United States Air Force

United States Air Force
Military service mark of the United States Air Force.svg
Military service mark of the United States Air Force
Founded01 August 1907
(110 years, 10 months)
(first antecedent)
18 September 1947
(70 years, 9 months)
(as independent service)
CountryUnited States United States of America
TypeAir and space force
RoleAir, space, and cyberspace warfare
Size318,415 active personnel
140,169 full-time employees[1]
69,200 reserve personnel[2]
105,700 air guard personnel[3]
5,047 manned aircraft[4]
406 ICBMs[5]
170 satellites[6]
Part of

United States Department of Defense Seal.svg Department of Defense

HeadquartersThe Pentagon
Arlington County, Virginia, U.S.
Motto(s)"Aim High ... Fly-Fight-Win"[7]
"Integrity first, Service before self, Excellence in all we do"[8]
ColorsUltramarine blue, Golden yellow[9]
MarchThe U.S. Air Force About this sound Play 
Anniversaries18 September
Commander-in-ChiefPresident Donald Trump
Secretary of DefenseJames Mattis
Secretary of the Air ForceHeather Wilson
Chief of StaffGen David L. Goldfein
Vice Chief of StaffGen Stephen W. Wilson
Chief Master Sergeant of the Air ForceCMSAF Kaleth O. Wright
FlagFlag of the United States Air Force.svg
Seal of the Department of the Air ForceSeal of the United States Department of the Air Force.svg
RoundelRoundel of the USAF.svg
USAF "Hap" Arnold SymbolUS Army Air Corps Hap Arnold Wings.svg
SymbolUS Air Force Logo Solid Colour.svg
Aircraft flown
AttackA-10, AC-130, MQ-9
BomberB-1B, B-2, B-52H
E-3, E-8, EC-130
FighterF-15C, F-15E, F-16, F-22, F-35A
HelicopterHH-60, UH-1N
ReconnaissanceMC-12, RC-135, RQ-4, RQ-170, U-2, U-28
TrainerT-1, T-6, T-38, T-41, T-51, T-53, TG-16
TransportC-5, C-12, C-17, C-21, C-32, C-37, C-130, C-40, CV-22, VC-25
TankerKC-10, KC-135

The United States Air Force (USAF) is the aerial and space warfare service branch of the United States Armed Forces and one of the seven American uniformed services. Initially established as a part of the United States Army on 1 August 1907, the USAF was formed as a separate branch of the U.S. Armed Forces on 18 September 1947 with the passing of the National Security Act of 1947. It is the youngest branch of the U.S. Armed Forces, and the fourth in order of precedence. The USAF is the largest and most technologically advanced air force in the world. The Air Force articulates its core missions as air and space superiority, global integrated ISR, rapid global mobility, global strike, and command and control.

The U.S. Air Force is a military service branch organized within the Department of the Air Force, one of the three military departments of the Department of Defense. The Air Force, through the Department of the Air Force, is headed by the civilian Secretary of the Air Force, who reports to the Secretary of Defense, and is appointed by the President with Senate confirmation. The highest-ranking military officer in the Air Force is the Chief of Staff of the Air Force, who exercises supervision over Air Force units and serves as one of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Air Force forces are assigned, as directed by the Secretary of Defense, to the combatant commanders, and neither the Secretary of the Air Force nor the Chief of Staff of the Air Force have operational command authority over them.

Along with conducting independent air and space operations, the U.S. Air Force provides air support for land and naval forces and aids in the recovery of troops in the field. As of 2017, the service operates more than 5,369 military aircraft, 406 ICBMs and 170 military satellites. It has a $161 billion budget and is the second largest service branch, with 318,415 active duty personnel, 140,169 civilian personnel, 69,200 Air Force Reserve personnel, and 105,700 Air National Guard personnel.

Mission, vision, and functions


According to the National Security Act of 1947 (61 Stat. 502), which created the USAF:

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.

§8062 of Title 10 US Code defines the purpose of the USAF as:[11]

  • 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.

