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The United States Air Force (USAF) is the aerial warfare branch of the United States armed forces and one of the seven Uniformed services of the United States|uniformed services of the U.S.. Previously part of the United States Army, the USAF was formed as a separate branch of the military on September 18, 1947.[1] It is the last branch of the United States military to be formed.

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 Cruise missile|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 Air Force Reserve Command|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 (ADPs), 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 United States Navy|Navy is responsible for the aircraft operating on its aircraft carriers and Naval air stations, and the United States Marine Corps|Marine Corps operates its own combat and transport aircraft. The United States Coast Guard|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 United States Secretary of the Air Force|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 United States Air Force|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.

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]

Administrative organization[]

Main article: Air Force JROTC Chain of Command

Force structure[]

The permanent establishment of the USAF, as of 30 September 2006,[6] 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.[7]

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 Unified Combatant Command|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 (Military)|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.



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 currently being distributed to 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 badges[]

In addition to basic uniform clothing, Badges of the United States Air Force|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 and decorations of the United States Air Force|awards. Over time, Obsolete badges of the United States military|various badges have been discontinued and are no longer distributed.

Grade Structure and Insignias[]

Main article: rank

The standard USAF uniform is also decorated with an insignia to designate rank. USAF rank is divided between Enlisted rank|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 [[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". [2].

In an ironic note, "Above All" is one translation of a slogan used by the Nazi regime. In German it is "Uber Alles." [8]

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.[9]

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

Notes and References[]

  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. "2007 USAF Almanac: Major Commands". AIR FORCE Magazine. Retrieved on 9 Feb, 2008.
  7. "2007 USAF Almanac: USAF Squadrons By Mission Type". AIR FORCE Magazine. Retrieved on 9 Feb, 2008.
  8. yourdictionary.com (2007).[1]. Retrieved 13 March 2007.
  9. Military-quotes.com (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 also[]

Further reading[]

External links[]