to the earliest egress time. All egress MiGCAP flights were fully fueled from tankers and relieved the target area CAP.
  • RESCAP: "Rescue Combat Air Patrol", a fighter force, often drawn from aircraft already in the area, used to protect personnel on the ground (such as downed pilots) from ground threats, as well as combat search and rescue aircraft or other rescue forces from both ground and air threats.
  • SARCAP: "Search and Rescue Combat Air Patrol", an earlier version of RESCAP.
  • Slow CAP: A combat air patrol to protect slower aircraft, such as the EB-66, B-52, or EC-121 during the Vietnam War, replaced by "HAVCAP".
  • Strike/CAP: Aircraft with a primary strike role and a secondary air defense role, permitted to jettison strike ordnance and engage enemy aircraft only if directly attacked. Strike/CAP aircraft also have an egress CAP role once strike ordnance has been delivered on target.
  • TARCAP: "Target Combat Air Patrol" is flown over or near a strike target in order to protect specialized attack aircraft such as AC-130 gunships from enemy fighters.

Popular culture

  • The real-life activity inspired the computer game Combat Air Patrol, a flight simulator published by Psygnosis in 1995.
  • In the television shows Battlestar Galactica and Battlestar Galactica (re-imagining), skirmisher pilots based aboard the eponymous capital ship must maintain a CAP in flight at all times.

See also


Further reading

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Look at other dictionaries:

  • Combat Air Patrol — Éditeur Psygnosis Développeur Maverick Simulation, Psygnosis Concepteur Ed Scio Date de sortie 1993 Genre Simulation de vol de combat …   Wikipédia en Français

  • combat air patrol — An aircraft patrol provided over an objective area, the force protected, the critical area of a combat zone, or in an air defense area, for the purpose of intercepting and destroying hostile aircraft before they reach their targets. Also called… …   Military dictionary

  • combat air patrol — kovinis oro patrulis statusas T sritis Gynyba apibrėžtis Orlaivių patrulis, skraidantis virš kovos užduoties rajono, saugomų pajėgų, lemiamo kovos zonos rajono arba virš oro erdvės gynybos rajono. Šio patrulio tikslas – remti perėmėjus ir… …   NATO terminų aiškinamasis žodynas

  • Combat Air Patrol — Ein Luftüberwachungseinsatz (engl. combat air patrol, CAP) ist ein defensiver Einsatz von Kampfflugzeugen. Dabei wird in einem weiträumigen Rechtecksmuster und einer vorgegebenen Route geflogen, um einen bestimmten Bereich effektiv vor… …   Deutsch Wikipedia

  • combat air patrol — An aircraft patrol provided over an objective area, the force protected, the critical area of a combat zone, or an air defense area to intercept and destroy hostile aircraft before they reach their target …   Aviation dictionary

  • Combat Air Patrol — CAP, patrol flight at high or medium altitude in order to identify enemy aircraft …   English contemporary dictionary

  • rescue combat air patrol — An aircraft patrol provided over a combat search and rescue objective area for the purpose of intercepting and destroying hostile aircraft. Its primary mission is to protect the search and rescue task forces during recovery operations. Also… …   Military dictionary

  • barrier combat air patrol — One or more divisions or elements of fighter aircraft employed between a force and an objective area as a barrier across the probable direction of enemy attack. It is used as far from the force as control conditions permit, giving added… …   Military dictionary

  • Barrier Combat Air Patrol — BARCAP, patrol of combat aircraft to prevent penetration of enemy aircraft into a particular airspace …   English contemporary dictionary

  • Counter-air patrol — is a type of flying mission for fighter aircraft against other fighters, common in World War II and sometimes combined with fighter sweeps (Rhubarb missions) against targets of opportunity. Counter air patrol is an attempt to achieve air… …   Wikipedia

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