Twentieth Air Force

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U.S. land-based intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBM) are under the command of the Twentieth Air Force. For its training and preparation, it reports to the Air Force Global Strike Command, and, for Single Integrated Operational Plan operations, to the United States Strategic Command.

During World War Two in the Pacific, it was the headquarters for the strategic bombing of Japan.

World War II

Twentieth Air Force was created on 12 April 1944, as a strategic bomber force in the Pacific, under the direct authority of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, with JCS member General Henry Arnold as its commander. As a practical matter, the JCS wanted direct control so that the bomber force was not caught up in the jurisdictional fights between the U.S. Army and U.S. Navy. They did not see the strategic bombing campaign as subordinate either to the Southwest Pacific Area under Douglas MacArthur or the Pacific Command under Chester W. Nimitz.

It was initially organized into the XXth Bomber Command operating from China, and the XXIth Bomber Command operating from the Marianas. Operations from China proved to be extremely difficult, and the XXth was absorbed into the XXIth. Gen. Curtis LeMay was the operational commander of the XXIth.

Using B-29 bombers, the XXIth actually conducted the conventional and nuclear bombing of Japan, under policy control of the 20th. [1]

Korean War

Headquartered in Japan, the Twentieth Air Force units also supported United Nations' forces during the Korean War, but was inactivated after a restructuring in March 1941.

Reactivation as ICBM command

Twentieth Air Force was reactivated on Sept. 1, 1991, as a component of the Strategic Air Command and was located at Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif. The Fourteenth Air Force, responsible for the missile test range there and for a wide range of space activities, also is at Vandenberg.

This happened at a time when strategic forces were being reduced with the end of the Cold War. In nine short years since its rebirth, 20th Air Force experienced three major command identities. After one year in Strategic Air Command and another year in Air Combat Command, 20th Air Force found a permanent home in Air Force Space Command in 1993. Twentieth Air Force Headquarters' location also changed in 1993, moving from Vandenberg AFB, Calif., to its current home, F. E. Warren Air Force Base, a base unique in being spread across three states, Colorado, Nebraska and Wyoming.

Command structure

Twentieth Air Force headquarters is unique in that it has dual responsibilities to Air Force Global Strike Command (AFGSC) and United States Strategic Command. As the missile Numbered Air Force for AFGSC, 20th Air Force is responsible for maintaining and operating the Air Force's ICBM force. AFGSC assumed the nuclear assets of Air Combat Command and Air Force Space Command.[2] after a review of deficiencies found after a 2007 incident in which live nuclear weapons were inadvertently transported on manned bombers.

Designated as STRATCOM's Task Force 214, 20th Air Force provides on-alert, combat ready ICBMs to respond to the orders of the National Command Authority.


ICBM force structure was reduced radically as well during the 1990s, downsizing from six wings to three, and from 1,000 alert ICBMs to 550, all LGM-30 Minuteman.


  1. John Ray Skates (1994), The Invasion of Japan: Alternative to the Bomb, University of South Carolina Press, pp. 47-48
  2. Air Force Global Strike Command activated, Air Force News, 7 August 2009