Wednesday, October 31, 2012

United States Air Force

F-16s in Flight
F-16s in Flight
Because of its innovative design, the F-16, which is considered by some experts to be the best fighter ever built, is smaller, faster, and cheaper than its counterparts. The F-16 carries few bombs or missiles, relying instead on its impressive speed and maneuverability for defense.

United States Air Force, the branch of the United States armed forces responsible for conducting military operations in air and space. The United States Air Force was formed from the Army Air Corps in 1947. The Air Force plays a critical role in the defense of the United States through control of air and space. The Air Force deploys aircraft to fight enemy aircraft, bomb enemy targets, provide reconnaissance, and transport soldiers for the other armed services. The Air Force also maintains most of the country’s nuclear forces, including a fleet of strategic bombers that carry nuclear weapons and land-based nuclear missiles. In addition, the Air Force launches and maintains a wide variety of military satellites.
There are approximately 368,000 airmen (the term for both men and women soldiers) in the U.S. Air Force, including about 4,000 cadets at the United States Air Force Academy near Colorado Springs, Colorado. About one of every five members of the Air Force is an officer. There are more than 150,000 civilians working for the Department of the Air Force, with another 181,000 Air Reserve and Air National Guard personnel.
The U.S. Air Force is under the control of the United States Department of the Air Force, which is led by the secretary of the air force, a civilian. Within the Air Force there are nine major commands, organized on a functional basis in the United States and by geographic location overseas. Each major command is led by a four-star general and is comprised of numbered air forces (NAFs), which in turn are made up of air divisions (ADs), and two nonnumbered air forces, which are based overseas.
The organization of operational Air Force units beneath each command varies widely, depending on the type of squadron (combat, air transport, or maintenance), aircraft, and mission. The squadron is the basic organizational unit. The number of aircraft in a squadron depends on the squadron’s purpose. There are generally 10 to 20 aircraft in a bomber squadron, 18 to 24 in a fighter squadron, and 8 to 16 in a transport squadron. Four or more squadrons form a wing, which usually includes separate operations, logistics, and support groups. Two or more wings form a division, and two or more divisions make a numbered air force.
Almost the entire Air Force—active force, reserve force, and air national guard—is divided into ten Aerospace Expeditionary Forces (AEFs). Each AEF is on call (ready for immediate deployment) for 90 days every 15 months, and at least two of the ten AEFs are on call at any one time. Each AEF, with 10,000 to 15,000 personnel, consists of about 90 multirole fighter and bomber aircraft, 31 refueling aircraft, and 13 aircraft for missions involving surveillance (systematically observing people, places, or things), reconnaissance (missions specifically intended to obtain information about an enemy), and electronic warfare (the use of special electronics to jam enemy communications and to cloak U.S. forces from detection by the enemy).
Two fighters—the F-15 Eagle and F-16 Fighting Falcon—make up the backbone of the U.S. Air Force’s attack force. The Air Force uses modified versions of these planes to maintain control of the air by attacking and destroying enemy fighters and enemy antiaircraft capabilities, and for ground attack duties. The Air Force also has a much smaller number of the F-117 Nighthawk stealth fighters, designed to elude enemy radar and air defenses. The Air Force assigns its top pilots to fly its fighters. The Air Force is overseeing the development of a new airplane, the F-22, to replace the F-15 and F-16. The F-22 was expected to perform both air superiority and ground attack missions and was scheduled to begin replacing the F-15 and F-16 in 2005. See also Fighter Aircraft.
The Air Force maintains a fleet of about 180 long-range bombers. Eighty-five of the bombers are the aging H model of the B-52 Stratofortress, a plane first introduced in 1961. The Air Force also has 75 of the more modern B-1 Lancer and 21 of the B-2 Spirit stealth bomber. Air Force bombers can carry nuclear or conventional air-launched cruise missiles (ALCM) and a wide variety of other weapons, such as the Joint Direct Attack Munition (JDAM), a satellite-guided precision bomb. See Bomber Aircraft; Smart Bomb; Bomb.
