Eighth Air Force

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A major United States Air Force command, currently part of Air Combat Command but tasked by Unified Combatant Commands for operations, the Eighth Air Force was formed in 1942. The original 8th was formed in the U.S., but moved to England approximately a month later, and assigned to the strategic bombing of Germany. 8th Air Force is the primary air component for United States Strategic Command, headed by major general Floyd Carpenter.

Eighth Air Force became more than a bomber force in 2001, when the Air Force Intelligence Agency's wings came under the Eighth, which became both a bomber and information warfare force. The intelligence wings were supplemented with information operations wings and the Air Force Network Operations and Security Center. In October 2009, however, it reorganized to concentrate on strike operations, transferring all non-bomber units to other numbered Air Forces. This involves no physical transfers, but streamlines the chain of command over nuclear forces. Nuclear-capable bombers and missiles are no longer under Air Combat Command for readiness and training, but report to the new Air Force Global Strike Command. [1]

Installations and Units

Barksdale Air Force Base

In Louisiana, this facility contains the 8th Air Force headquarters, as well as one of the two operational B-52 bomber wings, the 2nd Bomb Wing, as well as the 917th Wing, which both includes a B-52 squadron and Air National Guard A-10 Thunderbolt II training units. The Air Force Network Operations Center is also here.

Beale Air Force Base

California's Beale is home to the 9th Reconnaissance Wing, which is now under the Twelfth Air Force.

Lackland Air Force Base

Located in San Antonio, Texas, Lackland is not primarily a flying base, but the home of the Air Force Information Operations Center and 67th Network Warfare Wing. It is also a major training facility. These have transferred to the Twentyfourth Air Force

Minot Air Force Base

Located in North Dakota, Minot hosts the other B-52 wing, the 5th Bomb Wing. It also is the base for the 91st Space Wing of Minuteman ICBMs. As a base, Minot is under the 8th, although the 91st reports to the Twentieth Air Force.

Offutt Air Force Base

Offutt, in Omaha, Nebraska, is the headquarters of the United States Strategic Command.

Whiteman Air Force Base

Whiteman, in Missouri, is the sole base for the B-2 Spirit stealth bomber, although they do forward deploy to operating locations including Guam and Diego Garcia.

History

World War II

The Eighth was eventually redesignated United States Strategic Air Forces in Europe, a command that continues as the Air Force component, United States Air Forces in Europe, of United States European Command. Its WWII commanders were Ira Eaker and Jimmy Doolittle; it controlled escort fighters and reconnaissance aircraft as well as heavy bombers. At its largest, the command could put over 2000 heavy bombers and 1000 escort fighters over Europe, in a single mission.

After the European war ended, the headquarters moved to Okinawa, but did not see action.

Cold War

In 1946, the command moved to an interim location when it joined the Strategic Air Command, and then to Carswell Air Force Base in Texas. It had little role in Korea, other than deploying a fighter wing.

Over the next years, the 8th trained for the strategic nuclear mission, retiring the last of its propeller-driven bombers and tankers, and converting to an all-jet force centered around the B-52 bomber. It also took control of intercontinental ballistic missiles, although they are now under the Twentieth Air Force.

Vietnam War

The Eighth provided heavy bomber and tanker support to U.S. operations in Southeast Asia. Ironically, the B-52 bombers, designed for strategic nuclear attacks on Soviet and Chinese targets, principally operated in a tactical support role of mass bombing in South Vietnam. The strategic bombing campaign against North Vietnam, with the exception of an 11-day period in 1972, Operation LINEBACKER II, was carried out by Air Force and Navy fighter-bombers, designed as tactical aircraft.

1980s

Since the unit controlled most long-range air refueling tankers, it supported the fighter-bombers that carried out the 1986 strike against Libya (Operation ELDORADO CANYON), as well as operations in Grenada in 1983 and Panama in 1989.

Gulf War

The first air-launched missiles in the 1991 Gulf War came from Eighth Air Force B-52's, demonstrating the capability to strike worldwide from U.S. bases. They flew 36-hour round-trip missions from their home at Barksdale Air Force Base, Louisiana, to Iraq, launched AGM-86 ALCMs, and returned, the mission refueling many times.

Subsequently, forward-based B-52s, principally operating from Diego Garcia but covertly from Saudi Arabia and Egypt, bombed Iraqi forces in the field. In 1998, they took part in the Operation Desert Fox missions against Iraq.

NATO operations in the Balkans

Returning to combat in Europe after half a century, all three types of U.S. heavy bombers, the B-52, B-1 Lancer, and, in its first combat, B-2 Spirit operated over Yigoslavia, as part of the NATO force. The B-1s and B-52s operated from the U.K., but the B-2's flew from their home, Whiteman Air Force Base in Missouri.

Middle East and Southwest Asia

They continue to provide bomber and C3I-ISR aircraft support in Afghanistan, Iraq, and other areas. The latter types include E-3 Sentry, E-8 Joint STARS, RC-135 COMBAT SENT and RC-135 RIVET JOINT aircraft.

References

  1. Richard Komurek (1 October 2009), 8th Air Force transfers non-bomber units, continues Nuclear Enterprise Transformation, Eighth Air Force