Although armies and navies have been fighting for thousands of years, air forces are fairly recent. An air force needs airplanes, and the airplane was only invented in 1903. The airplane soon became an important weapon of war.
Planes equipped with machine guns shot one another out of the sky for the first time during World War I (1914-1918). Pilots sometimes tossed hand grenades (small bombs) from the cockpit onto enemy troops on the ground.
WHAT DOES AN AIR FORCE DO?
Today, most nations have an air force for their defense. An air force protects a country from attack by air. It uses radar and airplanes to detect enemy aircraft. Fighter planes and missiles then intercept and destroy enemy airplanes.
Air forces can also attack. Bomber planes drop bombs on enemy territory. Bombers try to knock out targets on the ground and prevent the movement of troops and supplies. Fighter planes conduct combat in the air with enemy aircraft. Missiles carry explosive weapons that attack targets in enemy territory.
The air force plans and carries out military operations along with the army and the navy. Another job of the air force is to transport troops and supplies.
WHEN DID AIR FORCES DEVELOP?
People began to think about the military possibilities of airplanes soon after the airplane was invented. After World War I, some military experts thought the next war would be decided by air power. Others disagreed.
Air power played a major role in World War II (1939-1945). Germany’s Luftwaffe (air force) tried and failed to defeat Britain’s Royal Air Force in the Battle of Britain in 1940. Airplanes that were based on aircraft carriers at sea carried out bombing raids on the enemy. Although bombing did not decide the outcome of World War II, it played an important role in the defeat of Germany and Japan.
In 1947, after the war ended, the United States government created an independent U.S. Air Force. Until then, the air force had been a branch of the U.S. Army. Today, the United States has the strongest air force in the world.