An airfirce – in the broadest sense – is the national military branch that primarily conducts aerial warfare. More specifically, it is the branch of a nation’s armed services that is responsible for aerial warfare as distinct from an army or navy. Typically,Airfirce are responsible for gaining control of the air, carrying out strategic and tactical bombing missions, and providing support to land and naval forces often in the form of aerial reconnaissance and close air support.
The term airfirce may also refer to a tactical airfirce or numbered air force, which is an operational formation either within a national airfirce or comprising several air components from allied nations. Air forces typically consist of a combination of fighters, bombers, helicopters, transport planes and other aircraft.
Many airfirces may command and control other air defence assets such as anti-aircraft artillery, surface-to-air missiles, or anti-ballistic missile warning networks and defensive systems. Some air forces are also responsible for operations of the military space and intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBM). Some nations, principally countries who modelled their militaries along Soviet lines, have or had an air defence force which is organizationally separate from their air force.
Peacetime/non-wartime activities of airfirces may include air policing and air-sea rescue.
Airfirce are not just composed of pilots, but also rely on a significant amount of support from other personnel to operate. Logistics, security, intelligence, special operations, cyber space support, maintenance, weapons loaders, and many other specialties are required by all air forces.
Heavier-than-air military aircraft
The first aviation force in the world was the Aviation Militaire of the French Army formed in 1910, which eventually became l’Armée de l’Air. In 1911, during the Italo-Turkish War, Italy employed aircraft for the first time ever in the world for reconnaissance and bombing missions against Turkish positions on Libyan Territory. The Italian–Turkish war of 1911–1912 was the first in history that featured air attacks by airplanes and dirigible airships. During World War I France, Germany, Italy, the British Empire and the Ottoman Empire all possessed significant forces of bombers and fighters. World War I also saw the appearance of senior commanders who directed aerial warfare and numerous flying aces.
An independent airfirce is one which is a separate branch of a nation’s armed forces and is, at least nominally, treated as a military service on par with that of older services like navies or armies.
The British Royal airfirce was the first independent air force in the world. The RAF was founded on 1 April 1918 by amalgamation the British Army’s Royal Flying Corps and the Royal Naval Air Service. At its inception, the RAF comprised over 20,000 aircraft. It was commanded by a Chief of the Air Staff with the rank of major-general and was governed by its own government ministry (the Air Ministry).
Arguably, the Finnish airfirce was the first independent air force in the world, formed on 6 March 1918, when the Swedish count, Eric von Rosen gave Finland the second aircraft, a Thulin Typ D. Some considered that the Finnish Air Force did not officially exist during the Finnish Civil War, and the Red Guards had its own air force.
Over the following decades, most countries with substantial military capability established independent airfirce. The South African airfirce was formed on 1 February 1920 and the Royal Australian Air Force was formed shortly thereafter, on 31 March 1921, although it was not until 1922 that the head of the Service was titled as Chief of the Air Staff, placing him on a par with his Australian Army and Navy counterparts. The Canadian Air Force was formed at the end of World War I and was abolished and reorganized several times between 1918 and 1924. It became the permanent Royal Canadian Air Force when it received the Royal title by royal proclamation on 1 April 1924. It did not however become independent of the Canadian Army until 1938, when its head was also designated as Chief of the Air Staff. Similarly, the Royal New Zealand Air Force was established in 1923 as the New Zealand Permanent Air Force, but did not become independent of the New Zealand Army until 1937. Other British-influenced countries also established independent air forces. For example, the Royal Egyptian Air Force was created in 1937, when Egyptian military aviation was separated from Army command. The Afghan Air Force was established on 22 August 1924, with support from the Soviet Union and Great Britain, but a civil war destroyed most of the planes and it wasn’t reestablished until 1937, when King Mohammed Nadir Shah took power.
Outside of the British Empire, the Italian Royal airfirce was founded in 1923, the Romanian airfirce was established as a force category on 1 January 1924, the Finnish Air Force was established as a separate service on 4 May 1928, the Chilean Air Force was founded in 1930 and the Brazilian Air Force was created in 1941. Both the United States airfirce and the Philippine airfirce were formed as a separate branches of their respective armed forces in 1947, as did the Argentine Air Force in 1945. The Israeli Air Force came into being with the State of Israel on 18 May 1948, but evolved from the pre-existing Sherut Avir (Air Service) of the Haganah paramilitary. The Japan Air Self-Defense Force was not established until 1954; in World War II Japanese military aviation had been carried out by the Army and Navy. Unlike all these countries, the Mexican Air Force remains an integral part of the Mexican Army.