United States Air Force

United States Air Force
United States Air Force
Seal of the US Air Force.svg

Seal of the Department of the Air Force
United States Air Force portal
Active September 18, 1947[1] - Present
Country  United States of America
Type Air force
Size 329,638 active personnel
68,872 reserve personnel
94,597 air guard personnel
60,000 Auxiliaries
5,573 aircraft, of which 2,132 are fighters
450 ICBMs
32 satellites
Part of Department of the Air Force
Headquarters The Pentagon
Motto "Aim High ... Fly-Fight-Win[2]'also '"Above All" and "No One Comes Close"
Colors Ultramarine Blue and Yellow[3]         
March The U.S. Air Force About this sound Play
Engagements Korean War
Vietnam War
Panama War
Gulf War
Bosnian War
Kosovo Campaign
Afghanistan War
Iraq War
2011 Libyan Civil War
Secretary Hon. Michael B. Donley
Chief of Staff Gen Norton A. Schwartz
Vice Chief of Staff Gen Philip M. Breedlove
Chief Master Sergeant CMSAF James A. Roy
United States Air Force Symbol USAF logo.png
USAF "Hap" Arnold Symbol Us army air corps shield.svg
Roundel of the USAF.svg
Fin Flash Flag of the United States.svg
Aircraft flown
Attack A-10, AC-130
Bomber B-52H, B-1B, B-2
E-3, E-8, EC-130
Fighter F-15C, F-15E, F-16, F-22
Helicopter UH-1N, HH-60
Cargo helicopter CV-22
Reconnaissance U-2, RC-135, RQ-4, RQ-1
Trainer T-6, T-38, T-1, TG-10
Transport C-130, C-135, KC-135, C-5, C-9, KC-10, C-17, VC-25, C-32, C-37, C-21, C-12, C-40.

The United States Air Force (USAF) is the aerial warfare service branch of the United States Armed Forces and one of the American uniformed services. Initially part of the United States Army, the USAF was formed as a separate branch of the military on September 18, 1947 under the National Security Act of 1947.[1] It is the most recent branch of the U.S. military to be formed, and is one of the most technologically sophisticated air forces. The USAF articulates its core functions in its 2010 Posture Statement as Nuclear Deterrence Operations, Special Operations, Air Superiority, Global Integrated ISR, Space Superiority, Command and Control, Cyberspace Superiority, Personnel Recovery, Global Precision Attack, Building Partnerships, Rapid Global Mobility and Agile Combat Support.[4]

As of 2009 the USAF operates 5,573 manned aircraft in service (3,990 USAF; 1,213 Air National Guard; and 370 Air Force Reserve);[5] approximately 180 unmanned combat air vehicles, 2,130 air-launched cruise missiles,[6] and 450 intercontinental ballistic missiles. The USAF has 330,159 personnel on active duty, 68,872 in the Selected and Individual Ready Reserves, and 94,753 in the Air National Guard as of September 2008. In addition, the USAF employs 151,360 civilian personnel,[7] and has over 60,000 auxiliary members in the Civil Air Patrol,[8] making it the largest air force in the world.

The Department of the Air Force is headed by the civilian Secretary of the Air Force, who is appointed by the President with the advice and consent of the Senate, and has the authority to conduct all of its affairs, subject to the authority, direction and control of the Secretary of Defense. The Department of the Air Force is a Military Department within the Department of Defense, and it includes all elements of the United States Air Force, i.e. the technical designation of the U.S. Air Force organization. The highest ranking military officer in the Department of the Air Force is the Chief of Staff of the Air Force who exercises supervision over Air Force units, and serves as a member of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Air Force combat 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 have operational command authority over them.

The core values of the Air Force are: 1) Integrity First; 2) Service Before Self; and 3) Excellence In All We Do.



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:[9]

  • 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".[10]

Operational functions

The Air Force describes its mission in terms of 17 operational functions:[11]

  • Strategic Attack – offensive action that most directly achieves national security objectives by affecting the adversary’s leadership, conflict-sustaining resources and strategy.
  • Counter-air – operations to attain and maintain a desired degree of air superiority by the destruction, degradation, or disruption of enemy forces. Counter-air takes the form of both offensive counter air against enemy air and missile power at its source, and defensive counter-air against attacking enemy air and missiles over friendly territory.
  • Counter-space – destruction, degradation or disruption of enemy space capability.
  • Counter-land – air and space operations against enemy land forces, including air interdiction to divert, disrupt, delay, or destroy the enemy’s surface military potential before it can be used effectively against friendly forces, and close air support to help friendly surface forces in contact with enemy forces.
  • Counter-sea – tasks including sea surveillance, anti-ship and anti-submarine warfare, aerial minelaying, and air refueling in support of naval campaigns.
  • Information Operations – actions taken to influence, affect, or defend information, systems, and/or decision-making, through influence, network warfare, and electronic warfare operations.
  • Combat Support – capabilities, functions, activities, and tasks necessary to create and sustain air and space forces, including the procurement, maintenance, distribution, and replacement of personnel and materiel.
  • Command and Control – exercise of authority and direction by a properly designated commander over assigned and attached forces in the accomplishment of the mission, including both process and systems.
  • Airlift – transportation of personnel and materiel through the air.
  • Air Refueling – in-flight transfer of fuel between tanker and receiver aircraft.
  • Space-lift – delivery of satellites, payloads and materiel to space.
  • Special Operations – airpower conducting unconventional warfare, direct action, special reconnaissance, counter-terrorism, foreign internal defense, psychological operations, and counter-proliferation.
  • Intelligence – product resulting from the collection, processing, integration, analysis, evaluation and interpretation of available information concerning foreign countries or areas.
  • Surveillance and Reconnaissance – systematic observation of air, space, surface, or subsurface areas, places, persons, or things, by visual, aural, electronic, photographic, or other means. Surveillance is a continuing process, not oriented to a specific target, while reconnaissance looks for specific information and generally has a time constraint.
  • Combat Search and Rescue – recovery of isolated personnel with rotary- and fixed-wing aircraft.
  • Navigation and Positioning – provision of accurate location and time of reference.
  • Weather Services – environmental information, including both space environment and atmospheric weather.