The Air Force has a large fleet of planes for strategic airlift (carrying troops, equipment, and supplies thousands of kilometers without landing or refueling). The newest strategic airlift plane is the C-17 Globemaster, which can carry about 70,000 kg (about 160,000 lb). In 2004 the Air Force had 120 of these planes and planned to expand the fleet to 180 C-17s. The Air Force also maintains a fleet of about 50 C-5 Galaxies, which can carry more than 90,000 kg (about 200,000 lb) of cargo, and about 80 C-141 Starlifters, which can carry about 30,900 kg (about 68,100 lb) or 200 passengers. The Starlifter can also be reconfigured to carry more than 100 wounded soldiers. For carrying cargo and troops shorter distances, the Air Force relies primarily on the C-130 Hercules, which can carry a cargo of about 20,000 kg (about 44,000 lb) over a distance of more than 3,600 km (more than 2,200 mi).
The Air Force also has deployed and begun to use unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs). The Predator UAV can linger over a designated geographic area for many hours to conduct reconnaissance and surveillance, and to direct other forces to strike targets; it also can carry the Hellfire laser-guided precision missile. The larger Global Hawk UAV can fly higher and longer than the Predator and cover more territory.
The Air Force maintains a large arsenal of nuclear-tipped intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs). About 500 of the missiles in this inventory are LGM-30 Minuteman missiles, which can carry up to three warheads (the explosive core of a missile). When fully armed with three warheads, the Minuteman has a total destructive force of about 1 megaton (the equivalent of 1 million U.S. tons of TNT) and is more than 60 times as powerful as the bomb dropped on Hiroshima, Japan, in 1945. The Air Force also has about 50 LGM-118 Peacekeeper (MX missiles), which can carry up to ten warheads, with a total destructive force of about 3 megatons. Under the START II (second Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty) arms control agreement of 1993, the United States was required to arm the Minuteman with only one 300-kiloton warhead per missile—equal to about 300,000 U.S. tons of TNT. The treaty also required the United States to retire the Peacekeeper (MX missile) system completely by 2004. The U.S. Senate ratified START II in 1996, but the Russian Duma (national legislature) did not approve the treaty. In 2002 the United States and the Russian Federation agreed to the Strategic Offensive Reduction Treaty, also known as the Treaty of Moscow, which requires a reduction in the number of deployed strategic nuclear weapons on each side from about 6,000 each to a level between 1,700 and 2,200 weapons each by 2012. See also Strategic Arms Limitation Talks.
The official mission of the United States Air Force is “to defend the United States through control and exploitation of air and space” as part of the nation’s joint military capabilities, which also include the U.S. Army, Navy, and Marines. To fulfill that mission, the Air Force operates systems in the air, in space, and on the ground. The Air Force has modified its strategy of defense through the years and is evolving from an “air and space” force to one placing more emphasis on space-based operations. In addition to its core role of controlling the skies over combat zones and bombing enemy targets, the Air Force has a vital role in transporting American forces to conflicts. The other armed forces, particularly the Army, depend on this airlift capability to get soldiers and equipment into battle quickly, giving the United States an edge over the fighting forces of many other countries.
Another key role for the Air Force is strategic nuclear deterrence. The Air Force maintains bomb wings and missile wings that are capable of delivering nuclear weapons anywhere in the world. The Air Force controls about 60 percent of the nation's nuclear force, with the rest controlled by the Navy.
To protect America’s borders, the Air Force also keeps fighter-interceptors assigned to home defense commands in both the active-duty and Air National Guard forces. The Air Force's role in deterrence and national defense extends far beyond America's borders, however. There are about 60,000 airmen serving in every corner of the world; slightly over half of them serve in Europe. The largest European bases fall under the command of U.S. Air Forces in Europe (USAFE), one of the Air Force’s two nonnumbered air forces. The air force bases (AFB) under USAFE are Ramstein and Spangdahlem AFB in Germany; İncirlik AFB in Turkey; Royal Air Force (RAF) Lakenheath and RAF Mildenhall, in England; and Aviano AFB in Italy. In Asia, the United States maintains two bases in South Korea, three in Japan, and one on the island of Guam. All of these, as well as bases in Alaska, belong to Pacific Air Forces (PACAF), the Air Force’s second nonnumbered air force. In the Persian Gulf region the Air Force has major bases at Al Jabar in Kuwait and at Prince Sultan air base in Saudi Arabia.
