United States Air Force
The United States Air Force was separated from the United States Army on September 18, 1947, under the National Security Act of 1947. This makes it the newest branch of the United States military services. The roots of the Air Force, however, go back as far as the Civil War and Spanish-American War when the Army used manned balloons for aerial observation. The Aeronautical Division of the Army took delivery of its first airplane from the Wright brothers in 1909 and the First Aero Squadron was formed in December 1913. These pioneers probably could not foresee how important airpower would become for military use. The Army established the Aviation Section of the Signal Corps to improve its fledgling flying capabilities as a result of Congressional legislation on July 18, 1914.
Air power had shown its potential for both surveillance and support of ground troops during World War I. Based on this potential, the United Kingdom created the Royal Air Force which was independent of the British Army and the Royal Navy. Instead of creating a separate branch, the United States made the Air Service a combat arm of the Army with the Army Reorganization Act of 1920. The Air Corps Act of 1926 changed the name to the Army Air Corps.
As with most wars, military forces were reduced upon the end of the conflict and this happened to all military services including the Army Air Corps. Japanese aggression in the Pacific and German aggression in Europe changed the post war situation and the need for an increase in all military forces became apparent. On June 20, 1941, the Department of War created the Army Air Forces as its aviation combat arm of the Army making it coequal to the infantry, the Army Ground Forces. Once again the air forces proved their great military potential which was punctuated in August 1945 when two B-29s dropped atomic bombs on Japan to finally win the war on both fronts. This time the United States followed the United Kingdom’s lead and created the United States Air Force. On October 14, 1947, just one month after the Air Force was formed, test pilot Chuck Yeager flew his plane past the speed of sound and launched the new Air Force into the supersonic era.
The peacetime after World War II was faced with more international and technological challenges than had ever before been experienced. The effort of the Air Force in breaking the Soviet blockade of Berlin in 1948 showed the value of air capabilities in a new type of war, the Cold War. The Cold War was not always so cold. During the Korean and Vietnam Wars the Air Force, along with the aviation forces of the Navy and Marine Corps, was able to help protect United States and Allied forces on the ground with close air support and interdiction of enemy reinforcements. These and future operations showed the steadily improving capabilities of the Air Force and its sister services to conduct joint operations. The Cold War began to crumble with the tearing down of the Berlin Wall in 1989. This created changes for all the military services.
Without the Soviet threat, the Air Force streamlined in the early 1990’s which was its most complete reorganization since its establishment. It consolidated from thirteen to eight major commands, closed once valuable bases and downsized from more than 600,000 military personnel in the late 1980’s to fewer than 388,000 in 1996. Although smaller in size, the post Cold War Air Force has been called upon for increased participation in contingency operations such as in the current Middle East situation.
The pace of technological change moves ever faster and America’s role fostering world democracy is more complex. Today’s Air Force operates in keeping with a three part vision: global vigilance, reach and power. This vision empowers a technologically advanced force of 328,846 troops focused on air, space and cyberspace superiority.
The Air Force Reserve currently employs 67,986 trained reservists and 109,196 Air Guard personnel. Both are used to supplement active duty forces as deemed necessary and are vital to the Air Forces’ capability to fulfill its mission.