The stated mission of the USAF today is to "fly, fight, and win in air, space, and cyberspace".[12]


"The United States Air Force will be a trusted and reliable joint partner with our sister services known for integrity in all of our activities, including supporting the joint mission first and foremost. We will provide compelling air, space, and cyber capabilities for use by the combatant commanders. We will excel as stewards of all Air Force resources in service to the American people, while providing precise and reliable Global Vigilance, Reach and Power for the nation".[12]

Core missions

The five core missions of the Air Force have not changed dramatically since the Air Force became independent in 1947, but they have evolved, and are now articulated as air and space superiority, global integrated ISR (Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance)[13] rapid global mobility, global strike, and command and control. The purpose of all of these core missions is to provide, what the Air Force states as, global vigilance, global reach, and global power.[14]

Air and space superiority

Air superiority is "that degree of dominance in the air battle of one force over another which permits the conduct of operations by the former and its related land, sea, air, and special operations forces at a given time and place without prohibitive interference by the opposing force" (JP 1-02).[15]

Offensive Counterair (OCA) is defined as "offensive operations to destroy, disrupt, or neutralize enemy aircraft, missiles, launch platforms, and their supporting structures and systems both before and after launch, but as close to their source as possible" (JP 1-02). OCA is the preferred method of countering air and missile threats since it attempts to defeat the enemy closer to its source and typically enjoys the initiative. OCA comprises attack operations, sweep, escort, and suppression/destruction of enemy air defense.[15]

Defensive Counter air (DCA) is defined as "all the defensive measures designed to detect, identify, intercept, and destroy or negate enemy forces attempting to penetrate or attack through friendly airspace" (JP 1-02). A major goal of DCA operations, in concert with OCA operations, is to provide an area from which forces can operate, secure from air and missile threats. The DCA mission comprises both active and passive defense measures. Active defense is "the employment of limited offensive action and counterattacks to deny a contested area or position to the enemy" (JP 1-02). It includes both ballistic missile defense and air breathing threat defense, and encompasses point defense, area defense, and high-value airborne asset defense. Passive defense is "measures taken to reduce the probability of and to minimize the effects of damage caused by hostile action without the intention of taking the initiative" (JP 1-02). It includes detection and warning; chemical, biological, radiological, and nuclear defense; camouflage, concealment, and deception; hardening; reconstitution; dispersion; redundancy; and mobility, counter-measures, and stealth.[15]

Airspace control is "a process used to increase operational effectiveness by promoting the safe, efficient, and flexible use of airspace" (JP 1-02). It promotes the safe, efficient, and flexible use of airspace, mitigates the risk of fratricide, enhances both offensive and defensive operations, and permits greater agility of air operations as a whole. It both deconflicts and facilitates integration of joint air operations.[15]

Launch of an Air Force Delta IV heavy rocket carrying a DSP-23 early warning satellite

Space superiority is "the degree of dominance in space of one force over another that permits the conduct of operations by the former and its related land, sea, air, space, and special operations forces at a given time and place without prohibitive interference by the opposing force" (JP 1-02). Space superiority may be localized in time and space, or it may be broad and enduring. Space superiority provides freedom of action in space for friendly forces and, when directed, denies the same freedom to the adversary.[15]

Space Force Enhancement is defined as the "combat support operations and force-multiplying capabilities delivered from space systems to improve the effectiveness of military forces as well as support other intelligence, civil, and commercial users. This mission area includes: intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance; integrated tactical warning and attack assessment; command, control, and communications; positioning, navigation, and timing; and environmental monitoring" (JP 1-02).[15]

Space Force Application is defined as "combat operations in, through, and from space to influence the course and outcome of conflict. This mission area includes ballistic missile defense and force projection" (JP 1-02).[15]

Space Control is defined as "operations to ensure freedom of action in space for the US and its allies and, when directed, deny an adversary freedom of action in space. This mission area includes: operations conducted to protect friendly space capabilities from attack, interference, or unintentional hazards (defensive space control); operations to deny an adversary's use of space capabilities (offensive space control); and the requisite current and predictive knowledge of the space environment and the operational environment upon which space operations depend (space situational awareness)" (JP 1-02).[15]

Space Support is defined as "operations to deploy and sustain military and intelligence systems in space. This mission area includes: launching and deploying space vehicles; maintaining and sustaining spacecraft on-orbit, rendezvous and proximity operations; disposing of (including de-orbiting and recovering) space capabilities; and reconstitution of space forces, if required" (JP 1-02).[15]

The U.S. Air Force currently handles 90% of all military space operations through Air Force Space Command and has been designated the primary service for space. 70% of all satellites currently in orbit belong to and are operated by the Air Force.[16][17][18]

Global integrated ISR

Global integrated intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) is the synchronization and integration of the planning and operation of sensors, assets, and processing, exploitation, dissemination systems across the globe to conduct current and future operations.[15]

An Air Force RQ-4 strategic reconnaissance aircraft

Planning and directing is "the determination of intelligence requirements, development of appropriate intelligence architecture, preparation of a collection plan, and issuance of orders and requests to information collection agencies" (JP 2-01, Joint and National Intelligence Support to Military Operations). These activities enable the synchronization and integration of collection, processing, exploitation, analysis, and dissemination activities/resources to meet information requirements of national and military decision makers.[15]

