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What does the US Air Force do?

By Amanda R. Bell
Updated May 17, 2024
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The U.S. Air Force's mission is defined as to “fly, fight and win in air, space and cyberspace.” Its members are tasked by the U.S. government to support national policy and protect the country. They not only defend the peace and security of the United States, but also operate search and rescue missions, control airspace belonging to the U.S. and conduct airlift operations for both war and humanitarian purposes. The Air Force also is among the leaders in space research and is tasked with protecting the United States’ interests in outer space.

The primary goal of the Air Force is to defend the U.S. from aerial attacks and conduct aerial attacks on those threatening the nation. The military branch does this by training airmen and women on the most current aerial technology, including remote-controlled aircraft and stealth aircraft. While originally part of the U.S. Army, it is now a military branch of its own and works to support the Army, the Marine Corps, the Navy and all other military branches and operations.

The Air Force is also responsible for several search and rescue operations for both military personnel and civilians. This part of the mission is based out of the Air Force Rescue Coordination Center (AFRCC). Outside of handling search and rescue operations for military branches, members have also conducted searches for the missing bodies of John F. Kennedy Jr. and Steve Fossett, among other civilians.

During times of both peace and war, the U.S. Air Force also conducts airlift operations. This involves transporting food or people to or from places where airlifts are the only option. The branch handles a large majority of the United States’ humanitarian operations by transporting needed supplies to countries where either a disaster has struck or the current political climate is preventing citizens from obtaining food. One of the most notable operations conducted by the Air Force is the Berlin Airlift; during World War II, in conjunction with the British Air Force, food and heating supplies were airlifted to residents of the city of Berlin after the German government cut citizens off from receiving these supplies.

While the branch is tasked with many offensive objectives, it also has a defensive purpose. It is responsible for maintaining the safety and security of the United States’ air space, ensuring that no unknown entity crosses into it. Every country has a set amount of space above its land that is controlled by it, and access by other countries requires approval. The U.S. Air Force is in charge of protecting this part of the United States’ territory.

Outside of the above, the Air Force is also one of the leaders in space research and protecting the United States’ interests in space. This can include protecting satellites, training airmen for service with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and monitoring any outside threats that arise. While the Air Force is small compared to other U.S. military branches, its mission is vast and essential to the safety of the country and its citizens.

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Discussion Comments
By Fa5t3r — On Jul 25, 2014

@MrsPramm - In my experience it's the Army recruiters who tend to be more effusive about benefits. The United States Air Force doesn't exactly want reluctant pilots, or people who feel like they've been cheated or tricked working on their planes.

By MrsPramm — On Jul 24, 2014

@croydon - I hope that wasn't the only reason he joined though. Television very rarely gets many things right and even if they can convey some of the social situations you would be under in one of the Armed Forces, they probably aren't getting close to portraying the reality of every day work.

Recruitment officers can be extremely aggressive about getting people to sign up, but they aren't the ones you should be talking to. Try to find someone who is doing what you hope to be doing in a few years and ask them about their everyday life and what it was like to get there.

An Air Force Recruiter will promise you the moon, but that isn't going to be the reality for the majority of people who sign up. And they don't just need extra fodder. They need people who want to be there and are happy with the work they are doing.

By croydon — On Jul 23, 2014

One of my friends joined the Navy recently and he told me he was motivated in part because he thought it would be closer to the science fiction ships that he loves reading about and watching on TV than the Air Force.

I can kind of see his point in a way, although I don't know much about either organization. I do imagine that the Navy doesn't involve very much independent action the way that the Air Force would. With the Navy you would always be on a ship with a crew, while often Air Force pilots would be in much smaller quarters with fewer people, or even by themselves.

If you're thinking in terms of a long space voyage, the Navy seems like it would be more similar.

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