Search and rescue

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 USAF as responsible for aeronautical SAR in the continental U.S. (CONUS) with the exception of Alaska.[12] Both agencies maintain Joint Rescue Coordination Centers to coordinate this effort.[13] To help the USAF with the vast number of primarily civilian search and rescue operations in CONUS, the USAF assigns units of the Civil Air Patrol—the official U.S. Air Force Auxiliary—in over 91% of inland search and rescue missions.

Air sovereignty

The USAF, through the Air National Guard, is the lead agency to maintain control of America's airspace.

Prior to 11th September 2001, the USAF regarded airborne attacks within the United States as a "law enforcement issue".[14]

On July 30, 2009, Lt. Gen. Harry Wyatt, director of the Air National Guard said that "Technologies needed for the mission include an active, electronically scanned array radar (which can be used to detect small and stealthy air threats including cruise missiles), infrared search and track systems and beyond-line-of-sight communications".[15] On September 14, 2009, Gen. Norton A. Schwartz, chief of staff of the USAF, said that he hopes "to bring a combination of F-22, F-35, legacy aircraft, including upgraded F-15C/D and F-16C/D fighters, and unmanned aircraft to the [air sovereignty alert] ASA mission."[16]

Even so, the USAF plans to retire up to 80% of their total force of F-15C/D and F-16C/D air sovereignty mission aircraft, which would leave no usable aircraft at 18 current air sovereignty sites after 2015.[17][18][19] The GAO found that 17 of the 20 commanders of the ASA units "stated that the Air Force treats ASA operations as a temporary mission and has not provided sufficient resources."[20]

The USAF has decided to accept "moderate risk" for the air sovereignty mission as well as deep strike and close air support, under optimistic assumptions for F-35 production.[21] The GAO found that the Air Force used dated material to provide these reports to the Congress.[22] The Department of Defense has used U.S. Navy and USMC aircraft for the Air Sovereignty Mission and may do so in the future.[17]

Irregular warfare

In response to the conflicts in which the United States has been engaged since the end of the Cold War, on August 1, 2007, Air Force Doctrine Document 2-3 was released showing how air power could be used to support or defeat an insurgency.[23]

To support these missions, the USAF considered outfitting a counter-insurgency wing with small, ground attack aircraft that can also be used for training USAF and allied pilots in addition to counterinsurgency operations.[24] However the 2010 QDR shifted the future Light Attack/Armed Reconnaissance aircraft to the Air Force’s 6th Special Operations Squadron to be used to train allied forces.[25]


The USAF provides both strategic and tactical airlift in support of wartime, peacetime, and humanitarian efforts of the Department of Defense.

The GAO found that Air Force plans should cover strategic airlift, but that it may fall short in providing tactical airlift in support of the United States Army.[26]


The War Department 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 Air Force came of age in World War II. Almost 68,000 U.S airmen died helping to win the war; only the infantry suffered more enlisted casualties.[27] In practice, the USAAF was virtually independent of the Army during World War II, but officials wanted formal independence. The USAF became a separate military service on September 18, 1947, with the implementation of the National Security Act of 1947.[28] The Act created the National Military Establishment (renamed Department of Defense in 1949), which was composed of three subordinate Military Departments, namely the Department of the Army, the Department of the Navy and a newly-created Department of the Air Force.[29] Prior to 1947, the responsibility for military aviation was shared between the Army (for land-based operations), the Navy (for sea-based operations from aircraft carriers and amphibious aircraft), and the Marine Corps (for close air support of infantry operations).

Roundels that have appeared on US aircraft
1) 5/17–2/18 2) 2/18–8/19 3) 8/19–5/42
4) 5/42–6/43 5) 6/43–9/43 6) 9/43–1/47
7) 1/47–

The predecessor organizations in the Army of today's Air Force are:

Recent history

Since 2005, the USAF has placed a strong focus on the improvement of Basic Military Training (BMT). While the intense training has become longer it also has shifted to include a deployment phase. This deployment phase, now called the BEAST, places the trainees in a surreal environment that they may experience once they deploy. While the trainees do tackle the massive obstacle courses along with the BEAST, the other portions include defending and protecting their base of operations, forming a structure of leadership, directing search and recovery, and basic self aid buddy care. During this event, the Military Training Instructors (MTI) act as mentors and enemy forces in a deployment exercise.

