The United States Air Force (USAF) is the aerial warfare service branch of the United States Armed Forces and one of the seven American uniformed services. Initially part of the United States Army, the USAF was formed as a separate branch of the military on 18 September 1947 under the National Security Act of 1947. It is the most recent branch of the U.S. military to be formed, and is the largest and one of the world's most technologically advanced air forces. The USAF articulates its core functions 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.
The U.S. Air Force is a military service within the Department of the Air Force, one of the three military departments of the Department of Defense. The USAF is headed by the civilian Secretary of the Air Force, who is appointed by the President with the advice and consent of the Senate. 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 and mobility 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 U.S. Air Force provides air support for surface forces and aids in the recovery of troops in the field. As of 2012, the service operates more than 5,638 aircraft, 450 ICBMs and 63 satellites. It has a $140 billion budget with 332,854 active duty personnel, 185,522 civilian personnel, 71,400 Air Force Reserve personnel, and 106,700 Air National Guard personnel.
Main article: History of the United States Air Force
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. In World War II, almost 68,000 U.S airmen died helping to win the war; only the infantry suffered more enlisted casualties. In practice, the U.S. Army Air Forces (USAAF) was virtually independent of the Army during World War II, but officials wanted formal independence. The National Security Act of 1947 was signed on on 26 July 1947 by President Harry S Truman, which established the Department of the Air Force, but it was not not until 18 September 1947, when the first secretary of the Air Force, W. Stuart Symington was sworn into office that the Air Force was officially formed.
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 the newly created Department of the Air Force. 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). The 1940s proved to be important in other ways as well. In 1947, Captain Chuck Yeager broke the sound barrier in his X-1 rocket-powered aircraft, beginning a new era of aeronautics in America.
The predecessor organizations in the Army of today's Air Force are:
Aeronautical Division, Signal Corps 1 August 1907 – 18 July 1914
Aviation Section, Signal Corps 18 July 1914 – 20 May 1918
Division of Military Aeronautics (20 May 1918 to 24 May 1918)
U.S. Army Air Service (24 May 1918 to 2 July 1926)
U.S. Army Air Corps (2 July 1926 to 20 June 1941) and
U.S. Army Air Forces (20 June 1941 to 18 September 1947)
During the early 2000s, the USAF fumbled several high profile aircraft procurement projects, such as the missteps on the KC-X program. Winslow Wheeler has written that this pattern represents "failures of intellect and – much more importantly – ethics." As a result the USAF fleet is setting new records for average aircraft age and needs to replace its fleets of fighters, bombers, airborne tankers, and airborne warning aircraft, in an age of restrictive defense budgets. Finally in the midst of scandal and failure in maintaining its nuclear arsenal, the civilian and military leaders of the air force were replaced in 2008.
Since 2005, the USAF has placed a strong focus on the improvement of Basic Military Training (BMT) for enlisted personnel. While the intense training has become longer, it also has shifted to include a deployment phase.