An air force, also known in some countries as an air army or historically an army air corps , is in the broadest sense, the national military or armed service that primarily conducts
aerial warfare. The term "air force" may also refer to a tactical air forceor numbered air force, which is an operational formation within a national air force.
Air forces typically consist of a combination of fighters,
bombers, helicopters, transport planes and other aircraft. Many air forces are also responsible for operations of military space, intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBM), and communications equipment. Some air forces may command and control other air-defense assets such as antiaircraft artillery, surface-to-air missiles, or anti-ballistic missilewarning networks and defensive systems.
Air forces typically operate numerous types of aircraft. These may include
* "Fighters", used to destroy other aircraft;
Bombers" and " Ground-attack aircraft", used to attack ground targets;
Airborne Early WarningAircraft"; used for AWACS( Airborne Warning and Control System) missions.
* "Transport Aircraft"; used for transporting military cargo
* "Tankers" which provide aerial in-flight refuelling for other aircraft;
Helicopters", used for attack, rescue or transport;
* and "Training Aircraft".
Air forces also operate numerous types of satellites. These satellites provide services such as:
* Secure and unsecure communications
* Position, navigation and timing
* Missile warning
* Weather data
* Intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR)
Some air forces such as the British
Royal Air Force(RAF) have a unique rank structure loosely based on naval ranks; other air forces such as the United States Air Force(USAF) have a rank structure on the Enlisted side that is unique, but the Officer corps uses Army-style rank. Finally, there are air forces such as Soviet Air Forcethat use Army-style ranks for both Enlisted and Officer corps. Most (but not all) wear blue-grey uniforms ('air force', as opposed to 'navy', blue), a practice pioneered by the Royal Air Force. The organization structures of the air forces also vary: some air forces (such as the USAF and RAF) are divided into commands, groups and squadrons; others (such as the Soviet Air Force) have an Army-style organizational structure.
For every aircraft, there are pilots responsible for flying the aircraft, there are maintenance personnel who launch the aircraft and maintain it when on ground, air traffic controllers, communications crew, satellite operators, administrative personnel, and medical personnel; in some air forces, there are officers responsible for strategic nuclear weapons such as intercontinental ballistic missiles (
ICBMs). Although the majority of the senior leadership of most air forces are pilots, the majority of the personnel are not. Some air forces operate anti-aircraft artillery(now with radars and missiles), and a few air forces have their own paratroopers, or ground defence personnel charged with defending Air Bases, their supply lines and surrounding areas from hostile ground forces, such as the British RAF Regimentor the French Fusiliers Commandos de l'Air. Some Air Forces also include their own Special Forces, which may include aircrews and aircraft tasked with special missions such as surveillance or insertion operations, or ground-based personnel such as the American Air Force Special Tacticsor the Malaysian PASKAUunits, who provide support to Air Force or Special Forces operations by performing functions such as combat search and rescue, explosive ordnance disposal, and forward air control. Given the pilots' special status, they often wear special insignia in the form of a volor "wings". Other air crews might wear variations of such insignia.
The United States Air Force also has an auxiliary unit called the Civil Air Patrol. CAP is a non-profit organization that performs 95% of all inland searchs in the United States. There are units in every state. The air force supplies and helps the Civil Air Patrol.The B-2 is the best plane out there besides the F-22
The origins of military aviation lie in the use of balloons as a reconnaissance aid to ground-based commanders. The French made use of a balloon at the Battle of Fleurus in 1794 and the Americans were the first to employ balloons on a major scale during the
American Civil War.
The British first experimented with balloons in 1863 and in 1888 a
School of Ballooningwas established.
Heavier-than-air military aircraft
Balloon corps are not generally regarded as examples of an air force. However, with the invention of
heavier-than-airflying machines in 1903, armies and navies began to take interest in this new form of aviation.
The first aviation force in the world was the
Aviation Militaireof the French Armyformed in 1910, which eventually became L' Armée de l'Air. During World War IFrance, Germany, Italy and the British Empire all possessed significant aviation forces of bombers and fighters, the latter produced numerous flying aces.
