Major command responsible for providing air combat forces to the United States’ unified combatant commands, including the U.S. Strategic Command, U.S. Atlantic Command, U.S. Central Command, U.S. Southern Command, U.S. European Command, North American Aerospace Defense Command, and U.S. Transportation Command.
The creation of the Air Combat Command (ACC), officially activated on June 1, 1992, occurred as the result of the reorganization of the U.S. Air Force in the post-Cold War period. Prior to 1992, the primary commands of the Air Force included the Strategic Air Command (SAC) and Tactical Air Command (TAC). SAC exercised control over the nation’s nuclear arsenal and strategic defense planning, while TAC functioned as the command for tactical, or specific mission, coordination. During the Vietnam conflict, SAC performed many tactical missions while TAC engaged in strategic bombing. The overlapping responsibilities continued through Operation Desert Storm in 1991. After U.S.-Soviet relations improved at the end of the Cold War, Air Force commanders reevaluated the need for the two distinct commands.
Air Force Chief of Staff General Merrill A. McPeak, Vice Chief of Staff General John M. Loh, and SAC Commander in Chief General George L. Butler advocated the restructuring of the Air Force commands in a manner that would eliminate repetitive functions and provide an efficient allocation of resources. Military officials, after reviewing the proposed changes, agreed to merge most of SAC and TAC under a new command, the Air Combat Command (ACC), and to reorganize the Military Airlift Command (MAC). The goal of the ACC was to provide the Air Force with the power to implement policy on a global basis.
On June 1, 1992, ACC officially replaced TAC in a brief ceremony conducted at Langley Air Force Base, with the former commander of TAC, General Loh, becoming the new commander of ACC. SAC was then deactivated and the U.S. Strategic Command assumed responsibility for the nuclear weapons of the U.S. Air Force and U.S. Navy. The newly created ACC initially assumed control over all fighter resources within the forty-eight contiguous states, as well as bombers, reconnaissance platforms, intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs), and battle-management resources.
Continuing efforts to streamline and reorganize the Air Force commands resulted in numerous changes within ACC during its first few years of operation. Shortly after the activation of ACC, all combat search-and-rescue units transferred from the Air Mobility Command (AMC) to ACC. In February, 1993, the Air Rescue Service (ARS) was reassigned to ACC. Several months later, it was renamed the U.S. Air Force Combat Rescue School and assigned to Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada. While ACC gained some resources, it lost others, as the 58th and 325th Fighter Wings, responsible for F-16 and F-15 training, were reassigned to the Air Education and Training Command (AETC) on July 1, 1993. At the same time, ACC lost two of its numbered units when the Twentieth Air Force, responsible for ICBMs and consisting of six missile wings, one test and one training wing, and the base at which they were stationed, F. E. Warren Air Force Base, Wyoming, transferred to the Air Force Space Command. That same day, the Air Force also deactivated the Second Air Force, a unit responsible for reconnaissance missions that ACC had acquired from the merger between SAC and TAC.
ACC operations include global military and humanitarian missions as well as the peacetime defense of the United States. ACC provided troops, both active-duty and reserve units, during Operation Desert Storm and Operation Southern Watch in the Persian Gulf. ACC has also been involved in the war against drugs and continues to provide Airborne Warning and Control Systems (AWACS), reconnaissance, and fighter aircraft to prevent the transportation of illegal substances into the United States. In Eastern Europe, ACC enforced the no-fly zone against the Serbians in Operation Deny Flight. ACC has also participated in numerous humanitarian missions throughout the world. In Eastern Europe, ACC units supplied aid to Bosnian civilians in Sarajevo. In Turkey, ACC deployed active-duty personnel for Operation Provide Comfort, rendering humanitarian assistance to the Kurdish inhabitants of the northern portion of Iraq who were being persecuted by the Iraqi government. In Africa, ACC troops participated in Operation Restore Hope in Somalia, providing food for the country’s starving population, as well as providing similar aid in Operation Support Hope in Kenya and Uganda. ACC also provided relief for the victims of a bloody civil war in Rwanda. Closer to the United States, ACC personnel were involved in Operation GTMO out of the United States Naval Base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, for the purpose of providing relief for Haitian refugees. In 1994, ACC assisted in the processing of Cuban refugees during Operation Safe Haven.
