PACAF is one of nine US Air Force major commands throughout the world, PACAF is positioned in the Pacific to organize, train, and equip the 45,000 Total Force personnel with the tools necessary to support the Commander of United States Pacific Command.
The command's area of responsibility extends from the west coast of the United States to the east coast of Africa and from the Arctic to the Antarctic, more than 100 million square miles. The area is home to nearly two billion people who live in 44 countries.
PACAF is comprised of four numbered Air Forces, nine main bases and nearly 375 aircraft, It supports both US Pacific Command and the US Air Force with integrated expeditionary Air Force capabilities to defend the Homeland, promote stability, deter aggression and swiftly defeat enemies.
Although engaged in combat operations against Japan, Tenth Air Force stationed in India and Fourteenth Air Force stationed in China were not part of Far East Air Forces. Twentieth Air Force was assigned directly to Headquarters USAAF at The Pentagon and also was not part of Far East Air Forces. However, the combined Army Air Forces in both the China Burma India Theater and the Pacific theater were the largest and most powerful military organization ever fielded by any country in the world.
With the end of World War II in September 1945, the USAAF found its units deployed throughout the Pacific, from Hawaii to India; from Japan to Australia; based on a hundred island airstrips along with bases in China and Burma. A realignment of these forces was needed by the USAAF to better organize its forces in the Pacific for peacetime. On 6 December 1945, Far East Air Forces was redesignated Pacific Air Command, United States Army (PACUSA), and its Air Forces were redeployed as follows:
With this realignment and reassignment of forces, PACUSA controlled and commanded all United States Army Air Forces in the Far East and Southwest Pacific, and all air forces were placed under one Air Force commander for the first time.
In November 1945 the 509th Composite Group left Tinian and was reassigned to Roswell Army Air Field, New Mexico, taking the Atomic Bomb delivery capability of PACUSA to the United States. Shortly afterwards, Eighth Air Force was reassigned to the new Strategic Air Command (SAC) on 7 June 1946 and its strategic units reassigned to the 1st Bombardment Division.
The major mission of PACUSA in the postwar years (1946-1950) was occupation duty in Japan and the demilitarization of the Japanese society in conjunction with the United States Army. In addition, PACUSA helped to support Atomic Bomb testing in the Pacific Proving Grounds beginning with the Operation Crossroads test on Bikini Atoll in the Marshall Islands in 1946
With the establishment of the United States Air Force, PACUSA was redesignated Far East Air Forces (FEAF) on 1 Jan 1947. On that same date, Seventh Air Force in Hawaii was inactivated with its organization absorbed by HQ, FEAF.
PACUSA/FEAF deployments to Korea prior to the 1948 partition of the country helped in the establishment of the Republic of Korea (South Korea), along with the transfer of surplus military equipment and other aid to French Indochina as well as aid to the Nationalist Chinese during the Chinese Civil War which resumed after the end of World War II (1945-1949).
* The United States Far East Air Forces was a separate command from the World War II Far East Air Force (28 October 1941 - 5 February 1942) which fought in the Philippine and Dutch East India campaigns. Initially it was comprised mostly of aircraft and personnel from the Philippine Army Air Corps. It was largely destroyed during the Battle of the Philippines (1941-42). The surviving personnel and aircraft were later re-organised in Australia, as the U.S. Fifth Air Force.
** Reassigned to PACUSA 6 December 1945
At that time, the combat units of the FEAF were equipped with the Lockheed F-80 Shooting Star fighter, the North American F-82 Twin Mustang all weather escort fighter, the Douglas B-26 Invader light attack bomber, the Lockheed RF-80A tactical reconnaissance aircraft, and the Boeing B-29 Superfortress heavy bomber.
During the Korean War (1950-1953) FEAF's Fifth Air Force was the main United Nations combat air command during the Korean War, and was instrumental in bringing about the cease-fire that formally ended that conflict in 1953.
* Elements of the 2d and 3d Air Rescue squadrons, attached to FEAF by the Military Air Transport Service (MATS), were located at various bases where they could best perform emergency rescue services with their SB-17's. The 512th and 514th Weather Reconnaissance Squadrons (2143d Air Weather Wing) were located at Yokota and Anderson. All USAF units engaged in combat during the Korean War were under the overall command of Far East Air Forces.
** The 31st Photo Reconnaissance squadron was a Strategic Air Command (SAC) organization, attached to FEAF for operations. On June 29, 1950 the unit began flying combat missions over the Korean Peninsula to provide FEAF Bomber Command with target and bomb-damage assessment photography.
*** The 6204th Photo Mapping Flight, located at Clark AB, Philippines, deployed the Flight's two RB-17 aircraft complete with combat crews and maintenance personnel to Johnson AB, Japan in mid-June 1950. The FEAF deployment order specified that the two RB-17 aircraft be equipped with normal armament insofar as practicable, not to interfere with the photographic capability of the aircraft. This posed a problem for the Flight, since the RB-17s had been flying peacetime missions and were not equipped for combat. However, the 6204th found the necessary gunners and equipment, made the modifications to the aircraft, and by late August 1950 the detachment began flying photo-mapping missions over Korea. By the end of November 1950, it had photographed the entire North Korean area at least once and re-photographed some areas as far north as weather conditions permitted. By early December the detachment returned to Clark AB and resumed the flight's mapping program in the Philippine area.
