Air Force, U.S.

views updated May 17 2018

Air Force, U.S. OverviewPredecessors of, 1907–46Since 1947
Air Force, U.S.: Overview The U.S. Air Force, the world's most powerful air arm, was not always the most potent. The force dates its beginnings from 1907 as an organization of three men and no operational aircraft within the U.S. Army. During and immediately after World War I, the Army Air Service remained much smaller and less capable than European air forces. However, as the Army Air Forces, it grew during World War II to become the mightiest air force in the world, with 2.4 million uniformed people in 1944 and nearly 100,000 operational aircraft. In 1947, as the U.S. Air Force (USAF), it finally became an independent service, reaching its maximum size in 1955 during the Cold War era (960,000 people). By 1998 it had “downsized” to 381,100 active duty, uniformed personnel (plus 184,000 in the Air Force Reserve and Air National Guard). But today's force, with its 580 intercontinental ballistic missiles, 4,700 aircraft (another 1,900 in the Air Force Reserve and Air National Guard), and numerous space‐based reconnaissance satellites, has much greater range, capability, mobility, and flexibility than the numerically larger Army Air Force of World War II.

The USAF provides its aircrews with more flying hours and more realistic training than any other comparable force in the world, and its equipment is unmatched technologically. Those that can compete with USAF crews in skill are all regional: Israel, the United Kingdom, Germany, France, and Australia retain motivated, capable air forces, but all are range‐limited and considerably smaller. Although some air forces approach the size of the USAF in aircraft numbers (e.g., China's), all of them are range‐restricted and most of their aircraft are obsolete. The Soviet Union came closest to possessing a large, global air force, but since 1991 Russia's airpower has greatly deteriorated.

The American air forces have been reorganized several times. From 1907 to 1947, the force was part of the U.S. Army. Within the army, it became sequentially the Aeronautical Division of the U.S. Signal Corps (1907–14), the Aviation Section of the Signal Corps (1914–18), the Army Air Service (1918–26), the Army Air Corps (1926–41), and the Army Air Forces (1941–47). Since 1947, the force has been on a par with the army and navy.

Through 1918, its primary mission was reconnaissance, although some air supremacy fighting and ground attack did occur during World War I. It was not until 1923 that army doctrine officially recognized combat strike uses for airplanes. During the 1920s and 1930s, the Army Air Corps developed the strategic bombing doctrine in which “air power” was envisaged as being decisive in war: an enemy's vital targets would be bombed, and the war could end before ground or naval forces became engaged.

The idea of strategic bombing dominated air force thinking and force structure through World War II and for twenty‐five years thereafter. In the 1930s, the Army Air Corps developed robust four‐engine bombers, but poor fighter‐aircraft, because fighters were seen as unnecessary for escorting the defensively armed and armored bombers that it was believed “would always get through.” It was thought a war would end before fighters became necessary to support ground forces. The Army Air Forces (together with Britain's Bomber Command) blasted German cities into rubble using mainly B‐24 and B‐17 heavy bomber aircraft, but the war in Europe ended only when Allied armies occupied Germany's territory. The Army Air Forces achieved more decisive results in the Pacific, but only after the army, navy, and Marine Corps captured enough territory to bring very long range B‐29 bombers within range of Japan. Massive bombardment in 1945, culminating in the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, was probably the most important factor causing Japan to surrender without an invasion.

Convinced that aerial bombardment had won both the European and the Pacific Wars, air force leaders developed a huge strategic bombing force during the 1950s that would deter the Soviet Union, or defeat it should war occur. While the USAF developed superior interceptor aircraft, it discounted the value of tactical aircraft for supporting ground forces. The Korean War did not dramatically alter this situation, nor did the growing power of the Soviet ground forces in the 1950s. Today's air force, however, is more flexibly equipped.