ACC continues to defend the United States from foreign enemies while expanding its role to assist people around the world. Quick response and constant preparedness allow ACC to exercise global power for the United States. In August, 1993, two B-52’s stationed out of Ellsworth Air Force Base, South Dakota, set a record flying time on an around-the-world flight and in 1994, two B-52’s from Barksdale Air Force Base, Louisiana, established the longest jet flight in history during their 47.2-hour flight around the world. By the year 2000, Air Combat Command’s original mission had been altered to reflect streamlining within the Air Force and the need for flexible response to rapidly changing worldwide circumstances. Although no longer responsible for many of the duties formerly performed by Strategic Air Command, such as control of ICBMs, ACC maintains a prominent position in the Air Force and is vital for combat, rescue, and theater airlift missions.
Headquartered at Langley Air Force Base, Virginia, ACC operates fighter, bomber, reconnaissance, battle-management, rescue, and theater airlift aircraft, in addition to command, control, communications, and intelligence systems. ACC operates with 102,000 active-duty personnel and civilians and can mobilize an additional 64,400 members of the Air National Guard and Air Force Reserve during times of national emergency. ACC’s numbered air force units consist of 775 aircraft, with the number of ACC-accessible aircraft totaling 1,700.
The strength of the ACC includes four numbered air forces and two direct reporting units. The First Air Force exercises oversight of the air defense forces for North America under the North American Aerospace Defense Command. It is headquartered at Tyndall Air Force Base, Florida, with additional units stationed at Northeast Air Defense Sector in Rome, New York, and Western Air Defense Sector at McChord Air Force Base, Washington.
The Eighth Air Force, headquartered at Barksdale Air Force Base, Louisiana, controls ACC forces in the central United States, with the direct responsibility for war fighting under the U.S. Atlantic Command, as well as functioning as the Joint Task Force/Bomber for U.S. Strategic Command. The Eighth Air Force consists of units stationed at ten bases. The Second Bomb Wing of B-52’s operates out of Barksdale Air Force Base. The Twenty-seventh Fighter Wing with its EF-111’s and F-16’s is based at Cannon Air Force Base, New Mexico. The Seventh Wing with its B-1 and C-130H aircraft is stationed at Dyess Air Force Base, Texas. Ellsworth Air Force Base, South Dakota, is home to the Twenty-eighth Bomb Wing of B-1 bombers. Lajes Field, Azores, is the home base for the Sixty-fifth Air Wing. The 314th Airlift Wing with its C-130E/H’s is based at Little Rock Air Force Base, Arkansas. The Fifth Bomb Wing, composed of B-52 bombers, is stationed out of Minot Air Force Base, North Dakota. Whiteman Air Force Base, Missouri, is home for the 509th Bomb Wing of B-2 and T-38 aircraft. The Eighty-fifth Group, stationed at Keflavik Naval Air Station, Iceland, and the Third Air Support Operations Group out of Fort Hood, Texas, also operate under the Eighth Air Force.
The Ninth Air Force, which is responsible for ACC forces in the eastern United States under U.S. Central Command, is headquartered at Shaw Air Force Base, South Carolina. Units from the Ninth Air Force are stationed at five bases along the Atlantic seaboard. Forces at Langley Air Force Base, Virginia, home of the First Fighter Wing, include the C-21A and the F-15C/D as well as Forty-first Rescue Squadron and Seventy-first Rescue Squadron at Patrick Air Force Base, Florida. The 347th Wing out of Moody Air Force Base, Georgia, includes F-16’s, C-130E’s and A-10’s. At Pope Air Force Base, North Carolina, the Twenty-third Wing includes A-10’s, F-16C/D’s and C-130E’s. The Fourth Fighter Wing of F-15E’s is stationed at Seymour Johnson Air Force Base, North Carolina, and the Twentieth Fighter Wing, with its A-10’s and F-16C/D’s, is located at Shaw Air Force Base, South Carolina. In addition, the Ninth Air Force includes the Thirty-third Fighter Wing, with its F-15C’s at Elgin Air Force Base, Florida; the Ninety-third Air Control Wing, with its E-8 Joint STARS, and the Fifth Combat Communications Group at Robins Air Force Base, Georgia; the 823d Red Horse Civil Engineering Squadron at Hurlburt Field, Florida, and the Eighteenth Air Support Operations Group at Pope Air Force Base, North Carolina.
