US Air Forces Central Command (USAFCENT)
US Central Command Air Forces (USCENTAF)
Ninth Air Force
United States Air Forces Central Command (USAFCENT) is the air component of United States Central Command (CENTCOM), a regional unified command. USAFCENT is responsible for air operations (either unilaterally or in concert with coalition partners and developing contingency plans in support of national objectives for CENTCOM's 20-nation area of responsibility in Southwest Asia. Additionally, USAFCENT manages an extensive supply and equipment prepositioning program at several area of responsibility sites.
AFCENT traces its lineage and honors to Ninth Air Force, which began official operations in November 1942, when, at the height of the campaign to defend Egypt and the Suez Canal, it was decided to consolidate all of the aircraft in theatre under one command. Equipped with P-40s, B-17s, and B-24s, the new air forces supported allied operations in North Africa, Sicily, and Italy before relocating to England. Reactivating in England in October 1943, Ninth Air Force took over medium bomber units from Eighth Air Force and added P-38, P-47, and troop carrier groups. On 6 June 1944, the start of Operation Overlord or "D-Day," Ninth Air Force provided tactical air support for the landings on the coast of Normandy, France, flying some 3,500 aircraft. At this time, Ninth Air Force was the largest tactical air force ever assembled.
Providing air cover for the advance of the Third Army sweep through France into Germany, one of its key missions was the defense of allied forces during the Battle of the Bulge. During this time, Ninth Air Force flew 5,291 sorties to help blunt the German attack besieging the town of Bastogne. On 2 December 1945, Ninth Air Force inactivated.
Ninth Air Force was reactivated on 28 March 1946 at Biggs Field, Texas, absorbing most of the assets of the 19th Tactical Air Command, which included only one fighter unit. On 13 October 1946, Ninth Air Force moved to Greenville Army Air Base, South Carolina, where it absorbed Third Air Force's assets. In August 1948, Ninth Air Force moved to Langley Air Force Base, Virginia, where it came under the Continental Air Command and became an administrative headquarters. Redesignated as Ninth Air Force (Tactical), it then moved to Pope Air Force, North Carolina and was reassigned to Headquarters, Tactical Air Command. Ninth Air Force again moved in September 1954, to Shaw Air Force Base, South Carolina. There it assumed the role of preparing for combat across a broad range of contingencies.
In 1979, following the seizure of the US embassy in Tehran by Iranian militants and the invasion of Afghanistan by the Soviet Union, the United States established a Rapid Deployment Joint Task Force (RDJTF) and early the next year, officially designated the Ninth Air Force as the air arm for the RDJTF. The task force was the US military's first 4-service rapid reaction force headquarters to be formed in peacetime. The task force was inactivated on 31 December 1982. The following day, US Central Command was activated and Ninth Air Force was selected as air component command for the new unified command, with the commander being dual hatted as the commander of US Central Command Air Forces (USCENTAF).
In August 1990, USCENTAF was put to the test in response to Saddam Hussein's invasion of Kuwait. USCENTAF was credited with masterminding the brilliant air campaign during Operation Desert Storm in 1990-1991. During the war, the Air Force was considered a key factor in destroying the world's sixth largest air force and decimating the fourth largest army with minimal loss of life on both Allied and Iraqi sides. Throughout the campaign, USCENTAF aircraft flew a total of 29,393 sorties, dropped 60,624 tons of ordnance and destroyed 215 enemy aircraft.
During the remainder of 1991, most USCENTAF units redeployed to the States while a residual force under the 4404th Wing (Provisional) remained in Saudi Arabia. USCENTAF deployed again on 12 August 1992. This time, it established a temporary task force known as Joint Task Force-Southwest Asia, which remained in place enforcing the "no fly" zone over Iraq, south of the 32nd parallel. This operation became known as Operation Southern Watch.
In October 1994, Saddam Hussein again massed troops along the Kuwaiti border and USCENTAF responded with Operation Vigilant Warrior and deployed additional Airmen to the area. When the crisis ended in December 1994, many troops and aircraft remained in position to continue their watch.
As the Air Force downsized, USCENTAF often found itself and its units busy supporting contingencies in the Middle East such as Vigilant Sentinel (August - September 1995), Desert Strike (August - October 1996), Desert Thunder I (November 1997 - June 1998), Desert Thunder II (August - December 1998) and Desert Fox (December 1998), in addition to supporting humanitarian missions such as Operations Relief and Restore Hope in Somalia.
By 2000, USCENTAF, still located at Shaw Air Force Base, South Carolina, had the mission of executing and planning for contingency operations in the CENTCOM region, ranging from humanitarian airlift to integration of multinational forces into coherent air operations in support of a major theater war. The primary mission of CENTAF/Ninth Air Force was to project decisive air and space power for CENTCOM and America. As such, Ninth Air Force had the dual role of being the headquarters for CENTAF to conduct US air operations throughout Southwest Asia.
