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Legacy of valor, tradition of excellence: Delivering airpower to the joint warfighter since 1947

  • Published
  • By Tech. Sgt. Bryan Franks
  • Secretary of the Air Force Public Affairs

WASHINGTON (AFNS) -- At the core of the Air Force, on its 69th birthday, is the diversity of more than 600,000 Airmen. Our success, past, present and future, is tied to the professionalism, dedication, skill and heroism of the total force.

Brig. Gen. William “Billy” Mitchell, who is considered the father of the Air Force, once said, “The future of our nation is forever bound up in the development of airpower.”

General of the Air Force Henry “Hap” Arnold and many others understood the essential role of airpower in the joint environment and worked to fulfill Mitchell’s vision by laying the groundwork for research on how jet engines, radar and rockets could be best used for national defense.

“The greatest lesson of (World War II) has been the extent to which air, land and sea operations can and must be coordinated by joint planning and unified command,” Arnold said. “The attainment of better coordination and balance that now exists between services is an essential of national security.”

On Sept. 18, 1947, nearly 11 years after Mitchell passed away and one year after Arnold retired, their vision and planning became a reality.

Born out of joint origins and starting with 318,000 active-duty Airmen, the Air Force has delivered airpower to the joint warfighter for 69 years. One of the earliest examples of the Air Force’s commitment to the joint warfighter was on a September day during the Korean War.

In 1950, Air Force forward air controllers in T-6 Mosquitoes equipped with air-to-ground radios spotted enemy tanks preparing to ambush the Army’s 24th Infantry Division – much like when the Air Force employs intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance capabilities in support of today’s joint warfighting efforts.

The forward air controllers called in Air Force aircraft and Army ground artillery, destroying 14 enemy tanks and forcing the rest to flee -- just like close air support platforms provide time on target airpower today.

Building the tradition of delivering anything, anywhere, anytime, C-54 Skymasters performing the global mobility task airlifted 65 tons of rations and ammunition to newly-captured Suwon airfield south of Seoul, while C-119 Flying Boxcars conducted airdrops of food and ammunition to front-line United Nations troops.

Lessons learned from the Korean War and advances in technology continued to evolve the way the Air Force delivers airpower to the joint warfighter. The Air Force would continue expanding its role in Vietnam as Gen. John P. McConnell, the sixth chief of staff of the Air Force, recalled lessons learned from Vietnam in March 1966.

“Again, the Air Force was called upon to perform its now traditional functions in local conflicts -- provide mobility through airlift, interdiction of enemy supplies, reconnaissance and air support,” McConnell said. “But what had started presumably as a supporting role soon grew into what is now a dominant role. The reason was that the employment of airpower in counterinsurgency warfare proved so effective that its traditional functions were greatly expanded and new ones added.”

Today, Airmen operate across air, space and cyber domains and have never been busier on such a sustained, global basis. Airpower is maximized when Airmen leverage its unique characteristics — speed, range, flexibility, precision, lethality and persistence, and strive to reach new frontiers and new technology to always be prepared for the future.

“Military superiority is no longer possible without superior airpower, and superiority in the air cannot be achieved or maintained without superiority in technology,” McConnell said. “No matter how great our technological lead may be at the moment and how decisive a military advantage it may entail, we must accept the fact that we will enjoy that particular advantage for a limited time only.”

Mitchell understood the need for airpower, and Arnold had a plan for a future Air Force. Gen. Carl A. "Tooey" Spaatz, the first CSAF, knew the service he had the honor of leading provided the joint team the ability and freedom to fight in the air, on the ground, and at sea.

“We'd better be prepared to dominate the skies above the surface of the earth, or be prepared to be buried beneath it,” Spaatz said.

Much like the forefathers who invested in rockets, radar and jet engines to fight the battles for the next 50 years, today the Air Force is investing in modernizing airpower, ISR, cyber, space and the nuclear enterprise to ensure our decisive military advantage for the next 30 years.

“The reality is what the Air Force brings to the joint team is absolutely essential,” said current Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Dave Goldfein. “It has become the oxygen that the joint force breathes. If you’ve got it, you don’t even think about it, but if you don’t have it, it’s all you think about.”