In 2007, the USAF undertook a reduction-in-force. Because of budget constraints, the USAF planned to reduce the service's size from 360,000 active duty personnel to 316,000.[30] The size of the active-duty force in 2007 was roughly 64% of that of the USAF at the end of the Gulf War in 1991.[31] However, the reduction was ended at approximately 330,000 personnel in 2008 to meet mission requirements.[30] These same constraints have seen a sharp reduction in flight hours for crew training since 2005[32] and the Deputy Chief of Staff for Manpower and Personnel directing Airmen's Time Assessments.[33]

On June 5, 2008, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, accepted the resignations of both the Secretary of the Air Force, Michael Wynne, and the Chief of Staff of the United States Air Force, Gen. T. Michael Moseley. Gates in effect fired both men for "systemic issues associated with declining Air Force nuclear mission focus and performance". This followed an investigation into two embarrassing incidents involving mishandling of nuclear weapons, and were also the culmination of disputes between the Air Force leadership and Gates.[34] To put more emphasis on nuclear assets, the USAF established the nuclear-focused Air Force Global Strike Command on 24 October 2008.[35]

On June 26, 2009, the USAF released a force structure plan that cuts fighter aircraft and shifts resources to better support nuclear, irregular and information warfare.[36] On July 23, 2009, The USAF released their Unmanned Aerial System Flight Plan, detailing UAV plans through 2047.[37] One third of the planes that the USAF plans to buy in the future are to be unmanned.[38]

In recent years the USAF has fumbled several high profile aircraft procurement projects, such as the failure to make the case for the Next-Generation Bomber, the failure to control costs on the Lockheed Martin F-22 Raptor and the decade of failures on the KC-X program. Winslow Wheeler has written that this pattern represents "failures of intellect and -- much more importantly -- ethics."[39]

In 2011, the Air Force disallowed the wear of Friday Name Tags per the new dress and appearance AFI.[40] By doing so the Air Force effectively renounced a proud tradition[citation needed] regarding call signs that dates from WWI.[41]


The SR-71 Blackbird was a Cold War reconnaissance plane.
The F-117 Nighthawk was a stealth attack aircraft (retired from service on 22 April 2008).

The United States has been involved in many wars, conflicts and operations using military air operations. Air combat operations before, and since the official conception of the USAF include:

Humanitarian operations

The USAF has also taken part in numerous humanitarian operations. Some of the more major ones include the following:[43]


Administrative organization

The Department of the Air Force is one of three military departments within the Department of Defense, and is managed by the civilian Secretary of the Air Force, under the authority, direction, and control of the Secretary of Defense. The senior officials in the Office of the Secretary are the Under Secretary of the Air Force, four Assistant Secretaries of the Air Force and the General Counsel, all of whom are appointed by the President with the advice and consent of the Senate. The senior uniformed leadership in the Air Staff is made up of the Chief of Staff of the Air Force and the Vice Chief of Staff of the Air Force.

The directly subordinate commands and units are named 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. Including the Air Force Reserve Command, as of September 30, 2006, USAF has ten major commands. 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.

Headquarters Air Force

Major Commands (Force Structure)

Senior Airman Nayibe Ramos runs through a checklist during Global Positioning System satellite operations. The operations center here controls a constellation of 29 orbiting satellites that provides navigation data to military and civilian users worldwide. Airman Ramos is a satellite system operator for the 2d Space Operations Squadron at Schriever AFB, Colorado.
Several aircraft in a squadron at Hurlburt Field

The major components of the U.S. Air Force, as of September 30, 2006, are the following:[44]

  • Active duty forces
    • 57 flying wings, eight space wings, and 55 non-flying wings
    • nine flying groups, eight non-flying groups
      • 134 flying squadrons, 43 space squadrons
  • Air Force Reserve
    • 35 flying wings, one space wing
    • four flying groups
      • 67 flying squadrons, six space squadrons
  • Air National Guard
    • 87 flying wings
      • 101 flying squadrons, four space squadrons

The USAF, including its Air Force Reserve components, possesses a total of 302 flying squadrons.[45]

Operational organization

List of active United States Air Force aircraft squadrons

The organizational structure as shown above is responsible for the peacetime organization, equipping, and training of aerospace units for operational missions. When required to support operational missions, the Secretary of Defense (SECDEF) directs the Secretary of the Air Force (SECAF) to execute a Change in Operational Control (CHOP) of these units from their administrative alignment to the operational command of 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 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 preponderance of air forces 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 USAF 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 (C2) center. Several AOCs have been established throughout the Air Force world-wide. These centers are 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.


The classification of any USAF 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, communication systems, avionics technicians, medical specialties, civil engineering, public affairs, hospitality, law, drug counseling, mail operations, security forces, and search and rescue specialties.[46]

Perhaps the most dangerous USAF jobs are Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD), Combat rescue officer, Pararescue, Security Forces, Combat Control, Combat Weather, Tactical Air Control Party, and AFOSI agents, who deploy with infantry and special operations units who disarm bombs, rescue downed or isolated personnel, call in air strikes and set up landing zones in forward locations. Most of these are enlisted positions. Other jobs have seen increasing combat, including engineers, vehicle operators, and OSI.

Nearly all enlisted jobs are "entry level," meaning that the USAF 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 Military Training (BMT). After BMT, new airmen 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 3E8X1 (Explosive Ordnance Disposal) is one year of training with a preliminary school and a main school consisting of over 10 separate divisions, sometimes taking students close to two years to complete.

USAF rank is divided between enlisted airmen, non-commissioned officers, and commissioned officers, and ranges from the enlisted Airman Basic (E-1) to the commissioned rank of General (O-10). Enlisted promotions are granted based on a combination of test scores, years of experience, and selection board approval while officer promotions are based on time-in-grade and a promotion board. Promotions among enlisted personnel and non-commissioned officers 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 four stars (one to five stars in war-time).

Commissioned officers

The commissioned officer ranks of the USAF are divided into three sections: company grade, field grade, and general officers. Company grade officers are those officers in pay grades O-1 to O-3, while field grade officers are those in pay grades O-4 to O-6, and general officers are those in pay grades of O-7 and above.