Most of these bases were established during the Cold War, a period after World War II (1939-1945) in which the United States and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) vied for global dominance. The end of the Cold War in 1991 left the United States as the only military and economic superpower, and the Air Force continues to maintain many of its Cold War-era bases as a means of ensuring U.S. military dominance. In addition to their strategic value, the bases make it much easier for the Air Force to conduct humanitarian relief operations, peacekeeping and deterrent missions, drug smuggling interception, and other operations with U.S. allies.
The U.S. Air Force stands as the most powerful air force in the world. The Air Force has roughly 3,700 operational aircraft of all types, including bombers, cargo transports, ground-attack-fighter interceptors, and reserve-trainer aircraft. The Air Force also has a substantial number of helicopters for various missions such as search and rescue, cargo transport, and special operations.
In general the aircraft used by the Air Force are considered excellent aircraft. However, other countries have some aircraft that can match the quality and firepower of the Air Force’s top planes. The Russian-made MiG-29 Fulcrum, for example, is generally regarded as capable of taking on any fighter in close air combat, including the U.S. Air Force’s F-15 and F-16. The new F-22 is designed to be superior to the MiG-29. No other country’s air force can match the combination of size, readiness, and training of the U.S. Air Force. Pilot training in the U.S. Air Force is extensive and realistic, and includes dissimilar combat training, in which the most modern U.S. aircraft are used to simulate dogfights against enemy aircraft. On average, U.S. Air Force pilots fly more than 200 hours per year, giving them more training time than air force pilots in any other country.
The Air Force has enough nuclear weapons to destroy any enemy many times over. Its ICBMs are accurate enough to demolish all but the most protected targets. Other countries, including Russia and China, also have substantial nuclear stockpiles, and these could destroy much of the United States in an all-out nuclear war. The U.S. nuclear strategy is based on maintaining a large and diversified arsenal to deter any such attack. The arsenal includes the bombers and ICBMs of the Air Force as well as the Navy’s submarine-launched ballistic missiles (SLBMs).
In 2002 the United States formally withdrew from the Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty. The treaty was originally negotiated with the Soviet Union during the Cold War. It was intended to prohibit the development of a national missile defense system designed to shoot down an enemy warhead. At the time both the United States and the Soviet Union pursued a strategy of mutual assured destruction (MAD). According to this strategy both nations were deterred from launching a nuclear attack because neither could survive a retaliatory strike. However, if one nation developed a missile defense shield, it could conceivably launch a first strike and then use its missile defense system to intercept missiles launched in retaliation. The ABM Treaty thus was designed to prevent any one nation from developing a first-strike nuclear strategy. Citing the threat of terrorist attacks or attacks by rogue nations, President George W. Bush in 2002 ordered the creation of a limited missile defense system by 2004. Many analysts believe that a fully operational national missile defense system is years from deployment. See also Air Defense Systems.
United States Air Force airmen include commissioned officers and enlisted members. There are about 76,000 officers (including cadets at the Air Force Academy) and 292,000 enlisted members. Roughly one-fifth of all Air Force personnel are female. African Americans make up about 15 percent of the total Air Force, Hispanic Americans about 4 percent, and Native Americans, Pacific Islanders, and other minority groups about 4 percent of the total force. Homosexuals can serve in the Air Force, but they must conform to the U.S. military’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy. Under this policy, homosexuals will not be sought out for expulsion from the Air Force, but they may be forced to leave the service if their sexual orientation becomes known.
Enlisted Airmen
Enlisted members of the U.S. Air Force are generally between the ages of 17 and 27 when they join the service. Nearly all have high school diplomas. About 70 percent of enlisted airmen have taken some college courses, and about 5 percent have a bachelor’s or master’s degree. When someone joins the Air Force, he or she signs an enlistment contract to serve for four or six years. Many people join the Air Force to learn how to fly aircraft. In recent years the Air Force has found it difficult to retain many of its highly trained pilots because of the lure of better working conditions and pay offered by civilian airlines.
All U.S. Air Force officers must have a four-year college degree. They receive commissions (appointments to an officer’s rank), normally as second lieutenants. Officers can earn their commissions through one of three sources. Most are commissioned through Air Force ROTC (Reserve Officer Training Corps). They attend ROTC classes and participate in leadership training while attending a college or university. When they graduate from college, they become Air Force second lieutenants. Others compete to attend the United States Air Force Academy, a four-year college near Colorado Springs, Colorado. Some airmen who already have a four-year college degree are awarded commissions after attending the 12-week Officer Training School at Maxwell Air Force Base (AFB), near Montgomery, Alabama.
