United States Air Force

The United States Air Force (USAF) is the aerial warfare branch of the armed forces and one of the seven uniformed services of the United States. Initially born as the United States Army Air Corps, the USAF was formed as a separate branch of the military on September 18, 1947. It was the last branch of the U.S. military to be formed.

The USAF is the largest and most technologically advanced air force in the world, with about 5,778 manned aircraft in service (4,093 USAF; 1,289 Air National Guard; and 396 Air Force Reserve); approximately 156 Unmanned Combat Air Vehicles, 2,130 Air-Launched Cruise Missiles, and 450 Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles. The USAF has 328,439 personnel on active duty, 74,000 in the Selected and Individual Ready Reserves, and 106,000 in the Air National Guard. In addition, the Air Force employs 168,900 civilian personnel including indirect hire of foreign nationals.

In 2007, the USAF implemented a large Reduction-in-Force (RIF). Because of budget constraints, the USAF will reduce the service's current size from 333,000 active duty personnel, to 316,000, which will be the smallest since the attack on Pearl Harbor, according to former Air Force Chief of Staff General Michael Mosely. The current size of the active-duty force is roughly 70% of that of the USAF at the end of the first Gulf War in 1991.

Not all of the United States' military combat aircraft are operated by the USAF. The Army operates its own helicopters, mostly for support of ground combatants; it as well maintains a small fleet of fixed wing aircraft (mostly Unmanned Aerial Vehicles). The Navy is responsible for a multitude of aircraft, including integrated air wing combat aircraft operating aboard its 11 aircraft carriers and also many maritime patrol and transport aircraft stationed at multiple Naval air stations around the world. The Marine Corps operates its own combat and transport aircraft in support of its ground mission and often in conjunction with Naval Aviation. The Coast Guard also maintains transport and search-and-rescue aircraft (SARA), which may be used in a combat and law enforcement role. All branches of the U.S. military operate helicopters.

The Department of the Air Force is headed by the civilian Secretary of the Air Force who heads administrative affairs. The Department of the Air Force is a division of the Department of Defense, headed by the Secretary of Defense. The highest ranking military officer in the Department of the Air Force is the Chief of Staff of the Air Force.

On 5 June 2008, in a move called "unprecedented" by one Air Force-related journal, Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates, accepted the resignations of both the Secretary of the Air Force, Michael W. Wynne, and the Chief of Staff of the United States Air Force, Gen. T. Michael Moseley, in effect firing both men for "systemic issues associated with declining Air Force nuclear mission focus and performance". The forced resignations followed an investigation ordered by Gates into two embarrassing incidents involving nuclear weapons, and were also the culmination of a long-running series of disputes between the Air Force leadership and Gates.


1. According to the National Security Act of 1947 (61 Stat. 502) which created the Air Force:
In general the United States Air Force shall include aviation forces both combat and service not otherwise assigned. It shall be organized, trained, and equipped primarily for prompt and sustained offensive and defensive air operations. The Air Force shall be responsible for the preparation of the air forces necessary for the effective prosecution of war except as otherwise assigned and, in accordance with integrated joint mobilization plans, for the expansion of the peacetime components of the Air Force to meet the needs of war.

2. §8062 of Title 10 US Code (10 USC 8062) defines the purpose of the Air Force as:

  • to preserve the peace and security, and provide for the defense, of the United States, the Territories, Commonwealths, and possessions, and any areas occupied by the United States;
  • to support national policy;
  • to implement national objectives;
  • to overcome any nations responsible for aggressive acts that imperil the peace and security of the United States.

3. The stated mission of the USAF today is to "fly, fight, and win in air, space, and cyberspace".

Search and rescue

The National Search and Rescue Plan designates the United States Coast Guard as the federal agency responsible for maritime search-and-rescue (SAR) operations, and the United States Air Force responsible for aeronautical SAR in the continental U.S. with the exception of Alaska. Both agencies maintain rescue coordination centers to coordinate this effort.


The United States Air Force became a separate military service on September 18, 1947, with the implementation of the National Security Act of 1947. The Act created the United States Department of Defense, which was composed of three branches, the Army, Navy and a newly-created Air Force. Prior to 1947, the responsibility for military aviation was divided between the Army (for land-based operations) and the Navy, for sea-based operations from aircraft carrier and amphibious aircraft. The Army created the first antecedent of the Air Force in 1907, which through a succession of changes of organization, titles, and missions advanced toward eventual separation 40 years later. The predecessor organizations of today's U.S. Air Force are:


The United States Air Force has been involved in many wars, conflicts, and operations since, and before, its conception; these include:

Humanitarian operations

The U.S. Air Force has taken part in numerous humanitarian operations. Some of the more major ones include the following:

Administrative organization

The Air Force is one of three service departments, and is managed by the (civilian) Department of the Air Force. Guidance is provided by the Secretary of the Air Force(SECAF) and the Secretary's staff and advisors. The military leadership is the Air Staff, led by the Chief of Staff.