Currently, promotion from Second Lieutenant to First Lieutenant is virtually guaranteed after two years of satisfactory service. The promotion from First Lieutenant to Captain is competitive after successfully completing another two years of service. Promotion to Major and above is through a board process. An officer's record is reviewed by a selection board at the Air Force Personnel Center at Randolph Air Force Base in San Antonio, Texas. This process occurs approximately between the seven- and ten-year mark, where a certain percentage of Captains will be selected for Major. This process will repeat at the 11-14 year mark for promotion to Lieutenant Colonel, and then around the eighteen-year mark for promotion to Colonel.

The Air Force has the largest ratio of general officers to total strength of all of the armed forces and this ratio has increased as the force has shrunk from its Cold War highs.[47]

Pay grade O-1 O-2 O-3 O-4 O-5 O-6 O-7 O-8 O-9 O-10 Special
Insignia US-OF1B.svg US-OF1A.svg US-O3 insignia.svg US-O4 insignia.svg US-O5 insignia.svg US-O6 insignia.svg US-O7 insignia.svg US-O8 insignia.svg US-O9 insignia.svg US-O10 insignia.svg US-O11 insignia.svg
Title Second
Captain Major Lieutenant
Colonel Brigadier
General General
of the Air Force
Abbreviation2 2d Lt 1st Lt Capt Maj Lt Col Col Brig Gen Maj Gen Lt Gen Gen GAF
NATO Code OF-1 OF-2 OF-3 OF-4 OF-5 OF-6 OF-7 OF-8 OF-9 OF-10

1 Awarded as an honorary rank or during periods of a declared war.
2 No periods are used in actual grade abbreviation.

Warrant officers

Although provision is made in Title 10 of the United States Code for the Secretary of the Air Force to appoint warrant officers, the Air Force does not currently use warrant officer grades, and is the only one of the U.S. Armed Services to not do so. The Air Force inherited warrant officer ranks from the Army at its inception in 1947, but their place in the Air Force structure was never made clear. When the Congress authorized the creation of two new senior enlisted ranks in 1958, Air Force officials privately concluded that these two new "super grades" could fill all Air Force needs then performed at the warrant officer level, although this was not publicly acknowledged until years later. The Air Force stopped appointing warrant officers in 1959,[48] the same year the first promotions were made to the new top enlisted grade, Chief Master Sergeant. Most of the existing Air Force warrant officers entered the commissioned officer ranks during the 1960s, but tiny numbers continued to exist for the next 21 years.

The last active duty Air Force warrant officer, CWO4 James H. Long, retired in 1980 and the last Air Force Reserve warrant officer, CWO4 Bob Barrow, retired in 1992.[49] Upon his retirement, he was honorarily promoted to CWO5, the only person in the Air Force ever to hold this grade.[48] Barrow died in April 2008.[50] Since Barrow's retirement, the Air Force warrant officer ranks, while still authorized by law, are not used.

Enlisted airmen

Pararescuemen and a simulated "survivor" watch as an HH-60G Pave Hawk helicopter comes in for a landing.

Enlisted members of the USAF have pay grades from E-1 (entry level) to E-9 (senior enlisted). While all USAF military personnel are referred to as Airmen, the term also refers to the pay grades of E-1 through E-4, which are below the level of non-commissioned officers (NCOs). Above the pay grade of E-4 (i.e., pay grades E-5 through E-9) all ranks fall into the category of NCO and are further subdivided into NCOs (pay grades E-5 and E-6) and Senior NCOs (pay grades E-7 through E-9); the term Junior NCO is sometimes used to refer to staff sergeants and technical sergeants (pay grades E-5 and E-6).[51]

The USAF is the only of the five branches of the United States military where NCO status is not achieved until an airman reaches the pay grade of E-5. In all other branches, NCO status is generally achieved at the pay grade of E-4 (e.g., a Corporal in the Army and Marine Corps, Petty Officer Third Class in the Navy and Coast Guard). However, the Army has dual ranks at the E-4 paygrade with Specialists not considered NCOs. Since the 1980s, the Army corporal rank has come to be awarded infrequently and is rarely found in modern units. The Air Force mirrored the Army from 1976 to 1991 with an E-4 being either a Senior Airman wearing three stripes without a star or a Sergeant (referred to as "Buck Sergeant"), which was noted by the presence of the central star and considered an NCO. Despite not being an NCO, a Senior Airman who has completed Airman Leadership School can be a supervisor.

US DoD Pay grade E-1 E-2 E-3 E-4 E-5 E-6 E-7 E-8 E-9
Insignia No Insignia E2 USAF AM.svg E3 USAF AM1.svg E4 USAF SAM.svg E5 USAF SSGT.svg E6 USAF TSGT.svg E7a USAF MSGT.svg E7b USAF 1STSGT1.svg E8a USAF SMSGT.svg E8b USAF 1STSGT2.svg E9a USAF CMSGT.svg E9b USAF 1STSGT3.svg E9c USAF CCMS.svg E9d USAF CMSAF new.svg
Title Airman
Airman Airman First
Senior Master
Chief Master
Command Chief
Master Sergeant
Chief Master Sergeant
of the Air Force
Abbreviation AB Amn A1C SrA SSgt TSgt MSgt SMSgt CMSgt CCM CMSAF
NATO Code OR-1 OR-2 OR-3 OR-4 OR-5 OR-6 OR-7 OR-8 OR-9 OR-9 OR-9

¹ The USAF does not have a separate First Sergeant rank; it is instead a duty denoted by a diamond within the upper field.