The last of the numbered air forces within the Air Combat Command is the Twelfth Air Force, headquartered at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Arizona. The Twelfth Air Force controls ACC forces in the western United States and Panama and operates under the U.S. Southern Command and the U.S. Strategic Command. The Twelfth Air Force shares Joint Task Force/Battle Management duties with the U.S. Strategic Command. Under the Twelfth Air Force are the Ninth Reconnaissance Wing of U-2R/S and T-38 aircraft, based at Beale Air Force Base, California; the 355th Wing of A-10’s, and EC-130H/E’s, based at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base; the Forty-ninth Fighter Wing of F-117A’s, T-38’s, HH-60’s, and German F-4E’s, based at Holloman Air Force Base, New Mexico; the Twenty-fourth Wing of C-21’s, C-27’s, and CT-43’s stationed at Howard Air Force Base, Panama; the 366th Wing out of Mountain Home Air Force Base, Idaho, with its F-15C/D/E’s, F-16’s, KC-135R’s and B-1’s; and the Fifty-fifth Wing with its C-21, E-4, RC-135 S/U/V/W, EC-135, KC-135, TC-135 S/W, WC-135, and OC-135 aircraft stationed at Offutt Air Force Base, Nebraska. The Twelfth Air Force also has units stationed at four other bases, with the 388th Fighter Wing at Hill Air Force Base, Utah; the 820th Red Horse Civil Engineering Squadron at Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada; the 522d Air Control Wing and the Third Combat Communications Group at Tinkler Air Force Base, Oklahoma; and the First Air Support Operations Group at Fort Lewis, Washington.
Direct reporting units under the ACC include the Fifty-seventh Wing, with its A-10A, F-15 C/D/E, F-16, HH-60, and Predator uncrewed vehicles, as well as the Air Warfare Center, the U.S. Air Force Air Demonstration Squadron (Thunderbirds), the Ninety-ninth Air Base Wing, and the U.S. Air Force Weapons School located at Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada. The Fifty-third Wing at Eglin Air Force Base, Florida, is assigned to the Air Warfare Center and is responsible for several subordinate units, including the Sixth Electronic Combat Group and the Seventy-ninth Test and Evaluation Group at Eglin Air Force Base, the 505th Command and Control Evaluation Group at Hurlburt Field, Florida, and the 475th Weapons Evaluation Group at Tyndall Air Force Base, Florida. The second direct reporting unit is the Aerospace Command and Control, Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance Center. The ACC also operates the Aerospace Expeditionary Force Center and is responsible for Air Force search-and-rescue missions within the continental United States.
Hanser, Lawrence M., Maren Leed, and C. Robert Roll. The Warfighting Capacity of the Air Combat Command’s Numbered Air Forces. Santa Monica, Calif.: RAND, 2000. This study, funded by the RAND Corporation, analyzes the fighting capacity and preparedness of Air Combat Command forces. Statistical information and assessments indicate the need for strengthening the forces. Logan, Dan. ACC Bomber Triad: The B-52’s, B-1’s and the B-2’s of Air Combat Command. Atglen, Pa.: Schiffer, 1999. An excellent source that provides photographs and histories of all 208 bombers under ACC command since 1992. Information on weapons systems, unit and special mission objectives, and technical line drawings detail the strength and power of ACC resources. McFarland, Stephen L. A Concise History of the U.S. Air Force. Washington, D.C.: Air Force History and Museums Program, United States Air Force, 1997. This work provides a general overview of the structure and organization of the Air Force, including the formation of ACC. General responsibilities and mission objectives are provided.