Air Force

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Cap emblem Luftwaffe (Bundeswehr)

Air forces , together with land forces and possibly existing naval forces, form the armed forces (military) of a state. Air forces can be organized in their own Air Force branch .


Historically, the air forces were part of the armies and the navies until independent air forces were founded . The United States Army Air Forces was an army organization until 1947 when the United States Air Force was established as a separate armed force. The world's first air force to be organized as an independent armed forces came into being on April 1, 1918, when the Royal Flying Corps and the Royal Naval Air Service were merged to form the Royal Air Force (RAF).

In the armed forces of small states, air forces are often foregone. The air forces are then usually part of the army or as an organization, area or branch of service integrated into the armed forces who renounce a subdivision in the armed services. An example of this are the air forces of the Austrian Armed Forces . In contrast to this, the Swiss Army has its own Air Force branch . In Canada , from 1968 to 1975 the air force was part of the total armed forces, which were no longer divided into sub-armed forces. Today it has its own air force again with the Royal Canadian Air Force .

The terms air force and air force are often used interchangeably, although historically and often organizationally it is not applicable. The name Luftwaffe is also not the exclusive proper name of the German Air Force ; Switzerland also uses this designation for the corresponding armed forces. Analogous to the semantic differences mentioned, the terms land forces and naval forces are not always synonymous with army and navy . In addition to an army, land forces can also include separate elite troops, border troops, national guards or gendarmerie , naval forces in addition to the naval sub-armed forces also separately organized marine infantry , coastal artillery or military coast guards .

In the case of the air forces of the National People's Army of the GDR , the more general term air forces was used for the designation of the armed forces. The same applied to the army , but not to the navy .


Air forces can strategically, operationally and tactically solve tasks on theaters of war on land and at sea, as well as in the deep rear of the enemy, either in combat with combined arms or independently.

Their range of skills often overlaps with those of other branches of the armed forces, e.g. B. Army, Navy, special forces, missile troops. This and different organizational bases often make it difficult for an external viewer to unambiguously allocate forces and resources to the respective armed forces of an army.

In all air forces, work is increasingly being done to improve the ability to work together with the other branches of the armed forces (jointness) in order to make better use of synergies.

Germany, Switzerland and Austria

In German-speaking military science, the term "Luftwaffe" is traditionally mainly used.

See also



The organizational structures of air forces in peacetime are mostly dependent on the size of the respective army, the scope of the available capabilities and the military leadership philosophy of a system as well as its integration into multinational structures.

Outline in action

The tactical deployment and command principles of air forces differ fundamentally from those of land forces and significantly from those of other branches of the armed forces. This is most evident in the management structure and procedures in action.

In air war operations, for example, the forces (if necessary down to the level of a single weapon system) for each mission are put together as required based on the skills required to fulfill the mission. In the case of complex offensive operations in particular, a deployment takes place in a (multinational) network in order to make better use of existing strengths and, if necessary, to compensate for existing weaknesses. The leadership is therefore usually independent of the respective troop service (peace) subordination of the forces involved.

Offensive forces

Offensive operations are carried out primarily against opposing armed forces and their support elements as well as their infrastructures and command structures as part of a joint action with the army and navy. However, they can also include independent, targeted attacks on the entire enemy system as part of effects-based operations.

A distinction is made between the flying forces of air forces in the various directions of use according to strategic, operational and tactical forces. The latter for the direct support of army operations.

Offensive operations are strategic air strikes, fight against the enemy air war potential (AI - air interdiction) in the air as well as on the ground as well as hunting foray as independent air operations and air interdiction (BAI - battlefield interdiction), close air support (CAS - close air support) as well as ground combat support with attack aircraft and gun ships such as the AC-130 W as operations in support of ground operations of the land forces, and combat against naval forces in support of naval forces.