New recruits attend six weeks of basic military training at Lackland AFB at San Antonio, Texas. Basic training is where they get their first military haircut, receive uniforms, and learn to march and follow instructions. While in basic training, recruits also learn about Air Force customs and courtesies such as saluting and rank structure, and they study U.S. Air Force history, organization, and military law. They also learn how to fire the M-16 rifle. Recruits have very little free time. They learn to work together as members of a team to enable them to face combat and other challenges.
Physical conditioning is an important part of basic training. Recruits take part in a variety of activities—such as jogging, swimming, basketball, and pushups—to improve endurance and upper body strength. Basic training is designed to build confidence and instill a sense of teamwork and service in every airman.
After basic training, airmen attend technical training at one of several air force bases. During technical training, airmen learn skills to prepare them for one of the more than 120 career fields in the Air Force. Airmen earn college credits for their technical training through the Community College of the Air Force, based at Maxwell AFB. In addition to formal training, they also get on-the-job training and hands-on experience. Airmen perform a wide variety of jobs, from jet engine mechanic to computer systems operator to medical specialist.
Nearly all jobs in the Air Force, including security force member, aircraft navigator, and fighter pilot, are open to women. Only three jobs exclude women: pararescue (high-risk rescue teams); combat controller (elite airmen deployed to clear a path for other troops); and tactical air command and controller (combat communications specialists).
Life on the Base
An air force base is like a small city and is usually centered around a large airport. In addition to aircraft hangars, air traffic control towers, and other support buildings on the flight line, there are homes, apartments, and office buildings. In most cases there are medical and dental clinics on the base. There may also be shopping centers, libraries, gymnasiums, bowling centers, golf courses, schools, and other facilities.
Unmarried airmen normally live in a dormitory. Married members either live on base or receive a housing allowance and live off base. While at work, airmen wear uniforms, and when off duty, they wear civilian clothes. Normally airmen are free to use their off-duty time to relax, travel, take college courses, or participate in recreational activities.
Airmen usually move to a new base about every three years. About 20 percent of airmen live and work at overseas bases. Airmen maintain readiness to rapidly deploy and protect vital U.S. interests, perform humanitarian missions, or respond to natural disasters. They routinely deploy for short periods of time to train in military readiness exercises, or to carry out missions.
The United States Air Force originated as the Aeronautical Division of the U.S. Army Signal Corps on August 1, 1907. The Army expressed no interest in airplanes at the time, preferring to experiment with the steerable dirigible (blimp). At one time only two enlisted people made up this force. Along with many other Americans, President Theodore Roosevelt was intrigued by the Wright brothers' aerial flights, and he directed the Army to bid for aircraft in late 1907. Army aviation got off to a slow start, and Congress authorized the creation of the Army Aviation Section of the Signal Corps only in 1914.
World War I
When the United States entered World War I (1914-1918) in 1917, the Army Aviation Section had 56 pilots and only 250 aircraft, all of which were obsolete. To aid a speedy U.S. entry into the war, the U.S. government decided to rely on American manufacturers to build engines, trainer aircraft, and the DH-4 bomber, and buy other combat aircraft from U.S. allies. By the end of the war 18 months later, U.S. industry had produced over 11,000 aircraft, and the Aviation Section consisted of nearly 200,000 airmen and 185 squadrons of airplanes.
Air operations in World War I consisted of observation, reconnaissance, and bombing missions over enemy trenches, close air support of ground troops, and dogfights between fighters to control the skies over the battlefield. Close air support in World War I usually involved flying at low altitudes to fire machine guns at enemy ground forces, and many pilots were wounded or killed on these missions. The pace of the pilots’ lives was brutal, and the life span of an airman was short—sometimes measured in days or weeks.
Following the Allied victory in World War I, the Army Aviation Section was renamed the Division of Military Aeronautics (1918), the Air Service (1918-1926), and the Air Corps (1926-1941). The Air Corps evolved as technology offered new opportunities for the use of air power. Some military leaders such as General William “Billy” Mitchell urged that air power be used beyond the immediate front lines, to take the war to the enemy's interior. This idea was called strategic bombing because it involved attacking an enemy's vital industries, communications centers, railroads, and other facilities that supported war efforts. High-altitude, high-speed bomber aircraft came to be seen as the wave of the future.
