Special Report

The US Has the Largest Air Force in the World

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Air power has become a major part of the public discussion with regard to the Russian invasion of Ukraine. The Russians have not been able to gain air superiority, which was one reason Ukraine’s much smaller air force was able to keep planes in the air. Ukraine’s air force has remained a threat to Russia’s ground troops. (Here is every plane in Russia’s air force.)

It comes as a surprise that Russia has not done better. It has the second largest air force in the world, with 4,173 aircraft. Still, that is dwarfed by the size of the American air force, which totals 13,247 aircraft – about a quarter of all military aircraft in the world, according to FlightGlobal.

The earliest predecessor of the U.S. Air Force began in 1907. It officially became one of the branches of the service in 1947. Other branches have aircraft of their own, although their fleets are smaller.

Is it any wonder that the country with the largest military budget by far should have the largest air force? At almost $780 billion, the U.S. military budget accounts for about 40% of the world’s military expenditures. The U.S. Air Force has 19% of the world’s combat aircraft, 39% of special mission aircraft, and 77% of tanker aircraft, according to FlightGlobal.

The most common aircraft in the U.S. Air Force is the F-16C combat aircraft, which comprise 5.9% of the fleet. The compact, multirole F-16 Fighting Falcon is highly maneuverable and has a combat radius that exceeds all other potential aircraft, the Air Force notes. It provides a relatively low-cost, high-performance weapon system. The Air Force lists it as having an $18.8 million unit cost in ‘98 dollars, or $34.5 million adjusted for current dollars. (Here are the most expensive planes in the U.S. Air Force.)

Ironically, for all the high tech that has gone into modern military aircraft, it is the B-52 that remains America’s most widely used bomber, though it first flew in 1952 and became fully operational in 1955. It can carry 70,000 pounds of bombs. Of the 744 built, 76 remain in service and are being modernized, and the Air Force expects the plane to remain in service until the 2050s.

See 24/7 Wall St.’s list: these are the largest air forces in the world.

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