As of 2000, the one of the main CENTAF responsibilities was the multinational Operation Southern Watch. With tactical aircraft, strategic reconnaissance, and intelligence collection capabilities, CENTAF orchestrated the operation through Joint Task Force - Southwest Asia. By being in place with lethal anti-armor capabilities, CENTAF forced create credible deterrence. USCENTAF in-theater assets consisted of approximately 120 aircraft and approximately 9,000 US Air Force personnel. This could be augmented (as needed) by an Air Expeditionary Force of 20-40 aircraft consisting of fighter, tanker and bomber aircraft.
If deterrence were to fail, these forces were postured to gain and maintain air superiority as the first step towards achieving victory in a major theater war. CENTAF had established and exercised procedures to integrate joint and combined forces, beginning with a common operations order and encompassing common language and operating procedures. When an Airborne Warning and Control System aircraft committed a 4-ship formation of fighters to intercept, identify, and destroy hostile airborne targets, it used the same code words whether the fighters bore US, Saudi, Kuwaiti, or Egyptian markings. Integration ensured the full range of capabilities vested in airpower were applied in simultaneous and continuous operations.
CENTAF's global power projection capability was greatly enhanced through infrastructure improvements, prepositioning of equipment and supplies and the development of rapidly deployable Air Expeditionary Forces (AEF). The first deployment to Bahrain validated this innovative concept for power projection. Subsequent deployments supported exercises and operations and demonstrated CENTAF's global reach.
Ninth Air Force also continued to conduct operations from its CONUS headquarters, and by 2000 had the responsibility of overseeing the management of 6 flying wings and 4 direct reporting units. As a numbered air force, Headquarters, Ninth Air Force was an intermediate headquarters under Air Combat Command. Missions for the wings were wide and varied. They ranged from the state of the art F-15E Strike Eagle, dual role fighter to the E-8 JOINT STARS reconnaissance aircraft. Non-flying units included the RED HORSE civil engineering squadrons for world-wide rapid deployment and combat communications groups for transportable command and control communications and air traffic control systems. Ninth Air Force also had the responsibility to ensure the operational readiness of 30 designated gained units of the Air National Guard and Air Force Reserve. During a national emergency or conflict, these forces would be mobilized to augment Ninth Air Force's flight operations.
Following the events of 11 September 2001, CENTAF was immediately engaged in supporting Operation Enduring Freedom. As of early 2002, Lieutenant General T. Michael Moseley was stationed at Prince Sultan Air Base outside of Riyadh in Saudi Arabia. The previous air commander, Lieutenant General Charles F. Wald had moved his headquarters from Shaw Air Force Base, South Carolina to Saudi Arabia in mid-September 2001 to the Air Operations Center where 300 American military personnel subsequently worked.
In 2003, Operation Southern Watch gave way to Operation Iraqi Freedom in Iraq. The Airmen deployed in support of Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom missions conducted traditional missions of close air support; air refueling; intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance; airlift; distinguished visitor escort; training, and sitting alert. Operations Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom were also using airpower, and Airmen, in more nontraditional ways such as in the area of convoys; protecting Iraq's infrastructure of power lines, railroads, and oil pipelines; capturing high value targets and humanitarian efforts in rebuilding bridges, roads, and schools. To support these operations CENTAF established a number of Air Expeditionary Wings to handle the surge in forces in the region.
In a ceremony on 3 March 2008, at Shaw Air Force Base, USCENTAF was redesignated as US Air Forces Central Command (USAFCENT). This redesignation also marked a move to an enhanced way of employing forces in war. The ceremony also included the inactivation of the 609th Air Intelligence Group, Air Intelligence Squadron, Combat Operations Squadron, Combat Plans Squadron, Air Support Squadron and the Information Operations Flight; the redesignation and assumption of command of the 609th Air Operations Group to the 609th Air Operations Center, which formed the core of the Combined Air and Space Operations Center and the Detachment 1, 609th Air Operations Center; and the activation and assumption of command of Detachment 5, US Air Forces Central.
On 5 August 2009, Headquarters, Ninth Air Force was formally activated as an independent entity separate from USAFCENT. This new Ninth Air Force had a separate lineage and honors and USAFCENT retained the lineage and honors of the original Ninth Air Force. The separation of the 2 commands was intended to be temporary and was designed to allow the AFCENT commander to focus solely on AFCENT's warfighting duties, and the Ninth Air Force commander to focus on oversight of stateside wings. The plan was to reset to the peacetime configuration of Ninth Air Force/AFCENT when contingency operations subsided, at which point the separate Headquarters, Ninth Air Force would be inactivated.
Reflecting its mission statement "to project decisive air and space power for United States Central Command and America," as of December 2011, USAFCENT had beddown locations in the area of CENTCOM responsibility as follows: Kirkuk Air Base, Balad Air Base, Baghdad International Airport, and Ali Air Base in Iraq. Bagram and Kandahar Airfields in Afghanistan and other bases in Southwest Asia remained active. The USAFCENT organization provided a unique dual mission for its Airmen, training of its combat units while working closely with its counterparts in Southwest Asia to ensure the stability of the region.