USAF personnel wear uniforms that are distinct from those of the other branches of the United States Armed Forces. The first USAF dress uniform, in 1947, was dubbed and patented "Uxbridge Blue" after "Uxbridge 1683 Blue", developed at the former Bachman-Uxbridge Worsted Company.[52] The current Service Dress Uniform, which was adopted in 1993 and standardized in 1995, consists of a three-button, pocketless coat, similar to that of a men's "sport jacket" (with silver "U.S." pins on the lapels, with a silver ring surrounding on those of enlisted members), matching trousers, and either a service cap or flight cap, all in Shade 1620, "Air Force Blue" (a darker purplish-blue). This is worn with a light blue shirt (Shade 1550) and Shade 1620 herringbone patterned necktie. Enlisted members wear sleeve insignia on both the jacket and shirt, while officers wear metal rank insignia pinned onto the coat, and Air Force Blue slide-on epaulet loops on the shirt. USAF personnel assigned to Base Honor Guard duties wear, for certain occasions, a modified version of the standard service dress uniform, but with silver trim on the sleeves and trousers, with the addition of a ceremonial belt (if necessary), wheel cap with silver trim and Hap Arnold Device, and a silver aiguillette placed on the left shoulder seam and all devices and accoutrement.

Following a three-year phase-in period in which it gradually gained popularity through broader distribution, the Airman Battle Uniform (ABU) became the sole authorized utility uniform of the USAF on November 1, 2011. The ABU replaced the Battle Dress Uniform (BDU) previously worn by all U.S. military forces and mirrors similar replacements by the U.S. Army, Navy, and Marine Corps with utility uniforms suitable for each service's particular operations. Improvements in the ABU over the BDU include more-specific sizing for superior fit and a no-wrinkle material that makes ironing unnecessary; use of starch, ubiquitous in the Air Force during the BDU era, is forbidden with the ABU. These relatively popular enhancements have been offset by certain less favorable choices, including complaints that the placement of ABU pockets makes them nearly useless while wearing body armor and the decision to make a "one-weight" uniform allegedly usable in summer and winter that airmen have consistently reported is inadequate for use in the extreme temperatures of the Middle East. Among critics of the uniform design process, these observations have fueled claims that the ABU was designed more for "parade fashion" than for any functional use as a true "battle uniform." That the Air Force subsequently developed a lightweight (summer) version of the ABU blouse for use in hot environments lends some credibility to these claims, though airmen continue to deploy with and wear the ABU in locations around the world.

Awards and badges

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. Authorized badges include the Shields of USAF Fire Protection, and Security Forces, and the Missile badge, which is given after working on a missile system for over a year.


All non-prior service enlisted Airmen attend Basic Military Training (BMT) at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio, Texas. The Air Force accepts the basic-training programs of other U.S. military branches in lieu of BMT for airmen who enlist having completed prior service in the U.S. Army, Navy, or Marine Corps.

Officers may be commissioned upon graduation from the United States Air Force Academy, upon graduation from another college or university through the Air Force Reserve Officer Training Corps (AFROTC) program, or through the Air Force Officer Training School (OTS). OTS, which is based at Maxwell Air Force Base, in turn encompasses two separate commissioning programs: Basic Officer Training (BOT), which is for line-officer candidates of the active-duty Air Force and the U.S. Air Force Reserve; and the Academy of Military Science (AMS), which is for line-officer candidates of the Air National Guard. (The term "line officer" derives from the concept of the line of battle and refers to an officer whose role falls somewhere within the "Line of the Air," meaning combat or combat-support operations within the scope of legitimate combatants as defined by the Geneva Conventions.)

The Air Force also provides Commissioned Officer Training (COT) for officers of all three components who are direct-commissioned to non-line positions due to their credentials in medicine, law, religion, biological sciences, or healthcare administration. Originally viewed as a "knife and fork school" that covered little beyond basic wear of the uniform, COT in recent years has been fully integrated into the OTS program and today encompasses extensive coursework as well as field exercises in leadership, confidence, fitness, and deployed-environment operations.

Air Force Fitness Test

USAF members training at Lackland AFB

The US Air Force Fitness Test (AFFT) is designed to test the abdominal circumference, muscular strength/endurance and cardiovascular respiratory fitness of airmen in the USAF. As part of the Fit to Fight program, the USAF adopted a more stringent physical fitness assessment; the new fitness program was put into effect on June 1, 2010, and replaced the annual ergo-cycle test which the USAF had used for several years. In the AFFT, Airmen are given a score based on performance consisting of four components: waist circumference, the sit-up, the push-up, and a 1.5-mile (2.4 km) run. Airmen can potentially earn a score of 100, with the run counting as 60%, waist circumference as 20%, and both strength test counting as 10% each. A passing score is 75 points. Effective July 1, 2010, the AFFT will be administered by the base Fitness Assessment Cell (FAC), and will be required twice a year. Personnel may test once a year if he or she earns a score above a 90%. Additionally, only meeting the minimum standards on each one of these test will not get you a passing score of 75%, and failing any one component will result in a failure for the entire test.

Aircraft inventory

The US Air Force has over 5,778 aircraft commissioned as of 2004.[citation needed] 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 designation. The various aircraft of the Air Force include:

A – Ground attack

The ground-attack aircraft of the USAF are designed to attack targets on the ground and are often deployed as close air support for, and in proximity to, U.S. ground forces. The proximity to friendly forces require precision strikes from these aircraft that are not possible with bomber aircraft listed below. They are typically deployed as close air support to ground forces, their role is tactical rather than strategic, operating at the front of the battle rather than against targets deeper in the enemy's rear.