Its current mission is to control air and space in order to provide freedom of action for air, sea, and ground forces to secure national security objectives. And the USAF is more capable of performing multiple missions than in the past. One can track the change in doctrinal emphases from the Vietnam War, when the emphasis on strategic bombing gave way to increased emphasis on tactical operations. Since 1982, six consecutive air force chiefs of staff have been fighter pilots, none of whom had any flying time as strategic bomber crew members. In 1992, with the collapse of the Soviet Union, the Strategic Air Command (SAC), the command most identified with strategic bombing, was disestablished. SAC's nuclear strategic missions were placed in a new joint (multiservice) command, the Strategic Command. (SAC's conventional missions went to other organizations.)

Today's balanced air force is divided into eight major commands, thirty‐eight field operating agencies, and three direct reporting units. The eight major commands contain almost 94 percent of the uniformed personnel. Air Combat Command is the largest, with 28 percent of the people. It has fighters (F‐15s, F‐16s, F‐117s, A‐10s, etc.) and bombers (B‐52s, B‐1s, B‐2s). Two other commands also possess fighters. U.S. Air Forces in Europe and Pacific Air Forces (combined, 16% of the air force) would both be supplemented by Air Combat Command aircraft if needed. The Air Education and Training Command, about 17 percent of personnel, is equipped with training aircraft (T‐37s and T‐38s, etc.), and is responsible for training and most professional education. The Air Mobility Command (about 15%) has aerial refueling tankers (KC‐135s and KC‐10s) and transports (C‐130s, C‐141s, C‐5s, and C‐17s). The Space Command (6%) maintains the strategic missile forces during peacetime and the space‐based satellites. The Special Operations Command (2%) is equipped with helicopters, some specially equipped C‐130s, and gunships. The Materiel Command (10%) equips the force through research, development, and acquisition of systems, and sustains it through maintenance and supply.

The thirty‐eight field operating agencies, such as the Air Weather Service, contain 5 percent of personnel. Finally, the three direct reporting units (e.g., Air Force Academy) contain about 1 percent of personnel.

The USAF today is engaged in missions around the world, demonstrating daily its global power and reach.
[See also Academies, Service: U.S. Air Force Academy; Air and Space Defense; Air Force Combat Organizations; Special Operations Forces: Air Force Special Forces; Strategy: Air Warfare Strategy; Tactics: Air Warfare Tactics.]


Wesley Frank Craven and James Lea Cate, editors, The Army Air Forces in World War II, 7 vol., 1948–1958.
Irving B. Holley, Jr. , Ideas and Weapons: Exploitation of the Aerial Weapons by the United States during World War I; A Study in the Relationship of Technological Advance, Military Doctrine, and the Development of Weapons, 1971.
Robert F. Futrell , Ideas, Concepts, Doctrine: A History of Basic Thinking in the United States Air Force 1907–1964, 1974.
United States Air Force , The United States Air Force in Southeast Asia, 5 vol., 1981–1983.
Robert F. Futrell , The United States Air Force in Korea 1950–1953, 1983.
Thomas A. Keaney and and Eliot A. Cohen , Gulf War Air Power Survey Summary Report, 1993.

Alan Gropman

Air Force, U.S.: Predecessors of, 1907–46 On 1 August 1907, the U.S. Army's chief signal officer established an Aeronautical Division within the Signal Corps. Two years later the Signal Corps accepted an airplane from the Wright brothers, and by 1911 Lt. Thomas DeWitt Milling had begun early experimentation with an aircraft bombsight. Despite these developments, army attitudes to aircraft remained conservative: the role of aircraft, like that of dirigibles, would be to assist in observation and reconnaissance. Most army officers remained unmoved by the extensive body of predictive literature—of which H. G. Wells's novel, The War in the Air (1908), was only one example—which assumed that aircraft would be the most important tools in the wars of the future.

Between Orville and Wilbur Wright's triumph in 1903 and the beginning of World War I, the Europeans generally outpaced the Americans in aviation. The U.S. Army failed to use aircraft successfully in its 1916 attempt to punish Mexican outlaw Pancho Villa, exposing the inadequate nature of its aerial program. Nonetheless, upon entry into World War I in 1917, the Americans quickly developed plans to produce a major air force. But such plans turned out to be overambitious since they implicitly assumed that essential technological and bureaucratic structures might be put into place almost overnight. Ultimately the Americans were able to supply trainer airplanes, aircraft engines, and pilots—but they had to rely heavily on the Europeans for material and expertise.

