The United States Air Force (USAF) is one of the seven Uniformed services of the United States whose primary mission focus is on air superiority. Previously part of the United States Army, the USAF was formed as a separate branch of the military on September 18, 1947.[1]

The USAF is the largest and most technologically advanced air force in the world, with about 6013 manned aircraft in service (4,282 USAF; 1,321 Air National Guard; and 410 Air Force Reserve); approximately 160 Unmanned Combat Air Vehicles, 2161 Air-Launched Cruise Missiles, and 580 Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles;[2] and as of September 30, 2006, had 334,200 personnel on active duty, 120,369 in the Selected and Individual Ready Reserves, and 107,000 in the Air National Guard. An additional 10,675 personnel were in the Standby Reserve, and the Air Force employed 168,558 civilian personnel.[2]

The USAF is currently planning a massive Reduction-in-Force (RIF). Because of budget constraints, the USAF will reduce the service's current size by 40,000 full time equivalent positions by 2011, with approximately half to be eliminated in FY 2007. Approximately 35,000 active duty positions, or one year's cycle of enlistments and retirements, will be eliminated over 5 years.[3] 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.[4]

Not all of the United States' military combat aircraft are operated by the USAF. The United States 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 the aircraft operating on its aircraft carriers and Naval air stations, and the Marine Corps operates its own combat and transport aircraft. The Coast Guard also maintains transport and search-and-rescue aircraft, 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 United States Department of Defense which is headed by the United States Secretary of Defense. The highest ranking military officer in the department is the Chief of Staff of the Air Force.


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.
United States Air Force

The official logo of the United States Air Force
Active 1947 -
Country United States
Branch Air Force
Role "To provide soverign options for the defense of the United States and its global interests. To fly and fight in Air, Space, and Cyberspace"
Size 351,800 active personnel
6,217 aircraft, of which 2,055 are fighters
1900 ICBMs
Part of Department of Defense
Headquarters The Pentagon
Motto Aim High
March Off We Go Into The Wild Blue Yonder
Battles/wars Korean War
Vietnam War
Operation Desert Storm
Operation Deliberate Force
Operation Desert Fox
Operation Allied Force
Operation Enduring Freedom
Operation Iraqi Freedom
Civilian leadership President George W. Bush
Michael Wynne
(Secretary of the Air Force)
Military leadership General T. Michael Moseley
(Chief of Staff of the Air Force)
Chief Master Sergeant Rodney J. McKinley
(Chief Master Sergeant of the Air Force)
Air Force flag 200px
Roundel 150px
Aircraft flown
Attack F-15E, F-117, A-10, Lockheed AC-130
Bomber B-52H, B-1B, B-2
E-3, E-8, EC-130, EC-135
Fighter F-22, F-15C, F-16
Reconnaissance U-2, RC-135, Q-4, Q-1
Trainer T-6, T-37, T-38, T-43, T-1, TG-10
Transport C-17, C-5, C-130, C-135, VC-25, C-32, C-9, CV-22, C-37, C-21, C-12, C-40, KC-10, KC-135 Stratotanker

3. The stated mission of the USAF today is to "deliver sovereign options for the defense of the United States of America and its global interests — to fly and fight in Air, Space, and Cyberspace".[5]

Search and rescueEdit

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 as the federal agency responsible for inland SAR.[6] Both agencies maintain Rescue Coordination Centers to coordinate this effort.[3]


The United States Air Force became a separate military service on September 18 1947, with the implementation of the National Security Act of 1947.[7] The Act created the United States Department of Defense, which was composed of three branches, the Army, Navy and a newly-created Air Force.[8] 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 its conception; these include:

Humanitarian operationsEdit

The U.S. Air Force has taken part in numerous humanitarian operations. Some of the more major ones include the following:[11]

Administrative organizationEdit

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, lead 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. 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.

Operational organizationEdit

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 ForceEdit

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 ForcesEdit

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 CenterEdit

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/SquadronsEdit

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 Pararescue, Combat Control, Combat Weather and Tactical Air Control Party, who deploy with infantry and special operations units who rescue downed or isolated personnel, call in air strikes and set up landing zones in forward locations. Most of these are enlisted positions.

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 Training. After Basic Military Training, 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 1C2X1 (Combat Control) is 35 weeks long with 10 separate courses. 1N3X4 (Cryptologic Linguist) and 1A8X1 (Airborne Linguist) requires a language course ranging from 23 to 63 weeks, and a 4 to 5 month course. Some AFSC's have even 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 Designations.

Current aircraft of the USAF:



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/brown and black in color, called the Desert Camouflage Uniform (DCU). A new uniform called the Airman Battle Uniform (ABU) is currently being distributed some bases, and in a memo from HQ AFPC at Randolph AFB dated September 2007, will be distributed to basic trainees in their clothing issue starting October 2007. The ABU is already authorized for wear, and is scheduled to completely replace the BDU and DCU by November 2011.

Awards and badgesEdit

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.

Grade Structure and InsigniasEdit

Template:Seealso Template:Seealso 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.


The United States Air Force does not have an official motto, but there are numerous unofficial slogans such as "Nothing Comes Close" and Un Ab Alto (Latin for "One Over All"). 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".

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.[12]

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

Notes and ReferencesEdit

  1. 80 P.L. 235, 61 Stat. 495 (1947); Air Force Link, (2006)Factsheets: The U.S. Air Force. Retrieved April 7, 2006.
  2. 2.0 2.1 2007 USAF Almanac: USAF Personnel Strength. AIR FORCE Magazine. Retrieved on 4 May, 2007.
  3. Air Force Print News, (2006). Force shaping necessary for AF budgetary management. Retrieved June 8, 2006.
  4. 2006 USAF Almanac: USAF Personnel Strength. AIR FORCE Magazine. Retrieved on 20 Jan, 2007. 1991 510,000; 2006 352,000
  5. Air Force Link, (2005). Air Force releases new mission statement. Retrieved December 8, 2005.
  6. National Search and Rescue Plan (USA) 2007
  7. U.S. Intelligence Community (October 2004). National Security Act of 1947. Retrieved April 14 2006.
  8. U.S. Department of State(2006). National Security Act of 1947. Retrieved April 14 2006.
  9. Air Force Pamphlet 36-2241 (1 July 2007). [1].
  10. Air Force Pamphlet 36-2241 (1 July 2007). [2].
  11. The primary source for the humanitarian operations of the USAF is the United States Air Force Supervisory Examination Study Guide (2005)
  12. (2006). US Air Force Mottos. Retrieved 4 June 2006.

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

See alsoEdit

Further readingEdit

External linksEdit

Template:United States uniformed services

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