B – Bombers

B-1 Lancer supersonic strategic bomber.

In the US Air Force, the distinction between bombers, fighter-bombers, and attack aircraft has become blurred. Many attack aircraft, even ones that look like fighters, are optimized to drop bombs, with very little ability to engage in aerial combat. Many fighter aircraft, such as the F-16, are often used as 'bomb trucks', despite being designed for aerial combat. Perhaps the one meaningful distinction at present is the question of range: a bomber is generally a long-range aircraft capable of striking targets deep within enemy territory, whereas fighter bombers and attack aircraft are limited to 'theater' missions in and around the immediate area of battlefield combat. Even that distinction is muddied by the availability of aerial refueling, which greatly increases the potential radius of combat operations. The US is the only country, besides Russia, that operates strategic bombers.

The B-52 Stratofortress airframe is over 50 years old, and are scheduled to remain in service for another 30 years, which would keep the airframe in service for nearly 90 years, an unprecedented length of service for any aircraft. Plans for successors to the current strategic bomber force remain only paper projects, and political and funding pressures suggest that they are likely to remain paper-bound for the foreseeable future.

C – Cargo transport

C-17 Globemaster III, the USAF's newest and most versatile transport plane.
C-5 Galaxy heavy airlift.
CV-22 Osprey tiltrotor aircraft.

The Air Force can provide rapid global mobility, which lies at the heart of U.S. strategy in this environment—without the capability to project forces, there is no conventional deterrent. As U.S. forces stationed overseas continue to decline, global interests remain, making the unique mobility capabilities of the USAF even more in demand. Air mobility is a national asset of growing importance for responding to emergencies and protecting American interests around the globe.

Cargo and transport aircraft are typically used to deliver troops, weapons and other military equipment by a variety of methods to any area of military operations around the world, usually outside of the commercial flight routes in uncontrolled airspace. The workhorses of the USAF Air Mobility Command are the C-130 Hercules, C-17 Globemaster III, and C-5 Galaxy. These aircraft are largely defined in terms of their range capability as strategic airlift (C-5), strategic/tactical (C-17), and tactical (C-130) airlift to reflect the needs of the land forces they most often support. The CV-22 is used by the Air Force for the U.S. Special Operations Command (USSOCOM). It conducts long-range, special operations missions, and is equipped with extra fuel tanks and terrain-following radar.

E – Special electronic missions

The purpose of electronic warfare is to deny the opponent an advantage in the EMS and ensure friendly, unimpeded access to the EM spectrum portion of the information environment. Electronic warfare aircraft are used to keep airspaces friendly, and send critical information to anyone who needs it. They are often called "The Eye in the Sky."

F – Fighters

F-22 Raptor stealth air superiority fighter

The fighter aircraft of the USAF are small, fast, and maneuverable military aircraft primarily used for air-to-air combat. Many of these fighters have secondary ground-attack capabilities, and some are dual-roled as fighter-bombers (e.g., the F-16 Fighting Falcon); the term "fighter" is also sometimes used colloquially for dedicated ground-attack aircraft. Other missions include interception of bombers and other fighters, reconnaissance, and patrol. Out of the 5,778 manned aircraft in service, 2,402 are fighters, and 1,245 of those are variants of the F-16 Fighting Falcon.

From 2006 to 2025, the USAF plans to reduce its inventory of tactical aircraft by 28%.[54]

H – Search and rescue

These craft are used for search and rescue and combat search and rescue on land or sea.

K – Tanker

The USAF's aerial refueling aircraft are derivatives of civilian jets. Usually, the aircraft providing the fuel is specially designed for the task, although refueling pods can be fitted to existing aircraft designs if the "probe and drogue" system is to be used. There is no known regular civilian in-flight refueling activity. In large-scale operations (and even daily air operations), air-to-air refueling is extensively used; fighters, bombers, and cargo aircraft rely heavily on the lesser-known "tanker" aircraft. This makes these aircraft an essential part of the Air Force's global mobility and the U.S. force projection.

M – Multi-mission

Specialized multi-mission aircraft provide support for global special operations missions. These aircraft conduct infiltration, exfiltration, resupply, and refueling for SOF teams from improvised or otherwise short runways.

Q – Multi-mission RPAs (Remote Piloted Aircraft)

Initial generations of RPAs were primarily surveillance aircraft, but some were fitted with weaponry (such as the MQ-1 Predator, which used AGM-114 Hellfire air-to-ground missiles). An armed RPA is known as an unmanned combat air vehicle (UCAV).

  • MQ-1 Predator
  • MQ-9 Reaper

O – Observation

These aircraft are modified to observe (through visual or other means) and report tactical information concerning composition and disposition of forces.

R – Reconnaissance

RQ-4 Global Hawk unmanned aerial vehicle reconnaissance aircraft.

The reconnaissance aircraft of the USAF are used for monitoring enemy activity, originally carrying no armament. Several unmanned remotely-controlled reconnaissance aircraft (RPAs) have been developed and deployed. Recently, the RPAs have been seen to offer the possibility of cheaper, more capable fighting machines that can be used without risk to aircrews.

Note: Although the U-2 is designated as a 'utility' aircraft, it is indeed a reconnaissance platform.

T – Trainer

The Air Force's trainer aircraft are used to train pilots, navigators, and other aircrew in their duties.

U – Utility

Utility aircraft are used basically for what they are needed for at the time. For example, a Huey may be used to transport personnel around a large base or launch site, while it can also be used for evacuation. These aircraft are all around use aircraft.

