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Numbered Air Force

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

A Numbered Air Force (NAF) is a type of organization in the United States Air Force that is subordinate to a major command (MAJCOM) and has assigned to it operational units such as wings, squadrons, and groups.[1] A Component Numbered Air Force (C-NAF) has the additional role as an Air Force Component Command exercising command and control over air and space forces supporting a Unified Combatant Command.[2] Unlike MAJCOMs, which have a management role, a NAF is a tactical organization with an operational focus, and does not have the same functional staff as a MAJCOM.[2] Numbered air forces are typically commanded by a major general or a lieutenant general.

Numeric designations for Numbered Air Forces are written in full using ordinal words (e.g., Eighth Air Force), while cardinal numerals are used in abbreviations (e.g., 8 AF).[1][3] Units directly subordinate to a NAF were traditionally numbered 6XX (where XX is the NAF number).[1] For example, the 618th Air and Space Operations Center (Tanker Airlift Control Center) is a unit subordinate to the Eighteenth Air Force. This is no longer completely accurate, due to regular reorganization of Wings and Numbered Air Forces.


World War II Air Districts and Numbered Air Forces.
World War II Air Districts and Numbered Air Forces.

Numbered air forces began as named organizations in the United States Army Air Corps before World War II.[4] The first four NAFs were established as the Northeast, Northwest, Southeast, and Southwest Air Districts on 19 October 1940 to provide air defense for the United States.[5] These Air Districts were redesignated as the 1st, 2nd, 3rd, and 4th Air Forces, respectively, on 26 March 1941. Over a year after the establishment of the United States Army Air Forces on 20 June 1941, the Arabic numerals were changed to the First, Second, Third, and Fourth Air Forces on 18 September 1942. Other organizations established during this period and that became Numbered air forces include the Philippine Department Air Force (became Fifth Air Force), the Panama Canal Air Force (became Sixth Air Force), the Hawaiian Air Force (became Seventh Air Force), and the Alaskan Air Force (became Eleventh Air Force).[6] After World War II, the US Air Force continued to use both named and numbered air forces. While named air forces were used in both tactical and support roles, numbered air forces were generally employed only in tactical roles.[4]

As part of a peacetime restructuring in March 1946, the United States Army Air Forces were reorganized into three major operating commands: the Strategic Air Command (SAC), the Tactical Air Command (TAC), and the Air Defense Command (ADC).[7] These commands reflected the basic air combat missions that evolved during the war, and each reported directly to General Carl Spaatz, the Commanding General, Army Air Forces. Numbered air forces served as an intermediate headquarters between these commands and the operational wings and groups. Eleven of the sixteen wartime air forces remained. The Eighth and Fifteenth Air Forces were assigned to SAC; the Third, Ninth, and Twelfth Air Forces were assigned to TAC; and the First, Second, Fourth, Tenth, Eleventh, and Fourteenth Air Forces were assigned to ADC. Second Air Force would later be transferred to SAC in 1949.[8] The numbered air forces had both operational and administrative authority, and existed as a command level between major commands and air divisions. Although variations existed, and number air forces were often reassigned, this basic arrangement persisted throughout the Cold War.[citation needed]

The role of numbered air forces changed in the 1990s during the Air Force reorganization initiated by Air Force Chief of Staff General Merrill McPeak. The goal of the reorganization was to "streamline, take layers out, flatten (Air Force) organizational charts, while at the same time clarifying the roles and responsibilities of essential supporting functions."[9] Numbered air forces were reorganized into tactical echelons focused on operations, and their administrative staff functions were eliminated. This reorganization also reduced the number of major commands, and eliminated the air divisions to place numbered air forces directly in command of operational wings.[citation needed]

The role of numbered air forces was again changed in 2006 with the implementation of the Component Air Force (C-NAF) concept.[10] Some numbered air forces have an additional mission as the Air Force Component Command exercising command and control over air and space forces supporting a Unified Combatant Command.[2] C-NAFs have a second designation to identify their role. For example, First Air Force, a numbered air force assigned to Air Combat Command, is designated as Air Force Northern (AFNORTH) in its role as the air component of the United States Northern Command.[11] Most C-NAFs have an Air and Space Operations Center (AOC) to provide command and control of air and space operations for the supported combatant commander.[citation needed]

List of Air Forces


The table below lists current and historical numbered air forces of the US Air Force, their C-NAF designation (if applicable), their current shield and station, and the major command (MAJCOM) to which they are currently assigned. Note that the lineage of some numbered air forces is continued by non-NAF organizations (e.g., the 15th Expeditionary Mobility Task Force continues the lineage of the Fifteenth Air Force). Boldface indicates a NAF or C-NAF that is currently active.