The most important World War I air action for the Americans took place in September 1918, when Gen. Billy Mitchell, of the Air Service of the American Expeditionary Force, commanded American, British, and French squadrons in support of the U.S. First Army at St. Mihiel. This action brought the Americans important experience in the realm of tactical—or battlefield—aviation, but they did not have an opportunity to develop similar experience in what was then called “strategical” (later strategic) bombing, which focused on the use of long‐range bombers to fly over the heads of an opposing army and directly undermine the enemy's capacity and will to fight.

Nonetheless, the Americans were able to observe European efforts and even developed a plan for the future use of long‐range bombers—though it leaned heavily on the work of a leading British planner, Lord Tiverton. Indeed, the Americans were interested enough to undertake their own postwar survey of long‐range bomb damage in Europe. Heeding the arguments of the British Air Staff, the Americans concluded that the most effective planning would be achieved by making a careful study of the enemy's war economy, identifying those industries most vital to its continued functioning, and aiming to destroy them.

Without direct experience of aviation other than for purposes of reconnaissance and battlefield support, American airmen were not in a strong position to push for postwar independence from the army. The determined aerial stunts of General Mitchell raised the public profile of aviation, but his insistent demand for service independence angered army leadership and brought his career to a premature end. In the 1920s, when military budgets were tight and the nation's foreign policy was isolationist, American airmen were compelled to keep their more futuristic ideas to themselves. Despite a number of interwar congressional bills proposing a separate service, the airmen remained part of the army. Gradual change commenced in 1926, when new legislation transformed the Air Service into the slightly more autonomous Air Corps. In the early 1930s, the Air Corps Tactical School (ACTS) gained a new home at Maxwell Air Force Base, Alabama. The 1931 MacArthur‐Pratt agreement divided land‐based and naval aviation between the army and the navy, and gave the former an officially sanctioned use for long‐range bombers: defenders of the American coastline. Increasingly, instructors at ACTS defied army ideological constraints by developing a set of ideas about the independent use of long‐range bombers against an enemy's industrial economy; these ideas ultimately would serve as the foundation of American bombing strategy in World War II.

Viewing advanced industrial societies as complex and interdependent entities subject to economic disruption, American air planners sought out those “bottleneck” targets that might be central to an enemy's functioning in wartime. They posited that if these could be attacked with swiftness and precision, then the enemy might be defeated. This theory was bolstered by the development of new technologies that seemed to make the plan feasible, specifically the B‐17 long‐range bomber and the Norden bomb‐sight. Both the B‐17 and the Norden bombsight (a product of the navy's in‐house designer, Carl Norden) were originally designed to help the United States defend itself from hostile threats at sea. Being able to hit a hostile target at sea naturally put a premium on accuracy, and this in turn reinforced American confidence in the notion of what would come to be referred to, optimistically, as “precision bombing.”

As the threat of war loomed increasingly large in the summer of 1941, President Franklin D. Roosevelt decided to invest heavily in the newly renamed U.S. Army Air Forces (USAAF). His decision, not unlike the decision undertaken on America's entry into World War I, probably rested on the appeal of a high‐technology mode of war fighting, which seemed to promise reduced casualties and quicker results. In August 1941, a handful of American air planners (former instructors at ACTS) devised a plan for massed bombers to fly in daylight against critical targets in the German war economy. Like their British Allies, the Americans generally had come to believe that the bomber “would always get through.” They assumed that the speed and multiple guns of the B‐17 “Flying Fortress” would enable them to fly in self‐defending groups—without long‐range fighters to fly alongside as protective escorts.

As in World War I, gearing up for total warfare proved to be more complicated and time‐consuming than anticipated. It took most of 1942 for the Americans to train the pilots, and to build the planes and infrastructure for a large‐scale bombing offensive. In the meantime, the efforts of Britain's Bomber Command had increased steadily in scale and destructiveness. The British had discovered that strategic bombing was a difficult and complicated enterprise. The unexpected effectiveness of German defense forced them to fly under cover of night, and the difficulty of finding targets led them to concentrate on those places they could find reliably: cities. Fearful that the Americans would experience the same problems, Prime Minister Winston Churchill urged his ally to join the night bombing offensive. Stubbornly clinging to their theory of air warfare, the Americans resisted.