V – VIP staff transport

These aircraft are used for the transportation of Very Important Persons. Notable people include the President, Vice President, secretaries, government officials (e.g., senators and representatives), the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and other key personnel.

W – Weather reconnaissance

These aircraft are used to study meteorological events such as hurricanes and typhoons.

Undesignated foreign aircraft used by Special Operations Squadrons


The culture of the United States Air Force is primarily driven by pilots and so the pilots of various aircraft types have driven its priorities over the years. At first there was a focus on bombers (driven originally by the Bomber mafia), followed by a focus on fighters (Fighter Mafia and following).[56]

In response to the 2007 United States Air Force nuclear weapons incident, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates accepted in June 2009 the resignations of Secretary of the Air Force Michael Wynne and the Chief of Staff of the Air Force General T. Michael Moseley. Moseley's successor, General Norton A. Schwartz, was the first officer appointed to that position who did not have a background as a fighter or bomber pilot.[57] The Washington Post reported that General Schwartz has begun to dismantle the rigid class system of the USAF.[58]

Daniel L. Magruder, Jr defines USAF culture as a combination of the rigorous application of advanced technology, individualism and progressive airpower theory.[59] Major General Charles J. Dunlap, Jr. adds that Air Force culture includes an egalitarianism bred from officers as warriors who work with small groups of enlisted airmen either as the service crew or onboard crew of their aircraft.[60]

Slogans and creeds

The United States Air Force has had numerous recruiting slogans including "No One Comes Close" and "Uno Ab Alto". For many years, the U.S. Air Force used "Aim High" as its recruiting slogan; more recently, they have used "Cross into the Blue", "We've been waiting for you" and "Do Something Amazing",[61] "Above All",[62] and the newest one, as of October 7, 2010, considered a call and response, "Aim high" followed with the response, "Fly-Fight-Win" [63] Each wing, group, or squadron usually has its own slogan(s). Information and logos can usually be found on the wing, group, or squadron websites.[64]

The Air Force Core Values are: "Integrity first", "Service before self", "Excellence in all we do".[65] The Airman's Creed is a statement introduced in the spring of 2007 to summarize the culture of the Air Force.

To help further knowledge of their mission and functions, the Air Force has also produced videos, such as "Setting the Conditions for Victory" and "How We Fight",[66] to outline the Air Force role in the war on terrorism and how the service succeeds in its domains of air, space, and cyberspace. The Above All campaign continues to support the message of "air, space and cyberspace" dominance.