World War II
At the outset of the United States entry into World War II (1939-1945) in 1941, the country had much of its air fleet destroyed at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, and at bases in Asia. However, American industry eventually produced over 300,000 aircraft for the war effort. Germany and Japan combined produced two-thirds that number. American aircraft were heavily armed, and most were reliable. The Air Corps, which was renamed the Army Air Forces, was vital in sweeping the skies of enemy aircraft from 1942 to 1945.
Allied and U.S. bombers pounded factories and supply lines in Germany and Japan, sometimes in round-the-clock operations. Allied and U.S. bombers also attacked civilian populations in hopes of destroying civilian morale and convincing enemy leaders to concede defeat. Besides the strategic bombing campaign, U.S. tactical fighters engaged the Axis air forces of Germany, Japan, and Italy in a variety of missions: bomber escort, interdiction (preventing enemy forces from timely arrival at the battle area), and air superiority. By 1944 the Axis nations' air forces were in a shambles, and the Allies dominated the air. But by the war’s end in 1945 the price was heavy: 45,000 U.S. airmen were killed, another 18,000 wounded, and more than 40,000 were taken prisoner. In addition, the contribution of air power to the war was called into question. Enemy war industries proved far more resilient than strategists expected, and civilian morale withstood waves of bombing.
The advent of nuclear weapons in the 1940s meant sweeping change. The Army Air Corps dropped atomic bombs on the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August 1945, killing about 200,000 people. The bombings helped bring an end to the war and led to speculation that nuclear weapons would make conventional war impossible. Nuclear weapons gained a grip on the imagination of American policymakers and the public. The United States Air Force was created in 1947 out of the Army Air Corps and quickly laid claim to a leading role in the country’s nuclear strategy.
Korean War
The Korean War (1950-1953), however, showed that the development of nuclear weapons had not brought an end to conventional warfare. The Korean War involved much the same type of combat typical of World War II. After destroying what limited infrastructure the North Koreans had, the U.S. Air Force pursued a policy of interdiction—using air power to stop the movement of weapons and soldiers—against the North Koreans and their Chinese allies. Much of the industrial base supporting the North Koreans was located in China and Russia, countries off-limits to U.S. bombing. The air war in Korea was in many ways a smaller version of World War II. The major development for the Air Force during the war was the extensive use of new jet fighters. Nearly 1,600 airmen died in the Korean War.
Shift Toward Nuclear Weapons
The advent of nuclear weapons brought a resurgence of the bomber as the chief weapons delivery means for the U.S. Air Force, along with the intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM). In 1956 the Air Force was assigned sole responsibility for all land-based intermediate and intercontinental ballistic missile systems. The North American Air Defense Command (NORAD) was formed a year later to lead American defenses against enemy air and missile attacks. A key part of this defense was the creation of the Distant Early Warning (DEW) Line, a belt of radar stations in Alaska and northern Canada that was completed in 1957.
With control of the nation’s bombers and ICBMs, the Air Force took a central role in America’s three-pronged triad of nuclear weapons. The elements of the triad were long-range bombers, land-based ICBMs, and the U.S. Navy’s submarine-launched ballistic missiles (SLBMs). The strategic logic assumed that if one element of the triad was destroyed, the others could still fight. Critics charged that the logic of the triad was faulty because no enemy could destroy a significant number of the Navy’s ballistic missile submarines, and therefore the concept of the triad was simply a device to justify maintaining redundant weapons that resulted from rivalry between the armed services.
The Vietnam War
Having spent much of the 1950s training and equipping itself for a nuclear conflict, the U.S. Air Force found itself ill-prepared when the United States became heavily involved in the Vietnam War (1959-1975) in 1964. As in the Korean War, the U.S. Air Force was not allowed to bomb countries that aided the enemy’s war effort, in this case the former Soviet Union and China. In addition, U.S. aircraft faced a new enemy in Vietnam: thousands of surface-to-air guns and missiles fortified around key enemy sites. These air defenses brought down hundreds of planes and killed many aircrews. Some U.S. aircraft, such as the light and fast F-105, were designed to carry nuclear weapons and required substantial modifications to face the rigors of daily combat missions.