American faith in the self‐defending bomber was badly shaken in the summer and fall of 1943. In two separate raids against ball bearings factories deep in German territory at Schweinfurt, the Americans suffered huge losses. The USAAF was now forced to make changes, too. Still wedded to the idea of daylight “precision” bombing, the Americans sought to solve their problem by bringing large numbers of escort aircraft into the European theater. Equipped with jettisonable fuel tanks for range, these could fly over enemy territory with the bombers, and engage German defensive aircraft head‐on. American bombers drew German fighters into the air, and through the winter and spring of 1944 the two air forces fought ferocious battles of attrition. In the end, the Americans were able badly to erode Luftwaffe strength—a result that greatly facilitated the Anglo‐American D‐Day landing at Normandy in June, and exposed German factories and cities to the full weight of Allied bombardment.

By the autumn of 1944 and continuing into 1945, Bomber Command and the USAAF were in a position to pummel targets in Germany with near impunity. In heavy strikes against railway lines and synthetic oil plants, the Allied air forces sought to halt the German war effort by crippling its ability to move men and supplies, and by eliminating its fuel supply. Convinced that the Germans would capitulate in the face of vast destruction, Bomber Command chief Sir Arthur Harris chose to continue attacks on cities as well. But if Harris and the Americans differed over priorities, the line between British “area bombing” and American “precision bombing” was not always so clean as the Americans claimed. On those frequent occasions when they were forced to bomb through cloud (rather than visually), the Americans achieved accuracy rates not much different from—indeed, sometimes rather worse than—the British. And in the Pacific theater, the Americans ultimately adopted bombing tactics which had much in common with Bomber Command's incendiary raids on German cities.

In the Far East, the Americans initially tried to use the same “precision” tactics they had employed in Europe. But heavy, incessant cloud cover prevailed over Japan, and the strong winds of the Pacific jet stream bedeviled formation flying. By the winter of 1944–45, the American bomber fleet (equipped with powerful B‐29 bombers) had little to show for its efforts. Abandoning their preferred tactics, the Americans—now under the field command of Gen. Curtis E. LeMay—began to fly low‐level, nighttime incendiary attacks against Japanese cities. Some sixty‐six Japanese cities were firebombed in the months prior to the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. In concert with the navy's blockade of Japan and mining of its harbors, the objective of the devastating air campaign was to weaken the enemy army and the entire nation prior to invasion, and, if possible, bring about Japanese capitulation. Because of the often indiscriminate nature of strategic bombing during World War II, the Anglo‐American air campaigns have been the subject of emotional postwar debate.

Members of the USAAF believed that their performance in World War II put them in a strong position to argue for independence from the army. In addition, their new role as the first service able to deliver atomic bombs moved them to a position of central importance in the postwar American defense establishment. The precise nature and organization of that establishment, however, remained to be determined. Its initial form was hammered out in lengthy and often acrimonious debates—held from 1945 to 1947—in which the navy fought hard to resist a centralized defense department, and to maintain authority over aircraft with sea‐related missions. American airmen finally achieved their long‐standing goal of autonomy when the National Security Act of July 1947 gave the newly named United States Air Force coequal status with the army and the navy within the broader framework of a national military establishment headed by a civilian secretary. The act was a problematical compromise, though, and had to be amended in 1949. The amendments strengthened the power of the secretary of defense over the services, but did not end the debates, which continue to this day, over roles and missions, and how the services should divide up control over the aircraft they need for their individual tasks.
[See also Department of Defense; Strategy: Air Warfare Strategy; Tactics: Air Warfare Tactics.]