Air Force Shield Station Major Command Comments
First Air Force (Air Forces Northern) Tyndall Air Force Base, Florida ACC C-NAF supporting U.S. Northern Command and Continental NORAD Region.

In May 2022, First Air Force was officially designated as "Air Forces Space" (AFSPACE), the Air Force contribution to United States Space Command, in addition to its Northern Command and Continental NORAD roles.[12]

Second Air Force Keesler Air Force Base, Mississippi AETC Oversees all USAF non-flying technical training
Third Air Force (Air Forces Europe) Ramstein Air Base, Germany USAFE-AFAFRICA C-NAF supporting U.S. European Command and U.S. Africa Command
Fourth Air Force March Air Reserve Base, California AFRC Air Force Reserve Command NAF for all AFRC C-5, C-17, KC-135, KC-10 and C-40 units operated by Air Mobility Command and supporting U.S. Transportation Command
Fifth Air Force Yokota Air Base, Japan PACAF Air component to United States Forces Japan
Sixth Air Force Howard Air Force Base, Panama Redesignated United States Air Forces Southern Command in 1963. Inactivated in 1976.
Seventh Air Force (Air Forces Korea) Osan Air Base, Korea PACAF C-NAF supporting United States Forces Korea
Eighth Air Force (Air Forces Strategic) Barksdale Air Force Base, Louisiana AFGSC C-NAF supporting U.S. Strategic Command and is responsible for all USAF bombers
 Ninth Air Force (Air Forces Central)  Shaw Air Force Base, South Carolina ACC Established in 1983 as United States Central Command Air Forces (USCENTAF); renamed United States Air Forces Central Command (USAFCENT) in 2009. Air component of United States Central Command, a regional unified command. Responsible for air operations (either unilaterally or in concert with coalition partners) and developing contingency plans in support of national objectives for USCENTCOM's 20-nation area of responsibility in Southwest Asia.[13]
Tenth Air Force Naval Air Station Joint Reserve Base (former Carswell Air Force Base), Fort Worth, Texas AFRC Air Force Reserve Command NAF for all AFRC B-52 units gained by AFGSC; all AFRC E-3, F-22, F-15C/D, F-15E, F-16, A-10, HC-130, HH-60, C-145, U-28, MQ-1, MQ-9 and RQ-4 units gained by ACC, PACAF and AFSOC, and all AFRC T-6, T-1 and T-38 "Associate" flying training units in support of AETC; 10 AF also has oversight for a single AFRC space wing in support of AFSPC
Eleventh Air Force Elmendorf Air Force Base, Alaska PACAF Air Component for Alaskan Command and Alaska NORAD Region. Administrative HQ for PACAF Wings not in 5th AF or 7th AF AORs.
Twelfth Air Force (Air Forces Southern) Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Arizona ACC C-NAF supporting U.S. Southern Command
Thirteenth Air Force (Air Forces Pacific) Hickam Air Force Base, Hawaii PACAF C-NAF previously supporting USPACOM. Inactivated in 2012.
Fourteenth Air Force (Air Forces Strategic) Vandenberg Air Force Base, California AFSPC C-NAF supporting U.S. Strategic Command and was responsible for U.S. space forces. In December 2019, redesignated as the United States Space Force's Space Operations Command (SPOC)
Fifteenth Air Force Shaw Air Force Base, South Carolina ACC Redesignated 15th Expeditionary Mobility Task Force in 2003. Inactivated in 2012, 15 AF was reactivated on 20 August 2020 to consolidate the units of the Ninth Air Force and Twelfth Air Force to form a new numbered air force responsible for generating and presenting Air Combat Command’s conventional forces.
Sixteenth Air Force (Air Forces Cyber) Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland ACC C-NAF supporting U.S. Cyber Command

Contains components of the inactivated 24, and 25 AF's.