With the 1953 Korean Armistice, the deployed SAC and TAC units to Japan and Korea were gradually withdrawn, and returned to the United States. Twentieth Air Force was inactivated on 1 March 1955, leaving FEAF with two Air Forces, the Fifth in Japan and the Thirteenth in the Philippines, although units were maintained on Guam and Okinawa.
Tensions between the Communist Chinese on the mainland and the Nationalist Chinese on Taiwan dominated FEAF during the mid to late 1950s. The 1954 and 1958 Taiwan Strait Crisis both threatened to break out into a war, and USAF F-104C units were deployed to Kung Kuan Air Base on Taiwan in 1958. The question of "Matsu and Quemoy" became an issue in the 1960 American Presidential election when Richard Nixon accused John F. Kennedy of being unwilling to commit to using nuclear weapons if the People's Republic of China invaded the Nationalist outposts.
On 1 July 1957 United States Far East Air Forces was redesignated Pacific Air Forces and transferred its headquarters to Hickam AFB, Territory of Hawaii. By 1960, PACAF maintained a combat-ready deterrent force of some 35 squadrons, operating from 10 major bases in a half-dozen countries.
In the early 1960s communist military strength and firepower in Vietnam increased. As a result, PACAF began a buildup in the area with the addition of troops and better arms and equipment.
In response to what has become known as the Gulf of Tonkin incident in 1964, Tactical Air Command pilots and support personnel found themselves deployed from the CONUS to PACAF bases such as Da Nang Air Base and Phan Rang AB in South Vietnam. Bases in Thailand (Takhli RTAFB, Korat RTAFB} were also used by deployed TAC fighter squadrons.
As the American effort in Southeast Asia increased, TAC permanently reassigned entire wings of aircraft from CONUS bases to PACAF and increased the number of rotated tactical fighter and recon squadrons on rotating Temporary Duty commitments to PACAF bases in Vietnam and Thailand, along with units to South Korea, Japan and the Philippines. On a daily basis, flight crews would hurl themselves and their planes at targets across the area of operations over the skies of North and South Vietnam.
At the height of the Vietnam War (1968), PACAF commanded forces at major air bases in the following countries:
In 1962, PACAF activated the 2d Air Division to be the main warfighting organization in South Vietnam. As the conflict escalated, Seventh Air Force was activated on 1 Apr 1966, replacing 2d Air Force. PACAF units in Thailand were under the command of Thirteenth Air Force beginning in 1964, then in 1973 a joint Seventh/Thirteenth Air Force headquarters was established in Bangkok to direct PACAF forces in Thailand operating in Indochina (Until 15 Aug 1973), and Thailand until the final USAF withdrawal from Southeast Asia in the beginning of 1976.
for the PACAF order of battle in South Vietnam for the PACAF order of battle in Thailand
By 1970 the war was winding down as the conflict was being Vietnamized. Units from the South Vietnamese Air Force (SVNAF) took on more and more combat to defend their nation. PACAF tactical air strength was being reduced as several air bases were turned over to the SVNAF. Combat aircraft of PACAF flew their last strikes in Cambodia Aug. 15, 1973, writing the final chapter to the long and costly history of active American participation in the Indochina War. The Paris Peace Accords of 1973 ended PACAF's use of South Vietnamese bases, and by 1976 bases in Thailand were turned over to the Thai government. In 1979, normalization of relations with the People's Republic of China led to the withdrawal of PACAF personnel from Ching Chuan Kang Air Base, Republic of China (Taiwan).
The post-Vietnam era found the command focusing on improving its readiness, and PACAF's organizational structure saw a marked period of rapid and extensive changes. Deactivated at the end of the Vietnam War in 1975, Seventh Air Force was reactivated at Osan Air Base, South Korea in 1986 to take over Fifth Air Force activities in South Korea. Andersen AFB was reassigned from Strategic Air Command in 1989, and Eleventh Air Force became a part of the command in late 1990. Following the volcanic eruption of Mount Pinatubo, Clark AB, the Philippines, was closed and Thirteenth Air Force relocated in 1991.
In 1992, changes took place in force structure within PACAF as the command assumed control of theater-based tactical airlift wings, theater C-130 aircraft and crews, and associated theater C-130 support. PACAF also gained control of all operational support aircraft and all aeromedical airlift assets in the Pacific.
In 1986, the Goldwater-Nichols Act reworked the command structure of the United States military. With the creation of Unified Combatant Commands (UCC) organized either on a geographical basis (known as "Area Of Responsibility", AOR) or on a functional basis, Pacific Air Forces became a part of the United States Pacific Command (USPACOM)
Throughout its history PACAF has played a vital role in world events. In addition to its key combat role in World War II, Korea and Vietnam, PACAF units fought in Desert Storm in 1991, and they continue to deploy to Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Italy for peacekeeping operations. PACAF provided its expertise, aircraft, personnel and equipment to facilitate the new Expeditionary Air Force, especially as it applied to successful airbridge operations spanning the vast Pacific Ocean. Following the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the United States, PACAF again demonstrated its intrepid spirit through its units deployed in support of Operation Noble Eagle and Operation Enduring Freedom.
Since 1944, the command has participated in more than 140 humanitarian operations within its area of responsibility and beyond. In these operations PACAF people quickly and efficiently airlifted food, medicine and other supplies to areas devastated by storms, floods, earthquakes, volcanoes and other natural disasters.