Collection is "the acquisition of information and the provision of this information to processing elements" (JP 2-01). It provides the ability to obtain required information to satisfy intelligence needs (via use of sources and methods in all domains). Collection activities span the Range of Military Operations (ROMO).[15]

Processing and exploitation is "the conversion of collected information into forms suitable to the production of intelligence" (JP 2-01). It provides the ability, across the ROMO, to transform, extract, and make available collected information suitable for further analysis or action.[15]

Analysis and production is "the conversion of processed information into intelligence through the integration, evaluation, analysis, and interpretation of all source data and the preparation of intelligence products in support of known or anticipated user requirements" (JP 2-01). It provides the ability to integrate, evaluate, and interpret information from available sources to create a finished intelligence product for presentation or dissemination to enable increased situational awareness.[15]

Dissemination and integration is "the delivery of intelligence to users in a suitable form and the application of the intelligence to appropriate missions, tasks, and functions" (JP 2-01). It provides the ability to present information and intelligence products across the ROMO enabling understanding of the operational environment to military and national decision makers.[15]

Rapid global mobility

An Air Force KC-46 Pegasus refuels a C-17A Globemaster III

Rapid global mobility is the timely deployment, employment, sustainment, augmentation, and redeployment of military forces and capabilities across the ROMO. It provides joint military forces the capability to move from place to place while retaining the ability to fulfill their primary mission. Rapid Global Mobility is essential to virtually every military operation, allowing forces to reach foreign or domestic destinations quickly, thus seizing the initiative through speed and surprise.[15]

Airlift is "operations to transport and deliver forces and materiel through the air in support of strategic, operational, or tactical objectives" (Annex 3–17, Air Mobility Operations). The rapid and flexible options afforded by airlift allow military forces and national leaders the ability to respond and operate in a variety of situations and time frames. The global reach capability of airlift provides the ability to apply US power worldwide by delivering forces to crisis locations. It serves as a US presence that demonstrates resolve and compassion in humanitarian crisis.[15]

Air refueling is "the refueling of an aircraft in flight by another aircraft" (JP 1-02). Air refueling extends presence, increases range, and serves as a force multiplier. It allows air assets to more rapidly reach any trouble spot around the world with less dependence on forward staging bases or overflight/landing clearances. Air refueling significantly expands the options available to a commander by increasing the range, payload, persistence, and flexibility of receiver aircraft.[15]

Aeromedical evacuation is "the movement of patients under medical supervision to and between medical treatment facilities by air transportation" (JP 1-02). JP 4-02, Health Service Support, further defines it as "the fixed wing movement of regulated casualties to and between medical treatment facilities, using organic and/or contracted mobility airframes, with aircrew trained explicitly for this mission." Aeromedical evacuation forces can operate as far forward as fixed-wing aircraft are able to conduct airland operations.[15]

Global strike

Global precision attack is the ability to hold at risk or strike rapidly and persistently, with a wide range of munitions, any target and to create swift, decisive, and precise effects across multiple domains.[15]

An Air Force A-10 demonstrating close air support at Nellis AFB

Strategic attack is defined as "offensive action specifically selected to achieve national strategic objectives. These attacks seek to weaken the adversary's ability or will to engage in conflict, and may achieve strategic objectives without necessarily having to achieve operational objectives as a precondition" (Annex 3–70, Strategic Attack).[15]

Air Interdiction is defined as "air operations conducted to divert, disrupt, delay, or destroy the enemy's military potential before it can be brought to bear effectively against friendly forces, or to otherwise achieve JFC objectives. Air Interdiction is conducted at such distance from friendly forces that detailed integration of each air mission with the fire and movement of friendly forces is not required" (Annex 3-03, Counterland Operations).[15]

Close Air Support is defined as "air action by fixed- and rotary-winged aircraft against hostile targets that are in close proximity to friendly forces and which require detailed integration of each air mission with the fire and movement of those forces" (JP 1-02). This can be as a pre-planned event or on demand from an alert posture (ground or airborne). It can be conducted across the ROMO.[15]

The purpose of nuclear deterrence operations (NDO) is to operate, maintain, and secure nuclear forces to achieve an assured capability to deter an adversary from taking action against vital US interests. In the event deterrence fails, the US should be able to appropriately respond with nuclear options. The sub-elements of this function are:[15]

Test launch of a LGM-30 Minuteman Intercontinental Ballistic Missile from Vandenberg AFB

