The United States Air Force is one of seven uniformed services in the Armed Forces as well as one of seventeen uniformed services in the United States. It is one of the four branches of the United States Armed Force and is responsible for air based military operations and warfare. Before the 18th of September in 1947 when it became a separate branch under the US military, it was part of the United States Army. Hence, compared to the other three branches of the US Armed Forces, the United States Air Force is the most recent to be formed. Today, the USAF stands as the largest Air Force in the whole world as well as among the most technologically advanced. The USAF has been active for only 69 years and 11 months.
The United States Air Force is organized under the Department of the Air Force, which is under the Department of Defense. A civilian presidential appointee heads the Department of the Air Force and reports to the Secretary of Defense. The Chief of Staff of the Air Force is one of the members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and is the most senior ranking officer in the Air Force. Even though they are the highest ranking members of the Air Force, the Secretary of the Air Force and the Chief of Staff of the Air Force do not maintain operational command of the Air Force. The Combatant Commanders maintain operational command of the instruments of the Air Force and receive their orders directly from the Secretary of Defense. The USAF basically support land based military operations from the air as well as helps in recovery missions. As at 2017, the USAF have more than 5,000 active military aircrafts and more than 300,000 active duty soldiers. Their budget stands at a little above $160 billion.
The United States Code defines the USAF’s purposes as:
- To ensure the peace and security of the United States as well as the Commonwealths and every land occupied by the country.
- To propagate the policies of the nation.
- To enforce the objectives of the nation.
- To fight and defeat any threat to the peace and security of the nation, especially those arising from the actions of other nations.
The United States Air Force oversees the Nuclear Deterrence Operations, which is the branch tasked with operating, maintaining, and securing the nuclear arsenal of the United States. They are also responsible for deterring any nuclear attack on the United States, both preemptively and after the fact. In other words, the United States must have the capability to make full use of its nuclear arsenal in the event of failed deterrence. Their operations can fall under three simple doctrines: Assure (in relation to US allies), Dissuade (in relation to the proliferation of nuclear weapons), and Deter (in relation to an action against the US). Other core functions of the United States Air Force include: air superiority, space superiority, cyberspace superiority, global integrated intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR), global precision attack, rapid military deployment, personnel recovery, and agile combat support.
The Secretary of the Air Force has four assistant secretaries working for him, as well as an undersecretary and a General Counsel. These officials are all appointed by the President of the United States. The highest ranking military officers in the Air Force are the Chief of Staff of the Air Force and the Vice Chief of Staff of the Air Force. Following them are the Field Operating Agency, Direct Reporting Unit, and the Separate Operating Agency. Note that the Separate Operating Agency is currently not in use. The highest level of command is the Major Command; the MAJCOM is one of ten commands in the United States, as is the Air Force Reserve Command. From the greatest to the least, the levels of commands under Major Command include: Numbered Air Force, Wing, Group, Squadron, and Flight. Two other levels no longer in use under MAJCOM are Operational Command and Air Division.
The Air Force is headquartered at the Pentagon in Virginia and includes the Office of the Secretary of the Air Force as well as the Air Staff. The Air Force has two styles of organization; one for peacetime and one for wartime. The peacetime organization is administrative and is aimed at training and equipping member units for missions, while the wartime organization is more operational. During wartime, a directive is issued to the Secretary of the Air Force by the Secretary of Defense to switch the style of organization of the Air Force from administrative to operational, which deposits command of the Air Force in the purview of a Regional Combatant Commander.
All enlistees in the Air Force need to be trained. The USAF is responsible for providing the needed training for all enlisted man or woman. Training periods can vary between specialties. It can be as short as 31 days and as long as 2 years.
There are three categories of ranks in the United States Air Force. These are enlisted airmen, noncommissioned officers, and commissioned officers. The highest commissioned rank in the time of peace is General. In wartime, the rank of General of the Air Force becomes available. Promotions across the three different categories depend on test scores and years of experience and is dependent on the approval of the selection board. In the history of the Air Force, the person to have ever held the highest rank is General of the Air Force Henry Arnold; he was a five star General.
Commissioned officers’ ranks are further divided into three categories, namely: company grade, field grade, and general officers. The ranks within the general officers follow the regular commissioned officers’ rank system from Second Lieutenant to General and General of the Air Force. The ranks within the enlisted airmen category are as follows (from the least to the greatest): Airman Basic, Airman, Airman First Class, Senior Airman, Staff Sergeant, Technical Sergeant, Master Sergeant, Senior Master Sergeant, Chief Master Sergeant, Command Chief Master Sergeant, and Chief Master Sergeant of the Air Force.