Thomas Greer , The Development of Air Doctrine in the Army Air Arm, 1917–1941, 1955.
Alfred Goldberg , A History of the United States Air Force, 1907–1957, 1957.
Eugene Emme , The Impact of Air Power, 1959.
Robert Frank Futrell , Ideas, Concepts, Doctrine: A History of Basic Thinking in the United States Air Force, 1907–1964, 1971.
Robin Higham , Air Power: A Concise History, 1972.
Michael Sherry , The Rise of American Air Power, 1987.
Richard G. Davis , Carl A. Spaatz and the Air War in Europe, 1993.
John Gooch, ed., Air Power: Theory and Practice, 1995.

Tami Davis Biddle

Air Force, U.S.: Since 1947 The United States Air Force (USAF) was formally established by the National Security Act of July 1947. The creators of the USAF envisioned a service capable of winning wars independently by destroying the enemy's warmaking capability. This has remained the primary focus of the air force, whether through the use of nuclear weapons or precision conventional strikes. The air force has been characterized as well by a concentration on the development and employment of new technology to a higher degree than any of the other services.

As early as 1942, leaders of the predecessor organization, the Army Air Forces (AAF), realized that World War II gave them the opportunity to justify their status as a co‐equal service with the army and navy. Commanding Gen. “Hap” Arnold nevertheless restrained his more outspoken subordinates. He intended to earn postwar independence in recognition of a decisive AAF contribution to victory, as well as through the support he garnered from a close relationship with Army Chief of Staff Gen. George C. Marshall. Arnold demanded maximum efforts from his commanders, and secured ample publicity for those operations. The AAF received increasing autonomy as the war went on, and Arnold's campaign was finally rewarded with army support for air force independence after the war. The harmony between the two services was also strengthened by the fact that Arnold's successor in 1946, Gen. Carl A. Spaatz, had been the principal air commander in Europe for the new army chief of staff, Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower.

Arnold put his stamp on the air force in a number of specific ways. He emphasized the decisive nature of air warfare and the importance of anticipating and exploiting new technology. Spaatz followed by reorganizing the postwar AAF into three major functionally defined combat commands based in the United States—Strategic Air Command (SAC), Tactical Air Command (TAC), and Air Defense Command (ADC)—in addition to separate commands for training and support. Overseas theaters had their own air commands as well. This structure worked well enough to be retained by the new USAF when, after a two‐year battle with the navy, which retained naval aviation, it finally achieved independence.

Interservice rivalry continued, however, as postwar military forces and defense budgets were reduced. The Key West Agreement—a gentleman's agreement between the services on roles and missions—of 1948 gave the air force sole responsibility for strategic airpower, but that consensus soon dissolved in budget squabbles. Cutbacks of a strategic “supercarrier” and in naval aviation brought on the “Revolt of the Admirals” in 1949. The navy particularly questioned USAF capability to perform its strategic mission with the massive B‐36 bomber. The navy also argued that atomic attacks on cities were immoral, a claim it conveniently forgot when it established its own potent nuclear forces later.

In the meantime, the development of the air force's combat commands was hampered by budget constraints and personality conflicts. Defense cuts reduced the organization from a planned seventy air groups to only forty‐eight by 1950, and eventually Secretary of the Air Force Stuart Symington resigned in protest. The AAF had had more than 2.5 million personnel on V‐J Day, but by May 1947, its strength was down to 303,600 military and 110,000 civilians. Emphasis on strategic airpower ensured SAC would get support, but it initially languished under Gen. George Kenney, whose leadership style caused low morale and training readiness at SAC. Not until Chief of Staff Gen. Hoyt Vandenberg relieved Kenney and replaced him with Curtis E. LeMay in 1948 did SAC begin to evolve into an elite force.

LeMay's dynamic leadership and personality would keep the USAF primarily focused on its strategic mission for the next two decades. TAC was temporarily absorbed into Continental Air Command in 1949, but was reactivated in 1950 and began to expand its responsibilities to include delivering tactical nuclear weapons. ADC was always a low priority, and though it had established the distant early warning (DEW) Line by 1955, it was slow to get adequate aircraft or personnel. By the time its fighters, missiles, and radar were integrated into an effective homeland defense system, the threat of the Soviets' manned bomber had declined, and it was eventually deactivated in 1980.

