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Major Command

The Command is the top level, the largest unit, and is usually composed of three or more numbered air forces. It is the largest combat organization of the Air Force-a self-contained fighting air unit with large numbers of combat and other type planes. It contains thousands of personnel who operate the aircraft and the weapons of their armament, as well as perform all of the other complex operations essential to modern air warfare. The organization of a given air command depends upon the strategic situation, and the operations and tactics of the enemy. A theater of operations may contain one or more air commands. A Command headquarters includes the commanding general and staff assistants, and a large number of special assistants which the complex organization and the training and combat operations of a large air unit require. Command is exercised as in ground units, from the air command down through the chain of command.

Air Combat Command ACC

The Air Combat Command is responsible for CONUS-based fighters, bombers, ICBMs, reconnaissance aircraft, C31 platforms, and some theater airlifters and tankers It provides forces directly to Unified Commands or augments theater air forces already forward deployed. The Air Combat Command was formed in June 1992 from elements of the former Strategic Air Command and the Tactical Air Command.

Air Mobility Command

Air Mobility Command includes the bulk of airlift assets as well as a considerable portion of the tanker force. This integration of lift with tankers will better enable the Air Force to supply global mobility and reach, enhancing rapid response and the ability to operate with other services and nations. Air Mobility Command will also be responsible for the worldwide coordination of tanker scheduling.

Air Force Space Command

The Air Force Space Command provides resource management and operation of assigned ICBM assets for the US Strategic Command.

Air Force Special Operations Command

The responsibility of the Air Force Special Operations Command is to organize, train, and equip Air Force special operations forces. It is the US Air Force component of the United States Special Operations Command (USSOCOM).

Pacific Air Forces PACAF

The Pacific Air Forces is a major command of the US Air Force and is the Air Force component of the U.S. Pacific Command. Its primary mission is to organize, train, equip, administer, and prepare assigned forces for combat, including: fighter, reconnaissance, air control, close air support, and defense suppression units to conduct defensive and offensive air operations. It provides combat-ready air elements to the U.S. Pacific Command and participates in joint and combined air operations.

United States Air Forces in Europe USAFE

The United States Air Forces in Europe is a major command of the US Air Force and is the Air Force component of the US European Command. Its primary mission is to organize, train, equip, administer, and prepare assigned forces for combat, including: fighter, reconnaissance, air control, close air support, and defense suppression units to conduct defensive and offensive air operations. It provides combat-ready air elements to the US European Command and participates in joint and combined air operations.

Developments

In 1991 major changes were announced in the structure of combatant commands. There were two basic reasons for these changes. First, Desert Storm demonstrated that the line between strategic and tactical airpower has become blurred. The Air Force has always contended that air power should be treated as a unified whole in order to bring its full capability to bear. Desert Storm validated that basic doctrinal tenet. Targets may have tactical or strategic value. Airplanes have both tactical and strategic capability, and should not be constrained by artificial distinctions. Fighter or attack designated aircraft belong to Tactical Air Command. In Desert Storm, they were employed against both tactical and strategic targets. F-117s hit key strategic nodes in Baghdad while F-15s and F-16s attacked biological and nuclear weapons facilities. And A-10s hit Scud launch facilities. Conversely, B-52s were highly effective against Iraqi ground forces in tactical positions. The utility of designating some aircraft tactical and others strategic has been overtaken by current capabilities. The organization needs to catch up.

The second reason for changing the combatant commands is that many commands operate in theaters, not by function. The paramount consideration is the theater commander's requirements, not an arbitrary functional division of labor. This theater approach is precisely the way the Air Force organized in World War II. Overseas commanders now command the assets they need to make air power a unified whole within their theaters. The commanders of Pacific Air Forces, (PACAF) and US Air Forces in Europe (USAFE) command the tankers, theater airlift and reconnaissance assets that are stationed in their theaters, as well as their traditional combat assets. These commanders have the resources they need for an air campaign, augmented as necessary by reinforcements from the Continental United States.

Three major combatant commands based in the United States, Strategic Air Command, Tactical Air Command and Military Airlift Command, merged into two commands. Air Combat Command and Air Mobility Command act as independent force providers to theater commanders in some contingencies and as force augmenters for PACAF, USAFE and other Air Force component commands in other scenarios. The net result of the restructuring effort was a reduction in the number of major commands from 13 to 10. These actions helped recover the simplicity among command relationships that should be the hallmark of any military organization.

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