See also


  1. ^ a b United States Air Force (September 2009). "The U.S. Air Force". United States Air Force website. Washington, DC: U.S. Air Force. http://www.af.mil/information/factsheets/factsheet.asp?id=2. Retrieved 2009-09-27. 
  2. ^ "Aim High ... Fly-Fight-Win to be Air Force motto USAF". United States Air Force. October 7, 2010. http://www.af.mil/news/story.asp?id=123225546. Retrieved 2010-10-19. 
  3. ^ "The Air Force Flag". Air Force Historical Research Agency. United States Air Force. 24 March 2007. http://www.lackland.af.mil/shared/media/document/AFD-070324-002.pdf. Retrieved 27 March 2009. 
  4. ^ 2010 United States Air Force Posture Statement. USAF, 9 February 2010.
  5. ^ "2009 Air Force Almanac". Air Force Magazine, May 2009, p. 48.
  6. ^ "Gallery of USAF Weapons, 2009 Air Force Almanac". Air Force Magazine, May 2009, pp. 137-138. USAF plans to retire all 460 AGM-129, and all but 528 ALCM by 2012.
  7. ^ "Airman Magazine: The Book 2010 - Personnel Facts and Figures"[dead link]. Airman Magazine, Volume 54 Number 3, p. 46.
  8. ^ "CAP Fact Sheet at August 2009" (PDF). http://members.gocivilairpatrol.com/media/cms/CAP_Fact_Sheet_09_09_B1C2398575B72.pdf. Retrieved 2010-08-30. 
  9. ^ "10 USC 8062". Law.cornell.edu. 2009-10-01. http://www.law.cornell.edu/uscode/html/uscode10/usc_sec_10_00008062----000-.html. Retrieved 2010-08-30. 
  10. ^ Air Force Link, (2008). [1]. Retrieved 21 September 2008.
  11. ^ Air Force Doctrine Document 1. [2]. 17 November 2003.
  12. ^ "National Search and Rescue Plan (USA) 2007". Uscg.mil. 2009-10-06. http://www.uscg.mil/hq/g-o/g-opr/nsarc/NSARC%20-%20Natl%20SAR%20Plan%20(2007%20-%20Final).pdf. Retrieved 2010-08-30. 
  13. ^ "USCG Office of Search & Rescue (CG-534)". Uscg.mil. 2009-10-06. http://www.uscg.mil/hq/g-o/g-opr/nsarc/nsarc.htm. Retrieved 2010-08-30. 
  14. ^ "Conversation With 1st Air Force Commander, Maj. Gen. Larry Arnold January 2002". Code One Magazine. http://www.codeonemagazine.com/archives/2002/articles/jan_02/defense/. 
  15. ^ "U.S. Air National Guard Struggles With Fighter Gap". Aviation week.com. http://www.aviationweek.com/aw/jsp_includes/articlePrint.jsp?storyID=news/FIGHT07299.xml&headLine=U.S.%20Air%20National%20Guard%20Struggles%20With%20Fighter%20Gap. 
  16. ^ "Air Force Chief Calls for Collaboration Between Guard, Active Duty". Dvidshub.net. http://www.dvidshub.net/?script=news/news_show.php&id=38740. Retrieved 2010-08-30. 
  17. ^ a b "Questions On U.S. Air Sovereignty Mission". Aviationweek.com. 2009-04-23. http://www.aviationweek.com/aw/generic/story_generic.jsp?channel=aerospacedaily&id=news/SOVER042309.xml. Retrieved 2010-08-30. 
  18. ^ "Air Force urged to consider Navy F-18s". Govexec.com. http://www.govexec.com/story_page.cfm?articleid=43334&dcn=todaysnews. Retrieved 2010-08-30. 
  19. ^ This story was written by Master Sgt. Mike R. Smith (2009-04-24). "ANG chief discusses air sovereignty missions with Congress". AF.mil. http://www.af.mil/news/story.asp?id=123146030. Retrieved 2010-08-30. 
  20. ^ "GAO-09-612T Homeland Defense: Actions Needed to Address Management of Air Sovereignty Alert Operations to Protect U.S. Airspace" (PDF). http://www.gao.gov/new.items/d09612t.pdf. Retrieved 2010-08-30. 
  21. ^ "USAF Fighter Shortfall Smaller Than Expected". Aviationweek.com. 2010-04-26. http://www.aviationweek.com/aw/generic/story_channel.jsp?channel=defense&id=news/asd/2010/04/26/13.xml&headline=USAF%20Fighter%20Shortfall%20Smaller%20Than%20Expected. Retrieved 2010-08-30. 
  22. ^ "GAO-11-323R Tactical Aircraft: Air Force Fighter Reports Generally Addressed Congressional Mandates, but Reflected Dated Plans and Guidance, and Limited Analyses". GAO, 24 February 2011.
  23. ^ "AFDD 2-3 Irregular Warfare" (PDF). http://www.fas.org/irp/doddir/usaf/afdd2-3.pdf. Retrieved 2010-08-30. 
  24. ^ Clark, Colin (2009-04-24). "AF Mulls COIN Wing, New Planes". Dodbuzz.com. http://www.dodbuzz.com/2009/04/24/af-mulls-coin-wing-new-planes/. Retrieved 2010-08-30. 
  25. ^ "2010 QDR" (PDF). http://www.defense.gov/qdr/images/QDR_as_of_12Feb10_1000.pdf. Retrieved 2010-08-30. 
  26. ^ "Defense Acquisitions: Strategic Airlift Gap Has Been Addressed, but Tactical Airlift Plans Are Evolving as Key Issues Have Not Been Resolved". Gao.gov. 2008-09-29. http://www.gao.gov/products/GAO-10-67. Retrieved 2010-08-30. 
  27. ^ Robert Pitta, Gordon Rottman, Jeff Fannell (1993). "US Army Air Force (1)". Osprey Publishing. p.3. ISBN 1855322951
  28. ^ U.S. Intelligence Community (October 2004). National Security Act of 1947. Retrieved 14 April 2006.
  29. ^ U.S. Department of State. National Security Act of 1947. Retrieved: 3 October 2010.
  30. ^ a b Needed: 200 New Aircraft a Year, Air Force Magazine, October 2008.
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  32. ^ 2008/0108scarce.aspx Scarce Flying Hours[dead link]
  33. ^ This story was written by Maj. Timothy Farr. "Airmen's time tour makes follow-up visits". Af.mil. http://www.af.mil/news/story.asp?id=123159900. Retrieved 2010-08-30. 
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  35. ^ Chavanne, Bettina H. "USAF Creates Global Strike Command". Aviation Week, 24 October 2008.
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  50. ^ Air National Guard Retired Fire Chiefs. [tt_news[dead link]=9&tx_ttnews[backPid]=10&cHash=b341eff1cf "CWO4 Bob Barrow"]. Accessed on 27 January 2009.
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  53. ^ "hurlburt field, - Google Maps". Maps.google.com. 1970-01-01. http://maps.google.com/maps?f=q&source=s_q&hl=en&geocode=&q=hurlburt+field,&sll=30.427609,-86.693217&sspn=0.001723,0.002406&ie=UTF8&radius=0.07&rq=1&ev=zi&hq=hurlburt+field,&hnear=&ll=30.427859,-86.693601&spn=0.001723,0.002406&t=h&z=19. Retrieved 2010-08-30. 
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  56. ^ "Air Force Culture and Conventional Strategic Airpower". Stormingmedia.us. http://www.stormingmedia.us/01/0155/A015524.html. Retrieved 2010-08-30. 
  57. ^ Barnes, Julian E.; Spiegel, Peter (2008-06-10). "A different type of Air Force leader". Articles.latimes.com. http://articles.latimes.com/p/2008/jun/10/nation/na-schwartz10. Retrieved 2010-08-30. 
  58. ^ Post Store (2010-02-27). "Combat Generation: Drone operators climb on winds of change in the Air Force". Washingtonpost.com. http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/02/27/AR2010022703754_2.html. Retrieved 2010-08-30. 
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  62. ^ "Air Force rolls out new advertising campaign", Airforcetimes.com, 2 March 2008.
  63. ^ "Aim High ... Fly-Fight-Win". http://www.af.mil/news/story.asp?id=123225546/. Retrieved 2010-11-01. 
  64. ^ US Air Force Mottos. Military-quotes.com. Retrieved 4 June 2006.
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References to U.S. Army predecessors of today's U.S. Air Force are cited under their respective articles.

External links


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