USAF direct subordinate commands and units are the Field Operating Agency (FOA), Direct Reporting Unit (DRU), and the currently unused Separate Operating Agency.

The Major Command (MAJCOM) is the superior hierarchical level of command. Including the Air Force Reserve Command, as of 30 September 2006, USAF has nine major commands, and a tenth, Air Force Cyber Command, in process. The Numbered Air Force (NAF) is a level of command directly under the MAJCOM, followed by Operational Command (now unused), Air Division (also now unused), Wing, Group, Squadron, and Flight.

Force structure

Headquarters, United States Air Force, The Pentagon, Arlington, Virginia

The permanent establishment of the USAF, as of 30 September 2006, consisted of:

  • Active duty forces:
    • 57 flying wings, 8 space wings, and 55 non-flying wings
    • 9 flying groups, 8 non-flying groups
      • 134 flying squadrons, 43 space squadrons
  • Air Force Reserve
    • 35 flying wings, 1 space wing
    • 4 flying groups
      • 67 flying squadrons, 6 space squadrons
  • Air National Guard
    • 87 flying wings
      • 101 flying squadrons, 4 space squadrons

The United States Air Force and its Air Reserve Components field a total of 302 flying squadrons.

Operational organization

The above organizational structure is responsible for the peacetime Organization, Equipping, and Training of aerospace units for operational missions. When required to support operational missions, the National Command Authority directs a Change in Operational Control (CHOP) of these units from their peacetime alignment to a Regional Combatant Commander (CCDR). In the case of AFSPC, AFSOC, PACAF, and USAFE units, forces are normally employed in-place under their existing CCDR. Likewise, AMC forces operating in support roles retain their componency to USTRANSCOM unless chopped to a Regional CCDR.

Aerospace Expeditionary Task Force

CHOPPED units are referred to as "forces". The top-level structure of these forces is the Air and Space Expeditionary Task Force (AETF). The AETF is the Air Force presentation of forces to a CCDR for the employment of Air Power. Each CCDR is supported by a standing Component Numbered Air Force (C-NAF) to provide planning and execution of aerospace forces in support of CCDR requirements. Each C-NAF consists of a Commander, Air Force Forces (COMAFFOR) and AFFOR/A-staff, and an Air Operations Center (AOC). As needed to support multiple Joint Force Commanders (JFC) in the COCOM's Area of Responsibility (AOR), the C-NAF may deploy Air Component Coordinate Elements (ACCE) to liaise with the JFC. If the Air Force possesses the most strategic air assets in a JFC's area of operations, the COMAFFOR will also serve as the Joint Forces Air Component Commander (JFACC).

Commander, Air Force Forces

The Commander, Air Force Forces (COMAFFOR) is the senior Air Force officer responsible for the employment of Air Power in support of JFC objectives. The COMAFFOR has a special staff and an A-Staff to ensure assigned or attached forces are properly organized, equipped, and trained to support the operational mission.

Air Operations Center

The Air Operations Center (AOC) is the JFACC's Command and Control (C²) center. This center is responsible for planning and executing air power missions in support of JFC objectives.

Air Expeditionary Wings/Groups/Squadrons

The AETF generates air power to support COCOM objectives from Air Expeditionary Wings (AEW) or Air Expeditionary Groups (AEG). These units are responsible for receiving combat forces from Air Force MAJCOMs, preparing these forces for operational missions, launching and recovering these forces, and eventually returning forces to the MAJCOMs. Theater Air Control Systems control employment of forces during these missions.


The vast majority of Air Force members remain on the ground. There are hundreds of support positions which are necessary to the success of a mission.

The classification of an Air Force job is the Air Force Specialty Code (AFSC). They range from flight combat operations such as a gunner, to working in a dining facility to ensure that members are properly fed. There are many different jobs in fields such as computer specialties, mechanic specialties, enlisted aircrew, medical specialties, civil engineering, public affairs, hospitality, law, drug counseling, mail operations, security forces, and search and rescue specialties.

Perhaps the most dangerous Air Force jobs are Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD), Combat rescue officer, Pararescue, Security Forces, Combat Control, Combat Weather and Tactical Air Control Party, who deploy with infantry and special operations units who disarm bombs, rescue downed or isolated personnel, call in air strikes and set up landing zones in forward locations. Most of these are enlisted positions. Other jobs have seen increasing combat, and have been billed "Battlefield Airmen." These include EOD, vehicle operators, and OSI.