Vandenberg's skillful lobbying and the exigencies of the Korean War helped sustain the USAF through the early 1950s. The depleted service was initially forced to rely on many World War II aircraft. By the end of the war, however, most bombing missions were being conducted by jet fighter‐bombers. The most glamorous and challenging roles were filled by the F‐86 interceptor pilots battling MiG‐15s for air superiority, and Sabre jet aces soon became America's—and the air force's—idols. Each service drew very different aerial lessons from its experience. The navy emphasized the failure of interdiction and problems with command and control of joint air operations. The army was dissatisfied with the amount and conduct of close air support. In contrast, the air force trumpeted that airpower had ultimately been successful, claiming its “air pressure” campaign had finally forced the enemy to sign the armistice.

In the decade after the Korean conflict, the emphasis of the air force in the Coldwar remained on deterring and winning a general war against the Soviet Union. SAC's aging B‐29s had been driven out of the daylight skies over North Korea in October 1951, but by the mid‐1950s its B‐47 medium and B‐52 heavy bomber aircraft were the most advanced jet planes of their type in the world. The 1952 budget authorized ninety‐five air force wings, a full third of them to SAC, which was the centerpiece of President Eisenhower's “New Look.” By 1960, it had over 2,000 bombers. Service strength had peaked at 960,000 in 1955, but it was still over 800,000 five years later. Air force interests were also furthered by the selection of Gen. Nathan Twining as first USAF chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) in 1957.

As the new decade opened, another technology was becoming the cornerstone of America's deterrent—missiles. Under the capable leadership of Gen. Bernard Schriever, the USAF Ballistic Missile Division guided the service and the missile industry through the completion of four separate launch systems in 1955–62: Atlas, Thor, Titan, and Minuteman. The first SAC missile wing was activated on 1 January 1958; within five years, 13 Atlas squadrons with 127 missiles had been deployed. Along with the new technology came a new way of thinking about general war. Most of the analysis of American nuclear strategy during the 1950s was being conducted by the RAND Corporation, a civilian “think tank” created by the air force after World War II that was independent in title but contracted to do service research. USAF has always led the way in the use of civilian experts and systems analysis to evaluate its technology and operations.

LeMay became USAF chief of staff in 1961, ensuring the predominance of strategic bomber proponents over more tactically focused “fighter jockeys” (a schism that affects most air services, with air transporters the lowest‐ranking members of the flying caste) until the beginnings of the Vietnam War. As a result, in the 1960s USAF found itself again with the wrong aircraft and tactics to meet the needs of a limited war. In Vietnam as in Korea, it chafed under political constraints, had problems with joint air control, and failed in its interdiction campaign. However, the late success of Operation Linebacker II enabled air force leaders to claim they had again brought an enemy to the peace table, and to use it to justify their performance as an example of what could have been accomplished if airpower had been applied with less restraint.

Despite such confident rhetoric, the air force did much to reform itself after Vietnam as it entered the trying decade of the 1970s. SAC's influence declined, and the service focused more on its other missions. USAF strength hovered around 800,000 throughout the 1960s, but by 1975 it had declined by 200,000, and it was down to close to 550,000 by 1980. USAF provided two chairmen of the JCS during that time: Gen. George Brown, who as USAF chief of staff had changed regulations so others besides pilots could hold important commands; and Gen. David Jones, later instrumental in creating the Goldwater‐Nichols Act. The service also began to consider the use of space, eventually creating its own Space Command in 1983, and providing the impetus for the unified U.S. Space Command established by the Department of Defense, despite navy objections, in 1984. Though it was a difficult period for military budgets and programs, air force leaders proved very farsighted in developing technologies. They fielded the capable F‐15 Eagle and supplemented it with the lighter and cheaper F‐16; developed a specialized close air support aircraft in the A‐10 as well as a new strategic missile, the Peacekeeper; and laid the foundations for Tomahawk cruise missiles, new strategic bombers like the B‐1, and stealth aircraft like the F‐117. The appearance of the C‐5A Galaxy significantly expanded national airlift capabilities.