The Air Force also directed its efforts toward close air support in the dense jungle terrain, transporting troops, and trying to destroy enemy supply lines originating in North Vietnam. As in Korea, the effort to cut supply lines was relatively ineffective. In 1973, near the end of U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War, the Air Force began to experiment with its first “precision” bombs, which could reliably strike very close to their intended target. A more controversial tactic was deployed in Operation Ranch Hand, in which the United States dropped millions of gallons of herbicides (plant killers) such as Agent Orange in an effort to destroy trees and plants that gave the enemy cover. The use of herbicides sparked charges that the United States was violating international norms against using chemical weapons in war, and many of the herbicides were later found to cause birth defects and rare forms of cancer in humans.
Through much of the war, the Air Force’s bombing campaign was guided by a doctrine known as escalation. According to the logic of escalation, bombing could be increased and decreased to encourage the enemy to make concessions. During some bombing campaigns the Air Force was ordered to stop bombing in hopes of inducing the North Vietnamese to negotiate. However, the lull allowed the North Vietnamese time to repair damaged areas, bring in supplies, and build more air defenses, blunting some of the effects of the campaigns.
Escalation was sometimes effective, however. The Air Force's greatest successes came during the Linebacker operations (primarily from May 1972 to December 1972), which involved massive B-52 bombing raids against North Vietnamese cities and military facilities. Although the United States lost 15 B-52s during these operations, North Vietnamese peace negotiators did return to the peace talks in Paris, France, after the bombing ended. The Air Force realized that it had trained for one war—strategic nuclear war against an industrialized enemy—but instead had fought a tactical battle against a developing nation. The Air Force’s efforts in the war were often hobbled by limitations on targets, but by the end of the war the Air Force had destroyed virtually all significant military targets. By war’s end the Air Force had dropped over 5 million metric tons (over 6 million U.S. tons) of bombs on the country, more than three times the tonnage dropped in World War II. The North Vietnamese won the war despite the heavy bombing, calling into question the value of strategic bombing in a limited war against a developing nation. Over 2,600 airmen died during the Vietnam War.
The Military Buildup of the 1980s
Partly in response to the heavy loss of pilots to antiaircraft missiles in Vietnam, the U.S. Air Force worked in the 1970s and 1980s to create a new generation of fighters and bombers that could elude enemy defenses. This initiative led to the development of the F-117 fighter in 1982, and the B-1 bomber, which was first deployed in 1985. (The B-1 was followed in 1993 by the B-2 bomber.) These aircraft proved generally capable of penetrating deep into enemy airspace without detection, but their steep cost caused considerable criticism. The F-117 cost $45 million each, a B-1 bomber was over $200 million, and each B-2 exceeded $1 billion. The extraordinary cost of the B-2 compelled the Air Force to limit itself to less than two dozen of the planes.
In the early 1980s the Air Force also received approval to continue development of the long-delayed LGM 118 Peacekeeper (MX) missile system. Original plans called for making a very powerful missile and protecting it from nuclear attack by placing it on rail cars that could be covertly moved between a series of reinforced bunkers. When this proved impractical, the Air Force opted to deploy the MX into existing Minuteman silos. The extraordinary destructive force of the MX increased the military might of the United States, but the missile program was controversial because of its cost. Some critics objected to the MX because they claimed it was designed as a first-strike offensive weapon. Some analysts also worried that the missile heightened the prospect of nuclear war because it placed a large part of the country’s nuclear arsenal in a few silos that could never be defended against nuclear strikes. By concentrating so much of the country’s nuclear firepower in a few vulnerable locations, there might be an incentive to launch the MX prematurely rather than leave them vulnerable to enemy missiles.
The Persian Gulf War and Afterward
The U.S. Air Force played a significant role in the Persian Gulf War of 1991. On the first day of the air war, the Air Force flew 2,759 sorties (missions). Air power was decisive in transporting troops to the battlefield, in attacking Iraqi ground forces along the front line, and in bombing key targets of the Iraqi war effort—in particular the Iraqi command-and-control network in Baghdad and other areas of the country—and Iraqi airfields.
The Persian Gulf War saw the first extensive use of the F-117 aircraft and laser-guided or electro-optically guided “smart bombs” in conducting so-called surgical strikes against key enemy targets. (Surgical strikes are missions that use precision-delivered weapons to destroy a specific target while minimizing civilian casualties and damage to surrounding buildings.) These smart weapons proved to be generally effective, although assessments after the war suggested that the weapons were not as accurate as initial reports indicated. Air force satellites were also critical to the war effort, providing intelligence and communications data, and navigation data through the Global Positioning System—a system of 24 navigation satellites and ground receivers. In all, 26 airmen died during the war.
