Tactical Air Command Summary

  • Last updated on November 10, 2022

A part of the United States Air Force tasked to organize, command, train, and equip Air Force units for establishing and maintaining air superiority over designated combat areas, and working with ground commanders in support of battlefield operations.

Structure

Tactical Air Command (TAC) was a major command created on March 21, 1946, in preparation for an independent Air Force. TAC inherited most of the Army Air Force personnel and equipment geared toward battlefield operations. During World War II, the Army Ground Forces and the Army Air Force (AAF) waged a constant struggle over control of air assets over the battlefield and the amount of air resources to be diverted away from strategic operations for tactical operations. The AAF often neglected tactical missions in favor of strategic ones. The Air Force accepted the responsibility for tactical air missions mainly to prevent the Army from keeping tactical air elements after the creation of a separate Air Force. However, TAC constantly struggled against the Strategic Air Command (SAC), which received the bulk of the Air Force budget, to receive adequate funding for its missions.

Soon after its formation, the Air Force moved TAC to Langley Field, Virginia, which would be its home base for most of its existence. Unlike its complement (and sometime rival), SAC, TAC remained relatively decentralized throughout its existence. This reflected the nature of its mission. Whereas SAC planes were expected to fight as members of SAC, TAC’s aircraft would be attached to theater commands during war and not fight as part of TAC.

Of primary importance for tactical operations was gaining air superiority. Air supremacy is achieved mostly through air-to-air combat between fighter airplanes. When one nation’s air force controls the airspace over a battlefield, its air power can be used for reconnaissance, disrupting convoys, providing close air support, and generally supporting ground operations.

During its existence, TAC progressed through several generations of aircraft. After beginning with leftover World War II propeller-driven planes, TAC began receiving jets, such at the F-86, during the Korean War. It later received the F-4 during the Vietnam War. In the post-Vietnam era, TAC received the F-15, the F-16, and the A-10, which was specially designed for TAC’s ground support mission. In the late 1980’s, TAC received the F-117 stealth fighter, the most advanced aircraft of its time.

Deployments

TAC was merged into the Continental Air Command in 1949, but was reestablished as an independent command at the start of the Korean War. TAC’s primary mission was to develop units for tactical operations. Such units honed their skills training at bases in the United States. During wartime, these units were detached from TAC and attached to unified, specified, and joint commands for operations. In the 1950’s, TAC developed the Composite Air Strike Force (CASF), highly mobile composite units of several types of aircraft organized for deployment for contingencies around the world. Although CASF was successfully employed in July, 1958, during the Lebanon crisis, and again that August in the Quemoy-Matso crisis with China, the CASF concept did not last long and TAC returned to attaching its units to other commands, such as the Far East Air Force, for combat.

In 1961, General Walter C. Sweeney, Jr., took command of TAC and began to change the culture of the command. Previously, TAC took pride in the contrasts between itself and the stricter, more centralized SAC. However, the world of aviation was becoming more complex, and the introduction of nuclear weapons in tactical aircraft required a more rigorous environment. Still, TAC retained much of its fighter pilot culture and never became as rigid as SAC.

TAC was not organized to fight as a command, but TAC units fought in all U.S. air wars between World War II and 1992. When the Korean War began in 1950, TAC-organized units quickly came to dominate the skies over North Korea, allowing United Nations ground forces to operate without hindrance from the air while daytime troop and supply movements became almost impossible for the North Koreans. During the Vietnam War, TAC fighters, ironically, became involved with the bombing of strategic targets in North Vietnam, while SAC bombers performed traditional tactical missions in South Vietnam. Still, TAC-organized and -trained fighter units provided the bulk of U.S. air power during the war.

The End of TAC

After the breakup of the Warsaw Pact in 1989 and the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1990, the Air Force began to implement a major reorganization to reflect the changing world situation. Under the plan, TAC was to be combined with SAC to create a new command. In practice, TAC absorbed most of the assets and personnel of SAC. This new command was designated as the Air Combat Command in 1992. TAC’s crest, which consisted of a shield-shaped image of an upright sword with wings became the basis for the new Air Combat Command.

Bibliography
  • Boyne, Walter J. Beyond the Wild Blue: A History of the U.S. Air Force, 1947-1997. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1997. A solid overview of the first fifty years of the Air Force as a separate branch of the American military establishment, emphasizing the people, equipment, and missions that shaped the development of the United States Air Force.
  • _______. Silver Wings: A History of the United States Air Force. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1993. Covers the development of the Air Force from its origins in the Army Signal Corps in 1907, through the development of an independent Air Force in 1947, to Operation Desert Storm.
  • Cooling, Benjamin Franklin. Case Studies in the Development of Close Air Support. Washington, D.C.: Office of Air Force History, 1990. Provides several examples of the use and limitations of close air support. Although not specifically about the Tactical Air Command, gives much information on one of the main reasons for the existence of TAC.

Air Combat Command

Air Force, U.S.

Air Force bases

Fighter pilots

Gulf War

Korean War

Military flight

Strategic Air Command

Vietnam War

Categories: History Content