Seventeenth Air Force Ramstein Air Base, Germany USAFE-AFAFRICA Inactivated in 2012. Redesignated 17th Expeditionary Air Force, supporting U.S. Africa Command. Inactivated at some point prior to March 2022.[14]
Eighteenth Air Force (Air Forces Transportation) Scott Air Force Base, Illinois AMC C-NAF supporting U.S. Transportation Command
Nineteenth Air Force Randolph Air Force Base, Texas AETC Oversees all USAF flying training, to include all undergraduate flight training and selected Formal Training Units (FTU) and Replacement Training Units (RTU)
Twentieth Air Force (Air Forces Strategic) F.E. Warren Air Force Base, Wyoming AFGSC C-NAF supporting U.S. Strategic Command, oversees all USAF ICBMs
Twenty-First Air Force McGuire Air Force Base, New Jersey Redesignated 21st Expeditionary Mobility Task Force in 2003. Inactivated in 2012.
Twenty-Second Air Force Dobbins Air Reserve Base, Georgia AFRC Air Force Reserve Command NAF for all AFRC C-130 and WC-130 units operated by Air Mobility Command and supporting U.S. Transportation Command
Twenty-Third Air Force (AFSOC) Hurlburt Field, Florida AFSOC C-NAF supporting U.S. Special Operations Command. Inactivated in 2013.
Twenty-Fourth Air Force (Air Forces Cyber) Lackland Air Force Base, Texas[15] ACC Inactivated in 2019. Merged with 25 AF to create the 16 AF.
Twenty-Fifth Air Force Lackland Air Force Base, Texas ACC Redesignated from Air Force Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance Agency on 29 September 2014.[16] Inactivated in 2019. Merged with 24 AF to create 16 AF


Named Air Forces operate at the same level as Numbered Air Forces. General Headquarters Air Force, the first named air force of the United States Army's air arm, began operations in 1935. The GHQ Air Force became the Air Force Combat Command in 1941. Several of the numbered air forces began as named air forces.[17]

Since World War II other named air forces have existed in both operational and support commands. Air Forces Iceland, and the Central, Eastern, Japan, and Western Air Defense Forces, have provided air defense capability. The USAF Special Operations Force controlled operational special forces. The Crew, Flying, and Technical Training Air Forces served Air Training Command both in the air and on the ground. Pacific Air Force/FEAF (Rear) controlled both operational and support forces of Far East Air Forces. Air Materiel Force, European Area, and Air Materiel Force, Pacific Area, on the other hand, served primarily as logistics support establishments.[17]

Since 2001 United States Air Forces Central has supervised U.S. Air Force elements engaged in the War in Afghanistan (2001–2021); since 2003 for the War in Iraq; and, with a more recent start, air refueling and other support in regard to the Yemeni Civil War.