The U.S. Air Force has been involved in many types of missions since the Persian Gulf War. These have included the enforcement of a “no-fly zone” for Iraqi aircraft over extensive areas of Iraq, ferrying relief supplies to refugees in Somalia and Rwanda, and transporting and supporting U.S. forces to Haiti in 1994. See Haiti: History: U.S. Intervention.
In March 1999 the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) began a campaign to halt Serbian repression of people of Albanian descent living in the province of Kosovo in Serbia. The NATO campaign lasted 78 days and consisted almost entirely of the use of air power. The U.S. Air Force provided a significant portion of the air power used in the bombing campaign, including B-2 bombers that flew nonstop from their bases in the United States to their targets in southeastern Europe, refueling in flight and returning to the United States without ever landing. While fixed military targets were relatively easy to hit, the Serbian army dispersed its force in the field, making it much more difficult to destroy. Rugged terrain, poor weather, and the decision to keep NATO aircraft flying at altitudes above the range of Serbian air defenses reduced significantly the amount of damage that the air campaign actually inflicted on the Serbian army.
Global War on Terrorism
On September 11, 2001, following the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, the Air Force began flying protective combat air patrols (CAP) over major American cities. While the frequency of the missions had decreased by 2003, the Air Force continues to fly these protective missions, particularly when there are major events that draw large crowds, such as the Super Bowl.
In October 2001 the Air Force began bombing targets in Afghanistan as part of the U.S. response to the terrorist attacks of September 11, which were carried out by the al-Qaeda terrorist network and supported by the Taliban government that then ruled Afghanistan. Air Force combat air controllers were integrated into Army Special Forces units and equipped with communications equipment that enabled them to direct satellite-guided Joint Direct Attack Munitions (JDAM) dropped from Air Force aircraft against Taliban and al-Qaeda forces. The air strikes allowed U.S. Special Operation Forces and the Afghan tribesmen of the Northern Alliance to attack and destroy the enemy forces or make them retreat into the mountains of neighboring countries. The Air Force continues to use its combat, reconnaissance, and transport aircraft in support of allied operations in Afghanistan, where the rugged terrain and countless caves provide excellent hiding places for Taliban and al-Qaeda forces.
Invasion of Iraq
The United States continued to demonstrate its air superiority during the 2003 invasion of Iraq. Air Force pilots flew thousands of sorties during the war, which began in late March. The air campaign involved the use of B-2, B-1, B-52, and F-117 bombers, fighter aircraft, cruise missiles, and precision-guided bombs. United States and British aircraft flew essentially unmolested over Iraqi territory throughout the campaign. Only a few aircraft were lost and no Iraqi fighter aircraft challenged U.S. or British forces. The precision bombing campaign was designed to destroy Iraqi command and control capabilities as well as to reduce the effectiveness of deployed armor and infantry units. Not all of the precision-guided weapons were on target, however. A few fell in the neighboring countries of Saudi Arabia and Turkey, and others reportedly struck residential neighborhoods in the Iraqi capital of Baghdād. See also Air Warfare; Military Aviation; Smart Bombs; U.S.-Iraq War.

U.S. Air Force Structure

Air Education and Training Command
Recruits and trains pilots, support crews, and other air force personnel.
Air Force Materiel Command
Develops, tests, and acquires aircraft, missiles, and other air force equipment. It also assists the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) in the development and deployment of satellites and other space hardware.
Air Force Reserve Command
Maintains a standby contingent of aircraft, pilots, supplies and support personnel to assist other air force commands.
Air Force Space Command
Launches satellites, monitors space for hostile activities, and manages the Air Force's intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs).
Air Force Special Operations Command
Provides planes, helicopters, troops, and support equipment to conduct unconventional warfare.
Air Mobility Command
Transports troops, weapons, and other materiel (military equipment and supplies) around the world, and manages the air force's fleet of refueling planes.
Pacific Air Forces
Controls air bases in Alaska, Guam, Hawaii, Japan, and South Korea.
United States Air Forces in Europe
Manages air bases in Germany, Great Britain, Italy, and Turkey.

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