Fighter planes , fighter-bombers , bombers and ground combat supporters as well as reconnaissance planes and unmanned aerial vehicles for reconnaissance can be used offensively . In particular, modern combat aircraft - even within a mission - are usually not restricted to a specific type of operation, but are used in both the "air-to-air" and "air-to-ground" roles. The support of combat helicopters is provided by army aviation forces .

Defensive forces

The protection of the airspace of one's own state or an operational area against enemy air warfare ( aircraft , ballistic missiles , surface-to-surface missiles , helicopters , drones, cruise missiles, etc.) is carried out air-supported by fighter aircraft or by ground-based and sea-based systems.

Because of the sometimes different attacking air targets in the protection of state territories, army operations and naval units, the armed forces often maintain their own, sometimes specialized defense systems, for example:

As with offensive operations, there is a considerable need for coordination between the defense systems within a given operational area. The strict assignment of defense systems to branches of the armed forces can also be a hindrance in this context, since the existing communication systems of the armed forces and the procedures for coordination are often different. In various countries, therefore, the assignment of ground air defense to the armed forces of the air force and army is being dissolved. In the ideal case, the coordination is established, for example, by so-called "plug-and-fight" capability of the defense systems to be coordinated or their spatially distributed components. This is especially implemented in the development of new (sub) systems such as the MEADS air defense system .

Supporting forces

Air forces have a wide range of capabilities to support operations from all branches of the armed forces.

Air transport

Aircraft of various sizes and ranges are used to quickly move personnel and material. These vary from light transport helicopters for tactical air transport within an operational area to transport aircraft of medium weight and range classes to large-capacity transport aircraft for strategic air transport over great distances.

Special forms of air transport are the dropping of paratroopers during airborne operations , the strategic relocation of wounded soldiers to the home country (StratAirMedEvac) or air transport in the political field.

In-flight refueling

With aerial refueling , the range or the standing time of the aircraft used is increased with tanker aircraft. Only a few air forces in the world have sufficient numbers of this rare resource. To increase efficiency, this ability is also offered to other nations in return for compensation (e.g. payment) if available.

Reconnaissance and surveillance

Since the First World War , essential results of the reconnaissance have been provided by the air forces and serve to create a comprehensive picture of the situation. This is mainly done in the optical and electronic spectrum by unmanned aerial vehicles , reconnaissance aircraft and reconnaissance satellites .

Airborne platforms are used by AWACS for monitoring the airspace or by JSTARS and, in the future, AGS for monitoring the ground or sea area. The airspace is monitored using ground-based sensors (e.g. radar systems ).

Rescue from the air

The search for crashed aircraft and ships and the rescue of any survivors (SAR: Search and Rescue ) is usually a national responsibility of a state. This function is mostly performed by helicopters of the air force ( sea ​​rescue mostly by naval forces).

A special form are missions for armed search and rescue (CSAR: Combat Search and Rescue ) of shot down or crashed aircraft crews or isolated own forces within a military operation. This task is performed by specially equipped and trained units and supported by numerous other forces.

Special tasks

Air forces are used for numerous other special tasks. Examples for this are:

Logistics / support

Air forces usually have extensive organic logistical components, especially for the repair / maintenance of the device. In addition, various support elements are required for the operation and security of combat control systems (e.g. airfields or command posts ) or logistical facilities (e.g. depots or aircraft hangars). These range from civilian forces such as weather advisors or fire brigades to medical units and special IT personnel to specialized forces such as explosive ordnance disposal or security soldiers .

Leadership in peace

Due to the wide range of skills combined with the required technical expertise, air forces in peacetime are usually commanded by offices / staffs, in which, among other things, specialists for personnel recruitment, training and further education in peacetime and the procurement of equipment are bundled.

See also

Web links

Wiktionary: Air Force  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations

Individual evidence

  1. Military Lexicon, 2nd edition ES No .: 6C1, Order No .: 745 303 1, p. 215.
  2. Information about the EC-130
  3. ^ The Royal Thai Air Force & National Development ( Memento of March 13, 2008 in the Internet Archive )