Assure/Dissuade/Deter is a mission set derived from the Air Force's readiness to carry out the nuclear strike operations mission as well as from specific actions taken to assure allies as a part of extended deterrence. Dissuading others from acquiring or proliferating WMD, and the means to deliver them, contributes to promoting security and is also an integral part of this mission. Moreover, different deterrence strategies are required to deter various adversaries, whether they are a nation state, or non-state/transnational actor. The Air Force maintains and presents credible deterrent capabilities through successful visible demonstrations and exercises which assure allies, dissuade proliferation, deter potential adversaries from actions that threaten US national security or the populations and deployed military forces of the US, its allies and friends.[15]

Nuclear strike is the ability of nuclear forces to rapidly and accurately strike targets which the enemy holds dear in a devastating manner. If a crisis occurs, rapid generation and, if necessary, deployment of nuclear strike capabilities will demonstrate US resolve and may prompt an adversary to alter the course of action deemed threatening to our national interest. Should deterrence fail, the President may authorize a precise, tailored response to terminate the conflict at the lowest possible level and lead to a rapid cessation of hostilities. Post-conflict, regeneration of a credible nuclear deterrent capability will deter further aggression. The Air Force may present a credible force posture in either the Continental United States, within a theater of operations, or both to effectively deter the range of potential adversaries envisioned in the 21st century. This requires the ability to engage targets globally using a variety of methods; therefore, the Air Force should possess the ability to induct, train, assign, educate and exercise individuals and units to rapidly and effectively execute missions that support US NDO objectives. Finally, the Air Force regularly exercises and evaluates all aspects of nuclear operations to ensure high levels of performance.[15]

Nuclear surety ensures the safety, security and effectiveness of nuclear operations. Because of their political and military importance, destructive power, and the potential consequences of an accident or unauthorized act, nuclear weapons and nuclear weapon systems require special consideration and protection against risks and threats inherent in their peacetime and wartime environments. The Air Force, in conjunction with other entities within the Departments of Defense or Energy, achieves a high standard of protection through a stringent nuclear surety program. This program applies to materiel, personnel, and procedures that contribute to the safety, security, and control of nuclear weapons, thus assuring no nuclear accidents, incidents, loss, or unauthorized or accidental use (a Broken Arrow incident). The Air Force continues to pursue safe, secure and effective nuclear weapons consistent with operational requirements. Adversaries, allies, and the American people must be highly confident of the Air Force's ability to secure nuclear weapons from accidents, theft, loss, and accidental or unauthorized use. This day-to-day commitment to precise and reliable nuclear operations is the cornerstone of the credibility of the NDO mission. Positive nuclear command, control, communications; effective nuclear weapons security; and robust combat support are essential to the overall NDO function.[15]

Command and control

Command and control is "the exercise of authority and direction by a properly designated commander over assigned and attached forces in the accomplishment of the mission. Command and control functions are performed through an arrangement of personnel, equipment, communications, facilities, and procedures employed by a commander in planning, directing, coordinating, and controlling forces and operations in the accomplishment of the mission" (JP 1-02). This core function includes all of the C2-related capabilities and activities associated with air, space, cyberspace, nuclear, and agile combat support operations to achieve strategic, operational, and tactical objectives.[15]

Combined Air and Space Operations Center at Al Udeid Air Base

At the strategic level command and control, the US determines national or multinational security objectives and guidance, and develops and uses national resources to accomplish these objectives. These national objectives in turn provide the direction for developing overall military objectives, which are used to develop the objectives and strategy for each theater.[15]

At the operational level command and control, campaigns and major operations are planned, conducted, sustained, and assessed to accomplish strategic goals within theaters or areas of operations. These activities imply a broader dimension of time or space than do tactics; they provide the means by which tactical successes are exploited to achieve strategic and operational objectives.[15]

Tactical Level Command and Control is where individual battles and engagements are fought. The tactical level of war deals with how forces are employed, and the specifics of how engagements are conducted and targets attacked. The goal of tactical level C2 is to achieve commander's intent and desired effects by gaining and keeping offensive initiative.[15]

Other Languages
Bân-lâm-gú: Bí-kok Khong-kun
Esperanto: Usona Aerarmeo
한국어: 미국 공군
latviešu: ASV Gaisa spēki
Lëtzebuergesch: United States Air Force
Bahasa Melayu: Tentera Udara AS
Simple English: United States Air Force
srpskohrvatski / српскохрватски: Američka ratna avijacija
Tiếng Việt: Không quân Hoa Kỳ
吴语: 美国空军
粵語: 美國空軍
中文: 美国空军