Structural reforms also would have important future implications. Innovative training programs such as Red Flag honed the skills of active duty combat flyers, while the USAF response to Secretary of Defense James Schlesinger's call for a “Total Force” in 1973 considerably increased the readiness of the Air National Guard and Air Force Reserve. The air force has remained the most successful of all the services in keeping reserve elements prepared and integrating them into active plans and operations.

A new set of thinkers typified by Col. John Warden began to consider the proper application of this new force and technology, including precision‐guided munitions first used in Vietnam. The “smart” bombs employed against the Iraqis in the Persian Gulf War of 1991 demonstrated a combination of accuracy and penetrating power unique in the history of warfare. The service also coordinated more closely with the army in developing doctrinal concepts of “Air‐Land Battle.” Though the USAF was down to 530,000 personnel as the Cold War came to an end, the defense buildup under President Ronald Reagan had created the best trained and most technologically advanced air service in the world.

All the aforementioned factors came to bear in the impressive USAF performance in the Persian Gulf War. Aerial operations also demonstrated great improvement in the command and control of joint airpower, though the navy and Marines continued to resist the complete integration of their assets under a joint forces air component commander. Again air force leaders claimed the decisive role in winning the war. Service historians even claimed that airpower could now seize and hold ground without ground support. Media images were misleading, however, and the Gulf War Air Power Survey commissioned by USAF to verify its claims revealed numerous flaws in the conduct and results of the air campaign.

Disputes about the decisiveness of airpower swirled throughout the budget battles of the early 1990s, as Chief of Staff Gen. Merrill McPeak oversaw a reduction and reorganization of his service. By late 1997, active duty strength was down to around 370,000, supplemented by more than 155,000 civilians. SAC and TAC were disbanded, as their nuclear forces came under the new unified Strategic Command, while a new USAF Air Combat Command absorbed everything else. As air force leaders fought to get more B‐2 stealth strategic bombers and the new F‐22 to replace the F‐15 and F‐16, strategic airlift assets of the Air Mobility Command received increased funding in recognition of the increased need for Continental United States (CONUS) deployments as overseas bases closed. Plans to replace the A‐10 with multirole F‐16s made economic sense to the air force, but awoke old fears in the army that close air support was being relegated to a low priority. As USAF tried to exploit a perceived revolution in military affairs with continued emphasis on precision and the exploitation of new information technologies, it also had to come to grips with reduced budgets and a lack of appreciation for the strategic airpower that had been its raison d’être. The future holds much promise and many challenges for the premier air force in the world.
[See also Air and Space Defense; Air Force: Combat Organizations; Strategy: Air Warfare Strategy; Strategy: Nuclear Warfare Strategy.]


Fred Kaplan , The Wizards of Armageddon, 1983.
Herman S. Wolk , Planning and Organizing the Postwar Air Force, 1943–1947, 1984.
John L. Frisbee, ed., Makers of the United States Air Force, 1989.
Robert Frank Futrell , Ideas, Concepts, Doctrine, 2 vols., 1989.
Allan R. Millett and and Peter Maslowski , For the Common Defense: A Military History of the United States of America, 1984; rev. and exp. ed. 1994.
Walton S. Moody , Building a Strategic Air Force, 1996.
Walter J. Boyne , Beyond the Wild Blue: A History of the United States Air Force, 1947–1997, 1997.

Conrad C. Crane

Browning, Orville Hickman

views updated May 23 2018


Orville Hickman Browning was born February 10, 1806, in Harrison County, Kentucky. He was educated at Augusta College and admitted to the Kentucky bar in 1831. In that same year, he relocated to Illinois and established his legal practice.

In 1836 Browning served as a member of the Illinois Senate, and in 1842 participated in the Illinois General Assembly. He entered the United States Senate in 1861, replacing stephen a. douglas as senator from Illinois, and remained at this post until 1862. He gained a reputation for his adversity to several policies of abraham lincoln, including the emancipation of slaves.

From 1866 to 1869 Browning served as U.S. secretary of the interior and also acted as attorney general for a short period in 1868. He attended the Illinois Constitutional Convention during 1869 and 1870.

As a lawyer, Browning specialized in cases involving the Midwestern railroad system.

Browning died August 10, 1881, in Quincy, Illinois.