Nearly all enlisted jobs are "entry level," meaning that the Air Force provides all training. Some enlistees are able to choose a particular job, or at least a field before actually joining, while others are assigned an AFSC at Basic Military Training (BMT). After BMT, new Air Force members attend a technical training school where they learn their particular AFSC. Second Air Force, a part of Air Education and Training Command, is responsible for nearly all technical training.

Training programs vary in length; for example, 3M0X1 (Services) has 31 days of tech school training, while 3E8X1 (Explosive Ordnance Disposal) is 1 year of training with a preliminary school and a main school consisting of over 10 separate divisions, sometimes taking students close to 2 years to complete. Some AFSCs have even shorter or longer training.


The United States Air Force has over 7,500 aircraft commissioned as of 2004. Until 1962, the Army and Air Force maintained one system of aircraft naming, while the U.S. Navy maintained a separate system. In 1962, these were unified into a single system heavily reflecting the Army/Air Force method. For more complete information on the workings of this system, refer to United States Department of Defense aerospace vehicle designation.

Current aircraft of the USAF:

Attack (air to ground)


Transport, Special Operations

AWACS, Electronic Warfare







All enlisted Airmen must undergo basic military training (BMT), which takes place at Lackland AFB, Texas. All officers are commissioned through the United States Air Force Academy, Officer Training School or the AFROTC program.

Air Force Fitness Test

The US Air Force Fitness Test (AFFT) is designed to test the body composition, muscular strength/endurance and cardiovascular respiratory fitness of airmen in the United States Air Force. As part of the Fit to Fight program, the Air Force adopted a more stringent physical fitness assessment; the new fitness program was established on January 1, 2004, and replaces the annual ergo-cycle test that the Air Force had used for several years. In the AFFT, Airmen are given a score based on performance consisting of four components: waist circumference, the crunch, the push-up, and a run. Airmen can potentially earn a score of 100; a passing score is anything over 75 points.



United States Air Force personnel wear uniforms which are distinct from those of the other branches of the United States Armed Forces. The current uniform is an olive drab/black/brown and tan combination called the Battle Dress Uniform (BDU). Members deployed to an AOR wear a variation of the BDU, tan and brown in color, called the Desert Camouflage Uniform (DCU). A new uniform called the Airman Battle Uniform (ABU) is scheduled to completely replace the BDU and DCU by November 2011. The ABU is currently readily available at most Base Exchanges or Military Clothing Stores.

Awards and badges

In addition to basic uniform clothing, various badges are used by the USAF to indicate a job assignment or qualification-level for a given assignment. Badges can also be used as merit-based or service-based awards. Over time, various badges have been discontinued and are no longer distributed. Authorized badges include the Shields of USAF Fire Protection, and Security Forces

Grade Structure and Insignias

(Discontinued) The standard USAF uniform is also decorated with an insignia to designate rank. USAF rank is divided between enlisted airmen, non-commissioned officers, and commissioned officers, and ranges from "airman basic" to the commissioned rank of general. Promotions are granted based on a combination of test scores, years of experience, and selection board approval. Promotions among enlisted men and non-commissioned officers rankings are generally designated by increasing numbers of insignia chevrons. Commissioned officer rank is designated by bars, oak leaves, a silver eagle, and anywhere from one to five (only in war-time) stars.

For cadet rank at the U.S. Air Force Academy, see United States Air Force Academy Cadet Insignia.

Slogans & Creeds

The United States Air Force has had numerous recruiting slogans to include "No one Comes Close" and Uno Ab Alto. For many years, the U.S. Air Force used "Aim High" as its recruiting motto; more recently, they have used "Cross Into the Blue", "We've been waiting for you" and "Do Something Amazing", and the newest one, "Above All". Each wing, group, or squadron usually has its own motto(s). Information and logos can usually be found on the wing, group, or squadron websites.

The Airman's Creed is a statement introduced in the spring of 2007 to summarize the culture of the Air Force.

Air Force Core Values: Integrity First, Service Before Self, Excellence In All We Do

To help further knowledge of their mission and functions, the Air Force has also produced videos, such as "Setting the Conditions for Victory" and "How We Fight", to outline the Air Force role in the war on terrorism and how the service succeeds in its domains of air, space and cyberspace. The Above All campaign continues to support the message of "air, space and cyberspace" dominance.

See also


References to U.S. Army predecessors of today's U.S. Air Force are cited under their respective articles.

External links

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