Air Force Shield Station Major Command Comments
Air Forces Iceland Naval Air Station Keflavik, Iceland USAFE-AFA Established in 1952. Performed air defense of Iceland and North Atlantic. Inactivated 28 June 2006
Air Materiel Force, European Area Châteauroux-Déols Air Base [fr], France Air Force Logistics Command From 1954 to 1962 served as the primary USAF logistics organization in Europe
Air Materiel Force, Pacific Area Tachikawa Air Base, Japan Air Force Logistics Command Established as Far East Air Service Command on 14 July 1944. Activated on 18 August 1944 at Brisbane, Australia.[18][19] Eventually moved its headquarters to Manila on 7 August 1945 having re-located through several intermediate locations. It was redesignated Pacific Air Service Command, U.S. Army, in January 1946, and Far East Air Materiel Command (FEAMCOM) on 1 January 1947. At Tachikawa Air Base in Japan after being activated as FEAMCOM, it effectively replaced the Japan Air Materiel Area. It was the primary USAF logistics organization in the Pacific before finally being inactivated in 1962.
Aviation Engineer Force Wolters Air Force Base, Texas Continental Air Command Controlled aviation engineer organizations of the United States Army, on duty with the United States Air Force, 1951–1956
Central Air Defense Force Richards-Gebaur Air Force Base, Missouri Air Defense Command Controlled ADC Radar and Interceptor units in the central United States, 1951–1960.
Crew Training Air Force Randolph Air Force Base, Texas Air Training Command Provided training for air crews, 1952–1957.
Eastern Air Defense Force Stewart Air Force Base, New York Air Defense Command Controlled ADC Radar and Interceptor units in the eastern United States, 1949–1960.
Flying Training Air Force Randolph Air Force Base, Texas Air Training Command Provided flying training for combat crews and flying training leading to an aeronautic rating, 1951–1958.
Japan Air Defense Force Nagoya Air Base, Japan Far East Air Force This air defense organization was established to replace the 314th Air Division, 1952–1954
Pacific Air Force/FEAF (Rear) Hickam Air Force Base, Hawaii Territory Far East Air Force Established to control Air Force operations in the Pacific and Far East during the move of the Far East Air Forces (FEAF) from Japan to Hawaii, 1954–1957
Technical Training Air Force Randolph Air Force Base, Texas Air Training Command Provided officer candidate training, indoctrination (basic) training, and technical training to Air Force personnel, 1951–1958.
USAF Special Operations Force Eglin Air Force Base, Florida Tactical Air Command When the USAF Special Air Warfare Center became too large and cumbersome for center status, it was elevated to a named air force, 1962–1974.
Western Air Defense Force Hamilton Air Force Base, California Air Defense Command Controlled ADC Radar and Interceptor units in the western United States, 1951–1960.


See also


  1. ^ a b c AFI 38–101, Air Force Organization Archived 13 March 2012 at the Wayback Machine. 16 March 2011.
  2. ^ a b c AFI 38-205, Manpower & Quality Readiness and Contingency Management Archived 13 March 2012 at the Wayback Machine. 18 June 2002.
  3. ^ AFH 33-337, The Tongue and Quill Archived 13 May 2011 at the Wayback Machine. 1 August 2004.
  4. ^ a b Ravenstein, Charles (1986). Organization and Lineage of the United States Air Force. Washington, DC: Office of Air Force History. Archived from the original on 13 November 2005.
  5. ^ Schaffel, Kenneth (1991). The Emerging Shield: The Air Force and the Evolution of Continental Air Defense, 1945–1960. Washington, DC: Office of Air Force History. Archived from the original on 13 November 2005.
  6. ^ "Air Force Historical Research Agency – Numbered Air Forces". Archived from the original on 24 October 2008.
  7. ^ Nalty, Bernard (1997). Winged Shield, Winged Sword: A History of the United States Air Force, Volume 1. Washington, DC: Air Force History and Museums Program. Archived from the original on 13 December 2009.
  8. ^ "Factsheets : Second Air Force (AETC)". Archived from the original on 27 September 2015.
  9. ^ McPeak, Merrill (1995). Selected Works: 1990–1994. Maxwell AFB, Alabama: Air University Press. Archived from the original on 4 March 2016. Retrieved 31 January 2011.
  10. ^ AFDD 2, Operations and Organization Archived 13 March 2012 at the Wayback Machine. 3 April 2007.
  11. ^ Factsheets : 1st AF Mission Archived 11 August 2011 at the Wayback Machine. Accessed 29 January 2011.
  12. ^ "AFSPACE Becomes The Fifth U.S. Space Command Service Component – SatNews". Retrieved 16 May 2022.
  13. ^ "Units".
  14. ^ "Third Air Force". Retrieved 11 March 2022. As U.S. Air Forces in Europe and Air Forces Africa’s only numbered air force...
  15. ^ "Air Force Announces Decision on Location of 24th Air Force". Aero-News Network. Retrieved 13 August 2009.
  16. ^ McCullough, Amy, "ISR Agency Becomes 25th Air Force", Air Force Magazine: Journal of the Air Force Association, November 2014, Volume 97 No. 11, p. 22
  17. ^ a b c Ravenstein, Charles A. (1996), The Organization and Lineage of the United States Air Force. United States Air Force Historical Research Center ISBN 0-912799-17-X
  18. ^,%20PACIFIC%20AREA.pdf[bare URL PDF]
  19. ^ "Air Forces in WW2".
This page was last edited on 29 May 2022, at 13:45
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