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Numbered Air Force

Two or more wings are usually grouped with auxiliary units to form a Numbered Air Force [NAF] - a large striking organization of one major category of air strength. The NAF is the senior war-fighting echelon of the US Air Force. War-fighting NAFs conduct theater aerospace operations with assigned and attached forces and train to perform this role as an integral command and control (C2) element. Not all NAFs maintain this capability. A NAF conducts operations with assigned and attached forces under a command element. When an in-place NAF is tasked to support a Joint Forces Commander, the framework will be the same as an ASETF, but the in-place NAF will retain its NAF designation (e.g., 7 AF).

An air force in the modern USAF is an intermediate echelon of command, directly under the operational and support commands. An air force is assigned (or will be assigned in certain contingencies) significant numbers of operational units--i.e., wings, groups, and squadrons. During World War II, and for a short period thereafter, the numbered air forces had the status now enjoyed by major commands, with each air force having its own subordinate commands--e.g., Fifth Air Force had the V Fighter Command, V Bomber Command, and support commands.

The first air force in the Army's air arm was General Headquarters Air Force, a named establishment. The First, Second, Third, and Fourth Air Forces in the United States, and several of the overseas air forces of World War II, began their existence as named establishments, either in the form of geographically designated air districts or geographically designated air forces. Only very briefly, early in World War II, were air forces identified by an Arabic numeral (e.g., 1st Air Force). Beginning in 1942 the War Department required air forces to be numbered in single series beginning with a spelled-out numeral (e.g., First Air Force).

Since World War II the Air Force has used both numbered and named air forces. For example, Air Education and Training Command at one time had the Technical Training, Crew Training, and Flying Training Air Forces; Military Airlift Command (which inactivated in June 1992) possessed the Eastern Transport and Western Transport Air Forces; and Air Defense Command held several named air forces: Central, Eastern, and Western Air Defense Forces. Although named air forces have been used both tactically and in support roles, numbered air forces are generally found only in a tactical role.

The 1991 reorganization did not stop with the major commands, but it extends through all headquarters levels. Major commands sit on top of a skip-echelon structure. MAJCOMs still possess the full range of people and offices to perform their required tasks. Below the MAJCOMS, numbered air forces have minimal staff and are operational echelons, closely monitoring combat capabilities. The numbered air force staff is the nucleus of a wartime control center.

Previously, the numbered air force employed both a functional and combat operations staff. This often resulted in two people performing the same function, one for day-to-day operations and the other for combat contingency purposes. Many management activities duplicated MAJCOM efforts. In the restructured numbered air forces the management function disappeared, leaving only the combat operations activity. Most base-level activities no longer deal with the numbered air force for routine, day-to-day issues. That link is straight to the MAJCOM. The numbered air force staff shrank to less than 100 people, about half its previou size. The net effect was a flatter organization, with a two- or three-star general as the operational leader for several wings.

On 29 October 1991 TAC said that its objective wing restructure test had gone so well that it was ending it early and implementing the new organization on 01 December 1991. By then, most wings had reorganized along "objective" lines that did away with the tri-deputy concept and replaced Deputy Commanders for Operations, Logistics, etc. with group commanders. In early December 1991 TAC briefed NAFs on its plan to combine elements of the NAF, NAFCOS, air control wing, tactical intelligence squadron, and TACC elements to form an Air Control Operations Center (ACOC), later called an Air Operations Group (AOG). The AOGs would be assigned as a DRU to each objective NAF on 1 Apr 1992.

On 31 January 1992 TAC and its NAFs proposed a modified objective NAF structure to the CSAF. It realigned all air control wing (ACW) staff functions to air intelligence (AIS) combat operations (COS) combat plans (CPS) logistics support (LSS), and communications support (CSS) squadrons and combined these with all but the key personnel from the NAF staff in an air operations group (AOG). For the most part, the detached non-flying elements of the TACS transferred to the host wing of the base where they were located. Disestablishing the ACWs and realigning their elements achieved two of Gen McPeak's objectives by allowing the formation of "objective NAFs" with less than 99 assigned and permitting local reorganization that produced "one base, one wing, one commander."

On 12 June 1992 the "objective" NAF was born. ACC split its NAFs into very small "above the line" Headquarters of less than 99 personnel, and activated AOGs "below the line" to support them. The 9AOG consisted of rump elements of 9AF Hqs and the 507ACW staff after the latter's TACS units transferred to host wings, its communications units to one of two comm groups, and its 682d Air Support Operations Center (ASOC) to the 23WG.

In August 1992 Lt Gen Michael A. Nelson (who had commanded 9AF only since 19 Jun) said that his number one priority was to correct the artificial divisions and convoluted lines of command within the Headquarters caused by the "above/below the line" NAF organization. He advocated dividing the Headquarters into two elements based on whether the positions would deploy for contingencies. Those that deployed would be placed against USCENTAF manning documents (UMD) while those that remained (far less than 99) would be assigned against 9AF UMDs. To straighten command lines, former deputy chiefs of staff (DCS) would become group commanders in charge of squadrons that corresponded to former AOG elements.

As of 01 January 1994 ACC reorganized its NAFs under the present "General Purpose NAF" (GP NAF) concept. Using Gen Nelson's proposals as a base, ACC designated those NAF billets at 9AF that did not deploy as "9AF" and those that did as "USCENTAF." At the same time it organized the entire Headquarters (which included the now inactivated 9AOG) to match those of joint unified war fighting commands, such as USCENTCOM (9AF), USSOUTHCOM (12AF) and US Atlantic Command (USACOM) (8AF). The "9AF" element consisted of Safety, the Inspector General, Stan/Eval, Manpower, History, Comptroller and some support functions. A-1 was Combat Support, A-2 Intelligence, A-3 Combat Operations, A-4 Logistics, A-5 Combat Plans, and A-6 Communications.

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