Independent air forces
An independent air force is one which is a separate branch of a nation's armed forces and is, at least notionally, on equal terms to that nation's army or navy.
Finnish Air Forceclaims to be the first independent air force in the world. When it was founded on 6 March 1918[ [http://www.ilmavoimat.fi/index_en.php?id=600 Puolustusvoimat - Försvarsmakten - The Finnish Defence Forces ] ] , it consisted of one aircraft and was commanded by a junior officer. However, it is generally recognized that the British Royal Air Forcewas the first independent air force of any size. The RAF was founded on 1 April 1918by merging the British Army's Royal Flying Corpsand the Royal Navy's Air Service. On establishment the RAF comprised over 20,000 aircraft, was commanded by a Chief of the Air Staff who held the rank of Major Generaland was governed by its own government ministry (the Air Ministry).
The two World Wars
Germanywas the first country to use its air force to drop bombs on enemy cities. In the First World Warit used its zeppelins ( airships) to drop bombs on British cities. At that time, Britain did have aircraft, though her airships were less advanced than the zeppelins and were very rarely used for attacking; instead they were usually used to spy on German U-boats( submarines). Planesat that point were primitive world wide, they only travelled at around 50 mph and were very vulnerable to attack. The average pilot at that time would only live for one week after they completed their training.Fact|date=July 2008
By the time the
Second World Warstarted, planes had become much safer, faster and more reliable. They were adopted as standard for bombing raids and taking out other aircraft because they were much faster than airships. The World's largest military Air Force by the start of the Second World War in 1939 was the Red Air Force, and although much depleted, it would stage the largest air operations of WWII over the four years of combat with the Luftwaffe. The war's most important air operation, known as the Battle of Britain, took place during 1940 over Britain and the English Channelbetween Britain's Royal Air Forceand Germany's Luftwaffeover a period of several months. In the end Britain emerged victorious and this caused Adolf Hitler to give up his plan to invade Britain. Other prominent operations during the Second World War include the bombing of Pearl Harbor by the Japanese in 1941, the Allied bombing of Germany during 1942-1944, and the Red Air Forceoperations in support of strategic ground offensives on the Eastern Front.
The air force's role of
strategic bombingagainst enemy infrastructures was developed during the 1930s by the Japanese in China and by the Germans during the Spanish Civil War. This role for the bomber was perfected during World War II, during Allied "Thousand Bomber Raid" operations. The need to intercept these bombers, both during the day and at night, accelerated fighter aircraft developments. The war ended when United States Army Air Force Boeing B-29 Superfortressbombers dropped two atomic bombs at Hiroshimaand Nagasaki in Japan in August 1945.
Post World War II
United States Air Forcefinally became an independent service in 1947. As the Cold Warbegan, both the USAF and the Soviet Air Force built up their nuclear-capable strategic bomber forces. Several technological advances were widely introduced during this time: the jet engine; the missile; the helicopter; and inflight refueling.
Communist China has also developed a large air force (which, contrary to popular belief, is in fact quite independent from the ground force), initially with aid from the Soviet Union, and later on its own. Both the US and the USSR supplied large numbers of aircraft, technical advice and training to their allied nations.
During the 1960s, Canada took the unusual step of merging the Royal Canadian Air Force with the army and the navy to form the unified
Canadian Forces, with a green uniform for everyone. This proved very unpopularFact|date=June 2007, and recently the air force (and the navy) have re-adopted their distinct identities (although structurally they remained a unified force). Perhaps the latest air force to become "independent" is the Irish Air Corps, which changed its uniform from army green to blue in the 1990s.
Several countries title their military aviation Air Army, notably France. In such countries the army is officially called the Land Army, although in common usage "army" retains its meaning of a land force.
However, in the Soviet Union and the Russian Federation the Air Army also refers to a
military formation, and during WWII eighteen Air Armies operated as part of the Red Army Order of Battleof the Military units and formations of the Soviet Union in World War II. The Air Armies were divided into the air forces of the military district PVO, the Frontal AviationAir Armies assigned one to each Front, and the Anti-Air Defense Armies that included anti-aircraft guns and interceptors.
List of air forces
Life support (aviation)
History of military aviation
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