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U.S. Air Force

The U.S. Air Force (USAF) is the youngest of the four branches of the U.S. military, having been born out of the Army Signal Corps to become its own service in 1947. The USAF’s mission set has expanded significantly over the years, and this is reflected in the organizational changes in its structure. Initially, Air Force operations were divided among four major components—Strategic Air Command, Tactical Air Command, Air Defense Command, and Military Air Transport Service—that collectively reflected the “fly, fight, and win” nature of the service. Space’s rise to prominence began in the early 1950s, and with it came a host of faculties that would help to expand the impact (and mission set) of this service.

Today, the Air Force focuses on five principal missions:

  • Air and space superiority;
  • Intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR);
  • Mobility and lift;
  • Global strike; and
  • Command and control (C2).

These missions, while all necessary, put an even greater squeeze on the resources available to the Air Force in an incredibly strained and competitive fiscal environment. Using the 2012 Defense Strategic Guidance (DSG) as its framework for determining investment priorities and posture, the Air Force intentionally traded size for quality by aiming to be a “smaller, but superb, force that maintains the agility, flexibility, and readiness to engage a full range of contingencies and threats.


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